“I don’t like a lot of the shit you guys put up,” says artist Plasma Slugs to me about ANIMAL. “At one point I had to stop reading the site for a year.” To him, we’re part of the hype machine that gives too much shine to those who don’t deserve it. But he doesn’t hate us completely, and after some back and forth, agreed to an interview. We met at an IHOP near the Bushwick/Williamsburg/Bed Stuy border.
Plasma Slugs’ signature, snail-like characters that can be found throughout New York City — on walls, on roll down gates, and even on freight trains. I even asked him to drawn one in my notebook to prove he is Plasma Slugs. It took him about five seconds. Each slug is one of a kind. Some are psychedelic with patterns. Others are solid-colored and mute. “It’s a colony,” he explains. Sometimes he even names them. But don’t call him a fucking street artist.
For Plasma Slugs, “street artist” has come to mean a person who doesn’t put a lot of work in. They’re good at the internet and self promoting, but their heart just isn’t in it.
“I was putting up real work, while kids on Wooster were getting exposure,” he reminisces. Street artists represent a bastardized form of graffiti to him. It’s a medium they’ve hijacked. He says street artists could never handle the repercussions that graffiti writers face. “Can you imagine if one of those Faile kids went to Rikers?” he asks rhetorically, smiling. I asked him if he respected artists like Swoon.
“Swoon?” he said. “Fuck outta here. Swoon is NOT up.”
It was nearly a decade ago when I first saw Plasma Slugs’ characters painted on square wooden boards fastened to parking sign posts. Since he painted a character and not his name, I assumed he was a street artist. Then the slugs started popping up everywhere, like the way a determined writer would bomb, and it became apparent that there was something decidedly graffiti about him and his work.
Unlike other public art on the street at that time, these were in the hood. Getting up in East Village, SoHo and Chelsea is predictable. It wasn’t uncommon to see his signs in places like Bushwick, Crown Heights, and East New York — locations where most traditional street artists or their fans don’t ever bother going. For that campaign, Plasma said he installed over 1,000 of them. He’s also known to collaborate with other very active bombers, further setting his stuff apart from the trappings of the street art label.
Recently, he hit an abandoned Red Hook warehouse. It took about three and a half hours from start to finish. He doesn’t usually record his creative exploits, but on this occasion he did. He worked by candlelight and wore a headlamp while the camera was rolling. By the time the sun came up, there was the biggest slug that he’s ever spray painted, nearly two stories high, spanning the length of a massive interior brick wall.
When the image got posted to Instagram, a lot of of his peers chided him for not rolling it out with bucket paint. But he doesn’t give a fuck. “It’s too much manual labor,” he quips about using rollers. Instead, he filled in his piece by unleashing a torrent of black spray paint, using more than two dozen 600ML cans.
Like graffiti writers –although he’d never call himself one — his work was all done by hand. He may be one of the true hybrids — an artist with a purely graffiti ethos. “Once a vandal, always a handful,” he says.
Plasma Slugs won’t give his exact age, although he did admit that he’s in his late 20s. He says he grew up along the Brooklyn/Queens border and started doing graffiti in junior high. He’s still very active and says he paints every other night. His fingers were stained with spray paint. There’s evidence of his handiwork all over Instagram and Flickr. I believe him.
For someone who is so busy painting on the streets, he has no plans of going along a traditional art-careerist trajectory. I asked if he had any plans to do an exhibit in the near future. “No more galleries,” he says. “My galleries are in the street.” He has good reasons to hate art openings: “No one takes the art seriously. They are only there to drink the beer.”
In between bites of banana pancakes, he cracks jokes continuously, talks about weed and takes more digs at street art and graffiti. His relationship with the scene unfolds, contradictory and complex. “Here’s how I feel about REVS’ elusiveness,” he jokes, then makes a yawning motion with his hands over his mouth. For Plasma Slugs, history is important, but it’s all about what writers do in the streets now.
He was inspired by writers “during the golden age of graffiti” and counts street-renowned writers like VE, DECK, SLASH, and DG as some early influences. He gives respect to FREE5. But he walks a fine line between giving them props and fawning over them. “I’m not a fan of graffiti. It’s a lifestyle that I live.”
Despite his NYC upbringing, he conceived the slug in Amsterdam—he’s a self-admitted weed connoisseur. To make a name for himself, he decided that he needed to get away from a name. While working on new hand-drawn labels, he drew a character that became his signature. His slug colonies appear boldly among standard graffiti pieces. They are both fitting and stand-out. “From ’03 to now, the slug has come along way,” he says.
For Plasma Slugs, the act of doing graffiti isn’t necessarily exciting. “I like the adventure of it,” he explains. “The execution is kind of boring. It’s the in-between and after where all the fun is at.” And ultimately, he checks graffiti too, especially self-important writers. I asked him, what’s the worst thing about the graffiti scene? “The people who are delusional enough to think all this really matters,” he responds, critical but free of malice. He quips, “You’re scrawling your name on a wall.”
(Images: Plasma Slugs; Video: Cindy Caroli; Video edit: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)