Eugene Stetz sent an email to the SprATX family a few months back in response to our call for artists interested in being in residency in the SprATX Ignite Program. We were blown away by his enthusiasm, artistic vision, and drive to be a part of the program. We accepted him as one of the artists for the month of March 2018. He is now putting the final touches on his new body of work and we open our doors to the SprATX Gallery on Friday, April 20th, 2018 from 7-10pm. All are invited to the opening reception with the opportunity to purchase pieces before they sell out. Event details can be found here.

Stetz has spent the last few months visiting Austin from NYC and has left his mark not only on the walls of the city but the artist community spread throughout ATX. We’re honored to have him as a part of the SprATX family and excited to share more information about the artist and his new work below.

SprATX: Tell us your story as a visual artist.

Stetz: Hello, hola, ni hau, bonjour, Im Stetz, how you doing? Beautiful day to be alive.

Ive been making art my whole life but Ill save you 30 minutes of backstory and get straight to the substance. A long time ago I was living in Georgia with a 6’5 female John Wayne impersonator and she always told me “If you don’t have anything good to say don’t say it, you might wake the armadillos.” In my adolescence I wasn’t aware of what a double entendre was, I knew she had armadillos so I didn’t speak loudly around them but, it wasn’t until 2012 that I was sitting in a jail cell with a broken back, broken hand, reevaluating the decisions I made in life that led me into this concrete cage that I finally understood what the armadillos represent. The armadillos are you, they are me, they’re your expressive outlet, they are the walls I got caught tagging. I had spent so much time concerned with “getting up”, refining my hand style, delivering a fluid one-liner tag that I looked past the reasoning of why am I doing this? Because its fun? Because I like meeting degenerates under bridges? Because I enjoy the adrenaline rush of being chased by enforcers of the law? Yes to all of that. But, from the other side of the spectrum, to the common civilian it was visual diarrhea.

Now don’t get me wrong I love graffiti, I’ve loved it since the day I wrote ‘You da bomb’ on a bathroom stall at my school when I was 10 and the entire school was evacuated because of a bomb threat! Police came, firemen, the bomb squad, the neighboring high school was evacuated too, it was a true revelation in the power of the pen and how the strength of a sentence is heightened when the right word combination is used.

The pen is truly a stronger voice than my own vocals.

Back to being in a cell. One week later I was granted my freedom and from that point on I only used the power of art for good, for humor, for modern hieroglyph graffiti cookie crumbs that led me back to wherever I was laying my head for rest on that day. This new delivery helped refine my current style, mix that with a childhood spent living in a van utilizing anything available to keep myself occupied (finger painting with leftover ketchup and mustard was my go to), a highly competitive nature, no fear of failure and viola, you have the stylistically diverse artist you see before you today.

SprATX: Talk about the new body of work you’re currently working on. What’s the meaning behind it? 

Stetz: My show at SprATX on April 20th (thats 4/20 for all you fellow cannabis connoisseurs). I have been traveling for the last 72 days within the US from New York, to Knoxville, Santa Fe, to Los Angeles, to Austin, with many stops and near death experiences. This show is about the artwork made during those times. The show is about the strangers I met in strange places, the artists I collaborated with from all over the world, the familiar faced friends I drank with, the corner dwellers, street prophets, ignorant sheep, the beautiful women, the dice rolling degenerates, kind hearted, and kindred spirits met along the way. Somehow or another they have all influenced my artwork through drawing, conversation, painting, photography, public theatre, writing, food, song, or videography, and I would like to celebrate as many of their lives as I can through my art.

I came into the Spratx Ignite Residency with nothing more than two gallons of house paint and 20 odd cans of spray paint. No canvasses, no rough sketches or preliminary ideas to work off of; nothing. Just a couple brushes, some paint, and life experience to base my artwork off of. Each artwork is created from found materials all over Austin (I didn’t purchase a single canvas). Ive spent more time rummaging through construction site scrap piles, thrift shops, and pulling off to the side of the road to grab old deteriorated signs that fell during a thunderstorm than I have spent creating the artworks in this show. A lot of my focus is portraiture work and capturing a moment in time whether it be imagery of a magnetic women I passed in the street or something I overheard a stranger say at the bar. A work of art can take on a whole new context if the viewer understands where it came from or the lengths an artist had to go through to create it. Many of the works on display April 20th will be paired with literary responses informing the viewer of how the artwork was created, how the canvas was acquired, or the events that had to occur for it to become what they see before their eyes.

Im a creature of collaboration so also featured will be a section dedicated to collaborative artworks created during the 90 days leading up to the night of the show. On display will be over 50 new paintings, tons of sketches, photographs, and writings about the journey of a lifetime. Some of the artworks took days, some took weeks, months, all of them took 29 years to create.

SprATX: Who are your favorite artists and how have they helped shape your style?

