All art by Russell King.
If you walk down the streets of New York City, you’ve surely passed one of Russell King’s seemingly legitimate looking advertisements posted at eye level on street signs across the island. As you do a double take, you realize that these are not ads at all and instead are social commentary that seek to entice the viewer to wake up. I sat down with the reclusive artist recently and as you are about to find out, it’s good to be the King – Russell King, that is. RK advises you take these answers with a grain of salt, a pack of sugar and a line of coke.
According2g: What got you into street art?
Russell King: My friend Matt Siren had me do a collaboration with him for a street art show a few years ago. He had made an attempt to get me doing stickers going back 8 years ago, but at that time I was still very much in the “I’m going to be a big gallery artist and with shows in Cologne, and Paris, and L.A.” thought. Unfortunately, I accomplished nothing more than discovering new porn sites from sitting on my couch. The piece was so well received that it opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities that putting work on the street had to offer.
A2G: Who are your heroes/influences?
RK: Any hero worship I may have had died the day I realized my father was not invincible and my mother was addicted to prescription drugs. Stylistically, I would have to say J.C. Leyendecker, Alphonse Mucha, Jacopo Pontormo are very present in my drawings.
A2G: How did the collaboration between you and Mike Die come about?
RK: Mike and I found each other on Facebook. We talked a few times and then I decided I wanted to go to Philadelphia to put up some stuff. He was up for going but wanted to do a collaboration before we went to put that up when we went. I think it was a real successful melding of styles. It doesn’t just look slapped on top of each other. I just realized, we never made it to Philly.
A2G: Often you affix your art to street signs. How long does it take you to put up something? Any close calls?
RK: Well, It depends. I put some up in 20 seconds, and others in 2 minutes. Sometimes I will drop a nut and have to go searching for it, although now I carry a bunch extra at close reach. I have been caught a couple of times putting up signs. Since I don’t do graffiti they just give me a hard time and let me go. Try and scare me, but really if you don’t back talk them and let them feel they are scaring you straight, they usually don’t want to bother. I also have a constant supply of P.B.A. [Police Benevolence Association] cards from people at my job. That certainly doesn’t hurt. Probably all ruins my “street cred” but fuck it!
A2G:. When you walk down the street past art you’ve put up, what has been the reaction?
RK: My reaction or other peoples? My reaction is “Awesome, it’s still there! Other people, I don’t know, I’m always shocked that anyone even notices.
A2G: Are there plans for Russell King merch?
RK: Well, I was just thinking of making a shirt that said “I just got fucked by Russell King and it only cost me $19.95” but that might just be a small run. Merchandise is not on my mind at the moment. I feel it goes against some of my concepts. However, I am an admitted hypocrite so probably in the future there will be something if I feel anyone would want one. Hey, I need money to buy art supplies.
A2G: Favorite time to go out and put up work?
RK: I used go out after 2 a.m. but, I recently started just hanging signs, and even wheat pastes in the morning around 8 or the mid afternoon. I noticed when it comes to that stuff people think you’re supposed to be doing it.
A2G: Tell us one thing that you think might surprise readers?
RK: I don’t know how many people have even heard of me so I assume anything about me would be a surprise. I attended a post grad academic school for drawing, and Russell King is a family name, it was not meant to mean I am the king. It is actually my grandmothers maiden name. I was going to go with my mothers maiden name but for some reason Russell Goldberg didn’t have the same ring to it. I have shortened it to RK for aesthetic purposes.
A2G: Open discussion. Say anything you want.
RK: [laughs] Drawing a total blank on this one right now…
A2G: What’s next for you?
RK: For now I am taking a break from social commentary pieces and working on a cohesive series of collaborations with Mike Die. Want to take it around the country. I will most likely return to insulting our priorities and taste as a culture after that.
Thanks again to Russell King for a great chat, a yummy lunch, tasty cocktails and of course – for all the great art that can now be seen on a street corner near you. I think Sade spoke for the masses when she said “your love is King.”