Akiva Listman: After Hours
How did you first get into the arts?
AL: Oh man, I think about that a lot. Personally, I feel like it was always there for me. I definitely can’t remember choosing to be an artist, it was kinda always there.
Did you take classes or was it something you did on your own?
AL: There was always shitty art class in middle school up until fifth grade grade. I started taking art classes outside of school in 6th grade. This woman in the Bronx who is a painter, Julie Lester, she was really cool. I didn’t paint in oils for a while, I did a lot of drawings of Superman in marker because I thought that was cool. A year into it maybe, I did a black and white oil painting and learned from there. I took art classes from 6th grade to the very end of high school with her and she paints pretty realistically and taught me pretty traditional painting. I think her work is really great.
When did you decide that art was going to be a career for you?
AL: Somewhere in the beginning of high school. I wish there was some nice way to say it, but I don’t think there was anything else for me. Academically, when school started to be writing papers and things that mattered I wasn’t good at it. Starting 8th grade I knew I wasn’t “good at” school. I knew that I did art and I would just need to wait until college to really do that.
Do you have a hard time balancing your personal work with work that is for school?
AL: During the school year there definitely is personal work but it all blends together because school work is basically the same as “personal work” at this point. I knew people freshman and sophomore year that would just do their homework and go party. Since high school I've known that art as a career really doesn’t work out for most people. In High school when careers started to be a topic and I started having to tell people that I want to be an artist it always had this awkwardness and feeling of disapproval. Artist Daniel Arsham once replied on instagram to a question I asked about when he knew he was ok: “If you want stable find another vocation.” I use as much of my time as possible to do what could be called personal work, but to me it’s all just practicing and doing what I can to inch closer to where I want to be.
Did being exposed to all these galleries growing up in NYC allow you to see a more successful side to being an artist as opposed to other people that didn’t grow up in a big city?
AL: Being me and knowing what I know it's hard to imagine growing up somewhere suburban. In high school I was invited to senior trips that were going to the galleries in Chelsea. We went to David Zwirner and all these different places and I didn’t totally connect with most of it at the time. I guess my art teacher knew that I should be going on these trips and I'm glad I did. It's always an easy subway ride to the Met and Chelsea and tons of other galleries I can't imagine having to drive to. Living in manhattan, I've been to a dozen galleries in a single day.
What kind of art do you connect with now?
AL: I guess like with music nobody’s full work is good to me. Maybe one or two songs on an album that really stick with people. I like a lot of artists and I like a handful of things by each of them. On the ever evolving list, my overall favorites for a long time have been Brett Amory and Trevor Young.
So it is more of an individual painting than the artist for you?
AL: definitely a mix, some artists I like because of their work and some I like because of their life. I like a lot of figurative work and city and urban landscapes. I’ve always been between those two and not sure what my “thing” is yet. So lots of the art I look at is for my own reference but some is more about the technicalities of how a person works. Maybe it’s silly, but I enjoy KAWS and his work but more so I enjoy his success, and a lot of other people that took notes from him and are doing so well. I look to lots of different work to learn but not just literally about painting. Many artists have taught me marketing, ways of thinking and various things about success that have nothing to do with the work itself.
So right now you’ve been super into painting trash bags and stuff that wouldn’t be appealing normally. When did you start making trash interesting?
AL: At this point everything kind of rolls off of prior work mixed with whatever I've learned, so the general NYC scene has been my focus for about six years already. There are glamorous parts of NYC, but that was never interesting to me.
It isn’t the true New York.
AL: That’s the world’s NYC, but not for the people that live here.
The Hollywood version.
AL: Yeah, so that always appealed to me a little bit more. I painted slightly more broad stuff about NYC and I think every painting that I make gets more about me saying, well why am I really painting this. I think Junior survey comes into it a little bit as well and that you are supposed to have a theme and find your thing.
Is there too much pressure to right now find your thing?
AL: Well it’s realistic to know that it’s eventually gonna happen, but I think personally there are too many people at Pratt who pretend like they already have a thing. It seems weird to come into College already knowing what you do so specifically. We are at Pratt to learn and figure it out, I have purposely been trying to learn and absorb and stay broad. Personally I think that is what Pratt is for. I knew I liked painting NYC and I wanted to stay farther and farther away from the cliche. I painted nighttime and bodegas and part of my idea was painting the experience of people that live here instead of the photographed experience of NYC. I see the Empire State building very occasionally. Garbage is there every day and is on every block. I’m trying to show as much artistic ability into all the folds in the trash and show people that it can be beautiful too and it deserves its turn to be the subject of artwork.
So how does your Metrocard project tie in with this?
