Thursday, March 03, 2011

An IMtimate Conversation With: Moustache Man

Oh, hey. So, remember me? I sorta of run this blog. Because it's been so long, I'm changing the name of this feature, and trying to get back on the whole scene with this new thing called "blogging." It's like a longer version of tweeting or something. I've heard it's the new rage -- all the kids will be doing it soon.

ANYWAY. So I'm changing the name of the feature, and I'm kicking things off with this conversation with Mr. Mustache. Who is that? Well, he's a man who makes moustaches. As you can see by clicking on the above photo, which was original posted on here. (Please observe the shout out to me on Mr. Efron's face.) Read on to hear more about running from the cops, guerilla art posing as Oscar-nominated films (kinda? sorta? maybe?) and being Keith Richards' daughter.

EA: First off, I usually ask people "What is your name, and what do you do," but you're my second interviewee who needs to remain anonymous -- so I'll ask, how are you known, and what are you known for?

Moustache Man: I'm known as Moustache Man, although people call me a lot of different things- the Moustache Madcap, Moustache Bandit, Moustache Artist, or just Moustache. I write "moustache" where moustaches should go on posters, mostly in the subway, but also on the street, on buses. If there's an ad that needs a moustache, I'm there.

(One of Moustache Man's favorites taken by Jon Gorga. Who is not Moustache Man!)

EA: So you haven't given yourself this name, people have just started calling your variants thereof?

MM: I gave myself the name Moustache Man. The other names came from people who put up stuff about my moustaches on the web.

EA: Do you consider yourself a Street Artist? And what does that title mean to you?

MM: That's a tough question because I'm a big fan of "street art." To me, a street artist is someone who puts their art out for everyone to see- no galleries, no museums in the way. And I love that. I love that I can go down to the Candy Factory or walk around Williamsburg and see museum quality work (in some cases) at 4 in the morning, for free. Some people call me a street artist. It's flattering, but I'm not sure that I deserve it. When I think street artists I think Faile, Judith Supine, Specter, Gaia, etc. And I'm definitely not in that class.

EA: What's the difference between street art and tagging, if anything?

MM: Tagging is putting your name up in as many places as possible. Street art often doesn't have a name on it at all. People say street artists these days are only in it to eventually get gallery shows and make money, and that might be true for some people. But there's still a good population in New York putting art on the street for no commercial gain- for the sole purpose of beautifying the city. Tagging is definitely more of an ego thing.That being said, the moustaches are closer to a tag than traditional street art. But it's all about placement and context. If I just wrote "Moustache Man" on someone's forehead, it probably wouldn't go over as well.

EA: How did you get started?

MM: I wrote my first moustache last March. I think I saw a subway poster that someone had tagged. They tagged their name on someone's face, and from far away it looked like a moustache. So I figured if there's gonna be text on someone's face, it should be "moustache." I wrote the first one and got that high of doing something you're not supposed to be doing.

EA: Which leads us to why I'm not using your real name. Why am I not using your real name?

MM: Well if people found out that I'm actually Keith Richards's daughter, I'd get in big trouble.


MM:New York is just so militant about this kind of stuff.

EA: Do you only do mustaches, or do you have other work around the city?

A short interlude interrupts here where Mustache Man and I discuss what exactly he can and cannot say about what other work he may or may not be doing.

MM:[...]I do other stuff on the street, slightly more legitimate art, but I'm focusing mostly on the moustaches these days.

EA:When someone puts something on the wall, a tag or anything else, is that a political act? An artistic act? A combination of the two? Or a complete affront to our ideas about both categories?

MM: I think there are probably different motivations for every tag, for every piece of street art. For me, I'm of the thinking that if corporations are going to bombard us with advertisements, we have every right to talk back. It's nothing new. Poster Boy did it and went to Rikers for it. Jordan Seiler does it. Ron English, Banksy, etc. And a lot of graffiti comes from that mindset as well. If someone is going to put up an ugly building in my neighborhood, why should I have to walk by it every day and not be allowed to react to it or communicate with it? Put up a Frank Gehry building in my neighborhood and I won't touch it. But if there's a shitty brick building left to deteriorate, just becoming an eyesore, adding some street art to it certainly won't hurt it.

EA: It seems to me like a lot of the fun in this is in the grey areas -- it's anonymous, but it's ego. It's secret, but everyone sees it. Street Art certainly has broken out of the cult, underground scene -- now there's an Oscar nominated "documentary" (which may or may not be a piece of guerilla art itself) -- is something lost when the secret is out?

