In conversation with Brooklyn based street artist Hellbent
Hellbent is a New York based street artist, known for his vibrant use of color and pattern in abstract paintings and large scale murals.
Can you give us a brief history of your career. Where you’re from, your background and creative journey to date?
I started doing work on the streets in earnest in the South in the mid 1990s, mostly politically charged pieces throughout the college town where I was attending at time. At the time I was really into Barbra Krueger and Jenny Holtzer, and that type of statement public art. Then I moved to New York in 2000 and got back into traditional graff. I took up the name Hellbent and started tagging and doing rollers.
As I was doing that I was working on paintings and started reproducing them as wheat pastes and also putting those around town. I wanted to do something different on the street after doing traditional street stuff, which lead me to doing hand carved “plaques” that I would screw up around town. Mostly attacking animals and a human jawbone, which became my “character.” I ran with the jawbone for a few years but in the last 4 years have moved into doing only abstract work, mostly aligned with the movement that has been named graffuturism, after the blog of the same name started by the artist Poesia, which is an evolution from letter or character based street work to fully abstract motifs.
I wanted to do something different on the street after doing traditional street stuff, which lead me to doing hand carved “plaques” that I would screw up around town.
At what point did you start working under a pseudonym? What does the name ‘Hellbent’ mean?
I started using the name Hellbent around 2003/4. I took the name from Richard Hell lead singer of the Voidoids a punk band from New York in the 70’s, a hero of mine. A friend once commented that this was the perfect stage name and got me thinking… and that’s how I came up with Hellbent.
How do your larger scale projects come about?
Through my work on the street I was asked to do some walls. The walls have just got bigger and bigger, so I guess they were into what I was doing.
How do you work together collaboratively? Are your artworks done in a spontaneous, intuitive way or planned?
I like working with other artists. The largest collab I have done was with the artist SeeOne and we talked about some different ideas, but at the end of the day you are just doing your thing and playing off what they are doing, as they are playing off what you’re doing. I think the most effective pieces happen organically without much planning.
List 4-5 words to describe your distinctive visual style:
Depth, Color, Pattern, and Movement
For successful abstract works I think balance is key and in balancing you create rhythms which in turn create movement.
Can you elaborate on how these words specifically relate to your work:
I have always been interested in layers and creating depth. In the early abstract works I created this depth by juxtaposing colours next to each other to pop certain sections up and others to drop bac, but in the later work I have been using shadows along with color theory to achieve this effect. I think the movement is achieved in the composition. For successful abstract works I think balance is key and in balancing you create rhythms which in turn create movement. I have been told I have a good sense of colour, I don’t know if that’s true, I just do what I think feels right.
How does foreign travel inspire and inform your work? Do you have the opportunity to work abroad often?
It is very influential in my work. I think the first time I was in Barcalona I saw a lot of what is now considered “street art” i.e nontraditional graffiti, on the street – more pictures than letters. Work by Calma (Brazilian), Pez, and others really got me hyped and got me thinking about different approaches to public art. I am still really drawn to what is coming out of Europe and Eastern Europe (Poland has some amazing artists Pener, Nawer to name a few). I have done some small things in Europe and a few bigger things unfortunately fall through, but I am confident that a good opportunity will come along soon.
Where do you live and work? How does the city, its pace and way of life, inspire, influence and shape your creative output?
I live in Brooklyn. New York is an amazing city filled with equally amazing artists. It makes you work harder, like running against someone faster than you. It forces you to be better. There are so many things to inspire you here creatively. Between what you are seeing pop up in the streets and the gallery or museum…there’s always something happening. It’s never ending! The pace of everything keeps you working hard. There’s no time for slacking.
Do you have a preference for the kind of surface you paint on?
I like a nice cinder block wall. It’s smoother than brick, and when doing stencils it gives a cleaner result. That said I do like it when there are a few obstacles in the wall. It forces you to make moves that maybe you would not really think about doing otherwise.
Dream project? If you could go anywhere, paint anything, no budget restraints, where would you go & what would you do?
It’d be awesome to paint the walls of Alcatraz. I’d like to see my bright colors shining through that Fog.