Stetz: Hermes Trismegistus  is one of my favorite artists because…. We’ll be here for hours if I got into it so if you’re wondering who Hermes Trismegistus is then hit the google button. Hint: He’s not a painter. My other favorite artists are Titian, James Brown, the ancient Egyptian architects, Lauryn Hill, and anyone who puts time and effort into creating something out of necessity and not out of desire to sell it. BUT my favorite artist of all time is my Aunt Jane. I was fortunate to spend the first 8 years of my life learning how to paint with her whenever my family was in the upper east coast before she passed. She was a teacher of arts at a University and could paint anything in an instant. To this day she is by far my biggest influence. 

SprATX: How is NYC and TX the same/different in the art world?

Stetz: New York is home. NYC is one of the art capitals of the world and because of that it attracts any and every style. It’s an amazing place to visit, amazing place to learn, to meet new artists, and most of all its an amazing place to have access to and not have to live in ($3000/month for a closet sized living area isn’t appetizing). I live about an hour upstate and the runoff of the art scene is stronger then ever and growing every day. I haven’t spent enough time exploring all of Texas so I can’t speak on behalf of the similarities or differences but, I can tell you one HUGE difference between the two art worlds; the weather. A majority of my time is spent working outside and in NY, specifically way upstate near Lake Ontario where my public and large scale art exploration began there are very few months that one can paint outside. The remaining months are spent angrily staring out the window waiting for the 4-8’ of snow to fall and the 90 mph lake effect winds to stop. The weather recluses a lot of artists, very rarely do they come out in the winter months. This drastically slows down the life of a street artist. In Texas you have pretty much all year around sun. Even the “Cold” days in Texas are beautiful to paint in. TX 12 months a year to paint > NY 6(ish) months to paint. Thats the big difference. 

SprATX: Share why you love ATX and how it’s influenced your art. Also, touch on what makes the ATX art scene so special. 

Stetz: I can’t put my love of Austin, TX into words.. But what I can do is paraphrase a long story of where my love for Austin and the arts scene began: I had three free days to spend traveling the south US and my best friend, non-artist, suggested I stop in Austin. I trust his word more then most so I obliged, did some quick research, and came across the address of the HOPE Outdoor Gallery. Within minutes of being at HOPE conversation was struck with three amazing artists (The Ugly Mermaids) who were working on a mural together and they gave me the rundown on all the creative possibilities that one can indulge at the park before inviting me to paint alongside them. HOPE Outdoor Gallery was heaven on a painter’s Earth. I arrived at HOPE on March 3rd, 2017 with the intent of spending 3 days exploring Austin. I ended up spending 89 days in Austin, TX. Most of those spent at HOPE Outdoor Gallery. 

I find new influences every single day in Austin but the love all began on Baylor St.

SprATX: Explain your experience in the Spratx Ignite Studio/Program. 

Stetz: You know that feeling when you walk through a door expecting the norm but once you get inside you’re fully immersed into a new and exciting experience that you would have never otherwise thought yourself to be a part of? That’s what my residency with the SprATX Ignite Program has been like. Each day I was meeting with one of the SprATX mentors, or collaborating with an artist, or helping build installations, and then when the day is seemingly over I’ll head back to the SprATX Ignite Studio to get some painting done and I’m greeted by a full blown concert in the studio space! Or an improv class. Or a video game tournament! My parents have always told me comfortability is a killer of creativity.. Another killer is not learning to operate by interruption. I enjoy the interruption, I enjoy being uncomfortable, often times the random moment becomes a highlight of the day. There’s no where else on Earth you can be mentored by a member of a world renowned art collective and then find yourself painting in the residency studio during a sword fighting class all before walking two blocks and eating the best Mexican food north of the border for less then $12! Art, knowledge, life experience, good food… whats better than that?

SprATX:  If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be?

Stetz: Don’t walk around with your eyes closed.

SprATX: What types of messages are you trying to portray in your artwork? Talk a little about the power of visual art. 

Stetz: Im not necessarily trying to portray a message to the people who see my artwork. I honestly could care less if you see my work, like it, hate it, love it, burn it, buff it, or buy it. I create artwork as a coping mechanism. I dont watch TV, I rarely stare at my phone, I don’t like wasting time on mindless nonsense like standing in line for material items. I enjoy living life and not wasting the little time I have on this giant rock. I have a healthy habit of orbiting chaos or attracting it, this leads me to some very fun, scary, or sketchy situations that if it weren’t for art, if I didn’t have a way to distract myself I could have taken that call, went out with those people, and like many of my friends, lost a life due to an over indulgent of vices. If you take the time to look at my artwork it may cause you to feel uncomfortable, it might make you laugh, it might scare you, it may delight you, it may turn you on, it might offend you, cause controversy or conversation, but most of all try to understand it was something I had to create. I couldn’t tell you why I had to create it. There’s no deep underlying message other than this is my life in visual form. Take it or leave it.

Learn more about the solo exhibit, “Southbound Traveler Emanating Terrestrial Zeal” here.

Learn more about Stez here.

Learn more about the SprATX Ignite Program here.

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