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Artist Profile: BORF

March 12, 2005

Since the last time we featured BORF on this site, the elusive DC-based stencilist has made at least one trip to NYC and continues to spark controversy in DC and elsewhere. We sent an email to BORF asking for an interview, and got this response:

hmmm. ive been thinking about what to do if someone approaches me wanting to do an interview. im not sure if it will ruin the “mystery” of the whole thing. i dont want to turn into some fucking fad that quickly dies out once the artist, or in my case vandal, gets too excited and jumps on every opportunity for exposure. but, since your site is effin rad, ill try to do an interview with you.

So here goes:
How did you get into stenciling / street art / vandalism?
Alienation.
I first saw your stuff in NYC right before the RNC, you normally hit up D.C., and you made a big impression in North Carolina…. What’s your take on working in different cities and environments? (Safety, placement, what you can pull off, etc.?)
As Bruce Lee once said: “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup…. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” I just try to go with the flow. I usually feel like I can pull off anything. As long as you’re driven by impulse, the country, city, or neighborhood you do it in doesn’t matter. The environments and risk levels change, but the act itself remains constant. As long as you know how to spray your stencil and have your technique down you’re fine.

BORF bomb flower stencil
BORF robot
Do you have a favorite method for creating stencils? Any tips and/or suggestions?
I like making my stencils out of cardboard if I’m going to be walking around and going on adventures with them. I don’t really know, though. A lot of other people I know really hate cardboard and use some sort of thin plastic or acetate. If they’re not big ones, I usually cut them out of the bottom of a pizza box so I can walk around at night and not look like a sketchball. The tricks and disguises that work off of stereotypes and social norms are usually the most successful ones and disguises play the biggest role in not getting you caught.
BORF rollup
You’ve gotten some media attention lately and one of the articles mistook your tag for some cryptic new ad campaign…. Any thoughts?
I think it’s funny. We’re so used to the omnipresent commercial mind-fucking of billboards, magazine ads, tv commercials, etc., that once an image is repeated several times and out on the streets we automatically assume it’s someone trying to sell us something. But, in a sense, I guess they are right. The means I use and the reason I use them are consistent with the advertisers’. We both take advantage of the streets as an open forum to disseminate our ideas. The difference, however, is I’m using their tactics (of maximum exposure and using images to represent ideas) to subvert the very homogenous consumer culture that these advertisements promote. This strategy of subversion comes from the Situationists’ idea of D├ętournement,
which is to “reuse preexisting artistic elements in a new ensemble.”
Subversion and D├ętournement both devalue the original manipulative intent of the image or tactic. Sadly, a smiling face placed in the context of the urban environment can be considered subversive. In reality, that was my first time in Raleigh and I wanted to leave something behind. So, I went for a walk with my stencil and two cans of paint and didn’t stop until both cans were empty. I’m just a “disturbed individual with too much time on [my] hands.”
In one of your pieces you write that “buffing graffiti is like putting a band-aid on a broken leg.” We’ve written a lot about Bloomberg’s ramped-up war on graffiti in NYC, what’s it like in DC?
DC is primitive compared to NYC. There is no vandal squad. There is a lot of wall space since there are only a handful of kids that bomb regularly. But, I can’t speak for what DC used to be like back in it’s heyday, because all I know about it is what I’ve read in the book Free Agents: A History of Washington, DC Graffiti. There is shit still running from over a decade ago because there aren’t enough writers that do shit to make going over other people an issue. I think there are a lot of reasons why DC currently has so little graffiti when compared to New York and other cities. One reason is the nature of the city. Most of the people here work for the government in one way or another, and are usually here for only a couple of years before moving away. Another reason is gentrification has, in the past couple of years, picked up a lot of speed here. Whereas NYC (mainly Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn) is well past the saturation point of yuppies and their plastic “communities.” A bi-product of mass-produced consumer culture and cookie-cutter style “communities” is alienation. DC hasn’t reached its boiling point yet.
In terms of risk, it’s like everywhere else in that it depends on the area you’re in. The farther away you get from the downtown area and the surrounding suburbs, the less cops there are. But there are a lot more crazy vigilante types. I’ve been chased several times, yelled at, harrassed, tackled and searched, and not once was it by a cop. At the same time, though, there are a lot of people that are “down,” as long as it’s not gang-related. The myth that most graffiti is gang-related could be why people are so hostile. When I’m painting in yuppie neighborhoods it’s different, people just don’t like me writing on their stuff. It’s more of a pride/arrogance thing with yuppies than it is with native DC folks in poorer neighborhoods. Rich people don’t like authentic face-to-face human interaction, so they call the police a lot more.
Who/what inspires you?
European anarchists, Huey P. Newton, Shel Silverstein, and impulsive kids.

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One comment on “Artist Profile: BORF”

I love Borf. This was intelligent and inspiring to read. I wish I was as disturbed as him, and had as much time on my hands, so cops would say shit like that about me!

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