Art Basel 2014: Bisco Interview

Every year the city of Miami hosts an intense week of parties that invites people from all over the world for the last art festival of the year. Between all the South Beach pool parties and various installations on the streets in Wynwood, SOL REPUBLIC teamed with a gallery for a show during Art Basel called Paradise Lost. The event was a group exhibition showcasing 12 artists including this “Pussy Had Me Dead” piece from Naturel.


Paradise Lost was held at CanvasFab, a gallery with framed art inside and live art being made outside on walls and vehicles. One of the featured live artists was Bisco Smith, who also designed a special edition of SOL Republic headphones pictured below. This was his second time at Art Basel and as he’s halfway through painting the front wall of the gallery, he sat down with me to talk about his music and art journey to becoming a full time artist.


Tell me about the design here?
Bisco: They’re very textured. I try to be in the moment really, that’s my whole thing with the art. I get the canvas ready, I dip in with the brush, I put the beats on and once a thought happens I just start writing and go. In my background, I’ve made a lot of records and recorded a lot of music in my life. When I’m writing music, I just write, I don’t think. My whole process is don’t think and work. Let the minute happen, reflect on it and build it for music. For this art, it’s like there’s no editing. I try not to think if that makes sense.

Are these all words?
Bisco: Yes, they’re really all lyrics. If I was to turn them into a song, I’d transcribe them and chop it up into syllables to make them fit in rhythm perfectly. They’re the beginning of what could be songs.

Can you tell me what this says?
Bisco: I could but I don’t like to. A lot of people ask me. I can tell you the energy behind them is always…if I’m doing a wall, it’s different because it’s in a public sphere. If I’m giving a piece or selling a piece to someone, I want them to take home a certain energy. So when that’s hanging on their wall, it’s translating an energy more than anything. Words have power, words are the first vibration, I could go deep with the concept of it but there’s normally a positive, motivational undertone. The more you live with it, the more you can discover from it.


What do you mostly write about?
Bisco: Motion, direction, and movement are often themes in my art. I believe in manifesting things in life. I write a lot about the future I’m trying to obtain. To live creatively, live as open as possible and pass on a good energy to the world. I think in order to make things move and affect things without throwing stones and lighting fires, I feel like as an artist it’s our job to transmit an energy. If I can do that, make a living, raise a family, eat food, continue to grow and be open, that’s it for me.

What came first, the music or the art and what is first still?
Bisco: I look at my whole life as an upside down tornado, the cycles continue until they reach a pinnacle level. The brief history is I got into graffiti really young. I got arrested for graffiti-ing when I was really young. I started DJing as a different outlet. DJing brought me into music but then I moved to New York, and that got me back to graffiti. The more I painted graffiti, the more we were rapping and freestyling, which got me into music again. Now it’s just a cycle that keeps getting tighter and tighter together and I have these lyrical structures coming out into the art. I haven’t brought it back to music yet but I have a vision to. Right now, art is the forefront for me.


In the beginning, what were you writing?
Bisco: My name “Bisc”. I really wrote hard with that. I got into graffiti when it was 1993/1994. I’m getting old with this because I’m at 20 years right now. I had to stop for a long time because I felt like I wasn’t saying enough. You know, how many times do I write my name and make it look dope but not really have a message? These are not direct messages but there’s more energy behind them. What I love about graffiti and freestyle art is when I’m painting, I don’t sketch ahead of time. I don’t go to the wall with a plan ahead of time. I just go. Maybe I’ll pick out a color scheme beforehand but at the end of the day, I segue into “wow that was really amazing or wow that’s not cool.” It’s really about the experience to me. As I progressed in this, the question became “how do I capture the rawness and the realness of the experience instead of an overly thought out process.” I think we all have tendencies to over think things. My whole thing is to capture my feelings, my energy and trust it.

How has music inspired you?
Bisco: When I moved to LA, I started listening to a lot of beats. The older I got and the more I made music, the less I wanted to hear people talk. LA is a very beat driven place, it’s more spacial and there’s a beat culture here. I was absorbing that and it became the fuel for my art. The more beats that are in my head, the more my own brain is making thoughts and processing things. At this point, when I’m painting walls I’m just in beat land. If I have lyrics, I just skip the song because I can’t hear it. It influences me too much.


What is “Refined Grime?”
Bisco: In all honesty, I should probably update my bio. The idea is,  I’ve been making a living predominantly through hip hop for the last decade doing record covers. Hip hop has fed me beautifully, the positive and cultural side of hip hop. I believe people come to me because I have this element where I can portray or give the aesthetic of rawness and the street side of things from 20 years of being on the streets writing graffiti and refining it, making it feel professional.

How long did it take for you to get here, making art 24/7?
Bisco: Two years ago, I said to myself “I want to do my own work.” I’ve always been making record art and music so I had day jobs because making music money is hard. But two years ago, I was like “man I’ve always had a lot of energy and I love this but art has always been so good to me, so why can’t I focus on that and see where it’ll take me?” And the past year has been mind-blowing. It’s a struggle but it’s a beautiful ride. This whole thing could also stop tomorrow. I’m just a believer of doing the thing you want to do.

Do you have any tips for upcoming artists?
Bisco: Yeah, don’t be scared. I try to function with no fear. I believe there is love and there’s fear. You must practice living without fear. Like I said, I write a lot and I write a lot of shit to just get it out of my head, to swallow that fear. This world is so complex and it has so much to offer all of us. As cliche as it sounds, chase your dreams!

About the author: Briana Cheng has a lot of feelings that she sometimes writes about but mostly she takes twitter screenshots of online dating apps, follow her @banacrisp.

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