Hailing from New York’s dark urban underbelly, Jilly Ballistic is the city’s most ‘well-known unknown street and subway artist’. Whether it’s posting error messages on ad campaigns or reproductions of historical photos in public spaces, the mysterious artist’s tongue-in-cheek images are taking the metropolitan by storm. We get the exclusive first interview.
How did you first get into street art? Looking at your Vitamin Water, Budweiser and Coors Light pieces, my (not-so) educated guess is that you were outraged at the lack of quality beverages on offer and took to the streets to express your disgust…
Though I am an avid whiskey drinker, it didn't quite start there. A little over two years ago, I got the idea of spray painting fiction and types of literature across garbage that had been left at the side of the curb – on couches, broken stoves, old TVs; anything large enough to fit a sentence on. I quickly got addicted, and found myself creating new projects.
Tell us what your motivation is behind using OS X & Windows error messages like ‘Low Battery’ and ‘Move to Trash’.
Commuting takes up a significant portion of the day. For New Yorkers who take the subway, it's a lot of standing around and waiting. All the while, you're staring at ad after ad, product after product – sometimes the same one several times a day. The thing is, you can't interact with them. We live in a time where we can interact with just about everything; yet advertisers and movie producers want us to see what they are pitching, but it doesn't feel like they want to hear anything back. So why not bring that option to the table? Error messages and pop-up notifications are widely recognisable, and can get a point across pretty quick.
Much of your work satirises ad campaigns. Do you think it’s the responsibility of the street artist to critique factors of cosmopolitan life (more so perhaps than other types of artists)?
I critique, and add historical photos to public spaces, because that's my thing. Not every artist has to critique; many want to beautify urban spaces with murals and the like, and it's fantastic. That's what so great about street art and graffiti – it can be simply beautiful or political, or both. It's fluid.
The error messages often have a humorous slant – is that a better way to get your message across, as opposed to taking a more aggressive approach?
The humour is part of my personality, and it comes through in the error messages – though, yeah, I think people appreciate the witty approach more. It feels more rewarding to get the joke.
As a creative space, what is it about the NYC subway system in particular that so inspires you?
The subway is a great space. There are spaces within spaces you can work with, and that's what gets me; I'm very site specific. When working with old imagery from WWI or WWII, I want what’s added to work with the modern environment, not take it over.
How would you describe the NYC street art scene?
The scene is booming, and changing rapidly. It's not just spray paint and throw-ups any more; there's wheatpasting, slap-ups, installations... All of which makes street art so much more inclusive, as anyone willing to be dedicated can take a shot at it and make something great happen. If the City could give artists more legal spaces, I think we, as a city, would be better off.
If street art were to be made legal, do you think it would be as interesting a medium to work with? Would you continue to be a street artist, if that were the case?
I don't see that happening in NYC any time soon! Though if we were given the street space and more opportunities, some great stuff would happen. And yeah, I would continue – sure, there's an adrenaline rush when putting up 'illegal' work, but that wears off. At the end of the day, you just want to create something.
Following on from that, like many street artists, you keep your real identity hidden. Is this to avoid legal problems with the police, or do you enjoy being enigmatic?
I'd like to avoid the police. Plus, the less people know about you, the more freedom you have to try new things inside and outside your medium.
You’ve been compared to Banksy in the media before – what are your thoughts on that?
Ahhh yes, I've been called the 'geeky' Banksy of NYC… and I'm sure I'll be called a lot more in a less positive light! But that's how it is. You just have to keep going, making up new projects and creating work – no matter the labels, positive or negative. I'll say thank you for the Banksy comparison though. I wonder how he feels about being the non-geeky Jilly Ballistic?
Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
There will certainly be new work, but you'll have to keep watching…
You can check out more of Jilly's artwork here.