I have always felt this mixture of sorrow and fascination with the birds captured in large halls after they accidentally flew in. There is one in Staten Island Ferry Hall flying in circles above my head in confusion as I’m sipping weak coffee and walking in circles myself, because I’m unable to sit still. Soon I’ll be on the ferry to Staten Island. The statue with the dictionary will be photographed a thousand times by the tourists on the ferry, and the skyscrapers in Manhattan will look like plastic toys. This is an almost daily commute for street artist Veng RWK, who bikes from South Ferry where he needs to, and frequently to Bushwick, which he has (temporarily) abandoned to seek refuge in the (relative) silence of Staten Island.
The sun is lying badly today and the wind is cold and rough as I debark at Staten Island. Veng is picking me up by the baseball fields in a red truck and will let me snap some photos in his studio. Veng is a friendly smile of a person who usually prefers thinking over talking. He is showing me paintings of his buddies from the Robots Will Kill Collective, which are piled up in the living room, waiting to be hung in a gallery. Despite the cold weather, he’s wearing only shorts with tiny spots of paint on them. I can tell he’s a bit tired. He was painting until 5am to finish his works for the show, which opens April 1. Robots Will Kill is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a show at Vincent Michael Gallery in Philly.
His three paintings are leaning against the wall in his bright studio. Veng is almost done; there are only a couple of details to finish. He offers to pretend to paint for me while I am taking photos, but once he sits down in front of his unfinished painting and takes a brush to his hand, he starts to paint for real. He’s telling me how to mix walnut oil and yellow toxic powder in order to get the precise shade of yellow you want, and I’m flipping through books about street art that feature his work. We’re talking about the square heads on the walls in Bushwick, and I’m trying to figure them out. They seem genderless and wise in their melancholy. As if they knew something we’re all trying to figure out, but at the same time as if the knowledge wasn’t all that pleasant.