Moniker caught up with Ad, one half of Skewville along with twin brother Droo, to talk about the scene and the art of not ‘selling out’, or at least doing it on your own terms.
MAF: When did you guys first start putting stuff up on walls?
Ad: I would say I started in 1982, the day we got Martha Cooper’s book in the mail. Probably the week before, we were practicing tags. I give Martha the credit (and whoever else contributed to that book) as the true inspiration. There’s been lots of ups, downs and in-betweens but that was pretty much the day, yeah.
MAF: And at what point did Skewville become what it is?
Ad: Skewville was an actual place. Started in 1996 in Astoria. Most kids in Queens never move out of their parents’ houses until their mid 30s. Me and Droo were 27, which is late for most of the world but early for fuckin’ most of New York kids who were born-and-raised.
So we copped a crooked house in Queens and called it Skewville. The name of the building was created before the collective started. Everything we’ve done since was made in Skewville, it started there.
MAF: What did you first create?
Ad: The first thing we created under the Skewville brand was Toke and High Again smoking accessories.
MAF: When did that run until?
[Pauses] It’s still going on. You got one in your house, don’t bullshit!
MAF: [Laughing] For the record, yes, I have one in my house.
Ad: I always say that Skewville wasn’t ahead of its time. It was on time, we just missed the bus. We were just too high. But there were always more buses coming.
MAF: So did you always feel the need to put your art out in public?
Ad: I think I always felt the need to put art out, it just happened to be in public, which is a big difference to what’s going on now, because if i started now I would not have a shot in hell putting up next to anybody else.
It was all about expanding, doing new shit, doing shit you haven’t seen before, still inspired by a few cats that were out there: WK, OBEY and so on. If there was one more I probably wouldn’t of did it but it was still minimal at that point.
MAF: And those art projects began when?
Ad: Well, we had stickers and promotional stuff and that was sort of going on in the early 90’s, but the first real defined project was the Sneaker Mission in ’99, [which] was a calculated project where we knew what were doing, why we were doing it and where it was going to go.
MAF: Tell me a bit more about the Mission
Ad: The Sneaker Mission was based on childhood memories of tossing your shit up at the end of the block coz everyone else did it. The urban legends came afterwards – the drug dealing the losing your virginity and all that shit, but the true hardcore thing is that you did it coz you saw someone else do it. And that whole thing is that we didn’t invent tossing up shoes, we reinvented it and made it ours.
MAF: So Skewville, as a concept, is kinda known for the struggle between keeping an authenticity and not just selling out?
Ad: I have to correct that, there was never a struggle, it was always dancing on that line. I always purposely remained slightly under the radar, while still paying the bills. That’s what I’ve always been doing and it’s always just that interest of keeping it slightly underground.
MAF: Did you have any resentment or difficulty watching your companions strike it big?
Ad: No, because those guys made their own calculated decisions to go where they were gonna go. We were running a company that was killing it financially, so we didn’t need to sell out or do anything with the Sneaker Mission.
We turned down tons of offers from Converse, Nike and a couple other brands, and murals and corporate stuff, that we just didn’t need to do. I understand why people go that route but I think we have the luxury of not having to it.
Backtrack to my history: I worked in advertising, I know the corporate sluts that suck you dry for your info and move onto the next person. I wasn’t gonna let that happen. Friends that got famous, well, more props to them. They did what they had to do.
MAF: As your own reputation grew did it feel good, or weird, to have people suddenly know who you were?
Ad: I’ll give the credit to Wooster Collective for at least taking street art off the streets. We all know it was both a good and really bad thing. It blew up the scene, but it shot itself in the foot. It killed the revolution.
But for me it was never about who fuckin knew me at the time, it was more exciting with people finding out later. I don’t want you to know about me, I want to find out you didn’t know about me and be pissed off about me.
MAF: Your work has definitely been going viral more though.
Ad: We were famous before the internet, right? So, I was big time in grammar school doing airbrushed t-shirts and people would wear my shit down the block and people would call me out. And that whole thing is sort of… not what an artist needs. Because satisfaction is the death of desire: when you get to a certain point you think you made it. But, there’s always someone bigger, so you got to just keep moving on.
I’m not savvy with Instagram, I’m not savvy with all that shit. I know the importance of it, but again, I’d rather be in the history books than on your cellphone.
MAF: So, what would you be doing if you’d started making art today?
Ad: If I started today I’d probably be a stock broker [laughs] or a real estate agent.
I wouldn’t have started today maybe. That’s tough. I guess what inspired me back then was the need to create and the need to fill the void. That void is already filled, over-fuckin-filled even. I’m keeping one foot in the street art realm now and two other feet trying to run the fuck away from it. So I guess I would probably still do that: something that no-one else is doing.
MAF: Do the legal murals feel strange to you? You were doing this when that concept didn’t exist, it was all against the law.
Ad: You can’t hate on it, and that’s because all the whack shit out there that’s going up now, it just makes us look all the more original. Right? That’s all it does.
But also I’m happy for what’s going on because there is an energy here that still feels real. Way back with Endless Love Crew, and now with Bushwick, you feel that love and that energy. The outcome? Okay, that’s subjective. But the energy and the ‘endless love’ is still there. That at least makes you want to keep one foot in the door.
MAF: We’ve talked about keeping it real, so how do you balance that with ‘selling out’ yourself?
Ad: The words ‘selling out’ to us always meant that you were selling your soul to another person that’s gonna make money off of you. We are self-funding our own ‘sell out’ project. Exploiting yourself is different to being exploited by another company.
That’s what this new branding is: slutting it out, sure, but there’s still no corporate sponsor attached to it. You can’t really hate on people that did what they had to do. But for us, we watched Shepard Fairey, and people hate on him for certain stuff and our reaction was ‘Oh, I don’t want people to think that about me’. I already worked in that world and I know how shady it is.
So i guess.. we’re keeping it real by the way we’re selling out. It’s everyone’s own definition.
The [upcoming project] that I’m doing for Soho House, the only one making money off of it is me, and okay, it’s in a different realm I’d rather not have touched in the past, but now I’m excited, because now I know I have a lot to educate people with.
MAF: What’s the future for Skewville?
Ad: Oh, selling out, of course. In every possible way. [laughs]
Seriously though, the future is now. All I can tell you is that you know that if and when I sell out, I’m also going to be keeping it real.