MM: I mean, as far as the Oscars go, they never intended to give Banksy an award for that movie. They nominated him so they could cash in on the Banksy craze and get young people to pay attention. It was a cheap move. But you're right about the fun in secrecy. That's part of the appeal. I love seeing these new pieces pop up out of nowhere and not having any idea who put them there or what their story is.
Then again, the ones who put their stories out there, sometimes I appreciate their work more when I have more context.

EA: Do you think it matters whether or not Theirry Guetta is a real artist or not?

MM: I mean, he's definitely something. Performance artist, actor, who knows. It doesn't matter. It's kind of more fun not knowing what's real and what's fake.

EA: You and I have had to talk about what you're willing to say on the record and what you're not -- because at the end of the day what you're doing is illegal. Describe the thrill that you get from doing something you know you shouldn't.

MM: It's a rush. It takes longer than you might think to write this one quick word, because I try to make them look nice. When I have friends stand guard with me, they're more nervous than I am because they think it should be over so quick but I'm only halfway through the word and they think all eyes are on us. And throw cops into the equation and you've got yourself a real life adventure. I don't think my heart has ever beat so fast as the few times I've had to run away from cops.

EA: How do you feel about police? Do you empathize with them at all?

MM: THEY'RE FUCKING PIGS! Just kidding. Of course I do, my dad was a cop, his dad was a cop, his mom was a cop. None of that is true.

EA: You've been so serious! Now when I ask about cops it's all jokes.

MM: But I understand where they're coming from and I understand where the people who shake their heads at me when they see me doing a moustache are coming from. They don't want a return to the New York of the 80's. And they see someone defacing subway posters and they think we're just going to spiral back into some huge crack epidemic. At the same time, though, come on people. It's a little joke. A cursive word written on the upper lip of a stupid actor or actress. Chill out, Officer Krupke.

EA: So in this space where anonymity and reputation collide, there's the internet. Is is strange to see people document your work? Do you document your work?

MM: It was definitely weird to see the 'staches pop up on flickr at first. Now they're on their pretty regularly because I try to hit as many posters in as many stations as possible. I take pictures every now and then, but there's no way for me to document most of them. I do them and then I get the hell out of there. Or on a train. Or just stand around on the platform while people look at me and think "What's that dude's problem?" But it's always cool finding something about them on the internet. The whole reason I started this thing in the first place was to give people a laugh. So when people post them and say that they make their boring commute a little less boring, I feel like I've accomplished that goal.

EA: There is one person in particular who has paid particular attention to you, a blogger known as BitchCakes.

MM: Ah, BitchCakes.

EA: She originally wrote a post about you, and then you wrote her a mustache. But she has blogged about further mustaches made in her honor and seems to doubt whether in fact they are from you. Would you care to comment?

MM: Wait, which ones has she doubted? WHO DOUBTS THE

EA: The "Mr. Moustache hearts Bitchcakes"

MM: I wrote the Moustache Man Hearts Bitchcakes. And that station has little police booths on the actual platforms, so I was super paranoid about writing on those posters, which explains not crossing the T (rookie mistake). But that level of handwriting analysis that she and her commenters make is so awesome.
I love that they can spot a fake as easily as I can.

EA: Bitchcakes seems to be very personally attached to your back and forth -- and has written that she was hurt when you didn't reply to her response tags. Are you as personally invested as she seems to be?

MM: I mean, that Moustache Man hearts Bitchcakses thing was not meant to be a romantic gesture, although it might have been taken as one. I just wanted to express my love for who she is and what she does. But I certainly didn't mean to go breaking any hearts.

EA: So you would not classify this interaction as romantic?

MM: No, just a mutual respect for each other. Besides, if she realized I'm actually a balding, 48-year old father of four little terrors, she wouldn't be into me anymore.

EA: I know it's what turned me off.

MM: I expected you to see through that and see the real me inside.

EA: So I know you can't talk about what other projects you're doing/planning on doing/might one day do, but can you say whether or not you want to stay in New York or venture out?

MM: I've been spreading the staches out a little already. I've hit LA, Atlanta, even a few spots in South America. I definitely plan on going back to LA at some point. Those bus stop bench ads are so terrible.
Those big stupid faces of realtors and lawyers. If there's anyone in the world that deserves a moustache, it's those people. Now I've completely alienated my huge fan base of real estate agents and attorneys.

EA: And finally, if you could tell people one thing about what you do, what would it be?

MM:I carry on the legacy of Keith Haring. Kidding! I don't take myself that seriously. Hopefully, I give a few people something to smile about. For those of us who are interested in our surroundings, who aren't wrapped up in our iPods or Blackberries or our own heads, there's a whole world of neat little things to find.
In whatever tiny way I can, I'd like to contribute to that movement.