AL: I’ve painted lots of trash on metrocards, very New York.
What initially drew you to Metrocards?
AL: I thought it was something cool that I thought of, but I learned tons of people do it. There was a show in Chelsea for like two years in a row called “Single Fare” and artists all around the world painted on metrocards. So I was like oh shit, I didn't think of this at all. Sometime after moving to the city I got a student metrocard to go to school, it was white with green lettering. I used that twice a day to get back and forth from school. It expired and so I went and got another one and then I had two, I thought it would be weird to throw them out because I had a match. I taped them up on my wall and then I had ten and thought it was so cool to have ten. There’s a pile when you swipe into the subway where people just discard them when they run out so I would go and actively collect them. I couldn’t just have ten I needed hundreds. I never used them and I was waiting for some sort of big project where people would be like where did you get 1,000 metrocards?
You wanted to just wait for the right moment?
AL: Yeah I was waiting too much, so I silkscreened on a couple and then painted on a few more. I realized that was something cool and small and I could double NYC it by putting something NYC on it. I’ve sold a few of them to people out of state. It always impressed me when people outside of NYC want something that just isn’t the statue of liberty. It is also something free to me minus the effort it technically costs, I have 300-400 metrocards in a bowl. I have so many why not start using them. I’m not even sure what made me start painting trash on them, maybe the trading card idea of them. Maybe this is something people should have and you are missing out if you don’t have it. Even though it is something that I just picked up and it may be a little gross, but now I am taking it and painting it black and with a really small brush and painting trash on it. It is also the idea of someone wanting something that was once discarded and possibly thrown out. I’m painting garbage on garbage, but because I am an artist and I've made this following on instagram on doing NYC stuff, I guess it has built up character for some people. I feel like I’ve kinda brought it up from nothing and mostly it is fun, but I think the heart of the idea is art brought this thing up in value from literally nothing because of the art process. I went to school and I have all this knowledge of this fluffy stuff and the theoretical side of art and it is cool that people would want it.
So to you it is satirical in a way?
AL: Definitely to me, but I don’t advertise them in that way.
On instagram you also have an account called Profound Gallery. What is your goal with that and how did it start?
AL: So it’s me and a friend from high school that goes to Emory who is majoring in art history. He is a very businessy guy and he kinda introduced me to the “hype” world, which I follow enough to see it come into art with all these collaborations. It’s cool expensive art like Kaws and we have that connection. We message each other on instagram a lot, just anything cool we think of, new art that is coming out or cool collaborations. It isn’t traditional stuff like a figurative painting.
Yeah that is not the vibe of the hypebeast art world.
AL: Yeah so for years we have been sending each other cool stuff on instagram, it is a mix between art, “hype” things and clothing. In early May or April he said we should start this instagram of cool stuff because it was something we already do for fun. The idea was to share our kinda curated opinion because we both study art history and are dipped into sneaker culture and the sort. We felt like our opinions are pretty good on the subject of art and cool stuff and so why not take a little time to put it out there for everybody else to see. The mission behind it is to post art or cool things under $250 so it can be for almost everybody. Mostly for people our age who aren’t studying art, we wanted to give our opinions. You don’t have to get a poster of a rapper or something that is $20 and put it up on your wall to fill space. You can actually get art for your wall. It is the middle ground of not being shitty art that is a poster and we aren’t expecting everyone to have money to go to galleries to buy art. It is a lot of smaller print editions and art that isn't by super famous gallery represented artists. Most of them have been $75.
Art is so in touch with fashion and sneaker culture now that it is getting more accessible to the general population in the day to day.
AL: I’ve always been interested in toy art and mass produced art. I’ve done a bunch of essays on that type of art. Those are the people that are super successful.
I listened to a talk with Jeff Koons and he was saying that he is interested in multiples because everyone can get a little slice and you don’t have to sell just one thing for millions, even though he does that as well. So you have had a couple of internships with studio artists, what is your process for getting these?
AL: Freshman year when I first got to Pratt I thought that since I was finally in college someone would want me in their studio. I went through Pratt and they told me to look on their website, but everything had these crazy qualifications of needing a degree and I was like fuck most of these, I’m never gonna get an internship. It seemed like Pratt was more focused on helping design students.
Yeah it’s also frustrating because they won’t let you get credit for most of the internships unless you are a junior or a senior.
AL: Very, yeah. Freshman year I thought I was going to do something cool and I ended up working for a juice company over the summer. Sophomore year I thought ‘this year someone will for sure want me”. Again I went through Pratt and made it clear that last year didn’t work and I don’t want to work for a fucking juice company (I’m at art school, not juice school). I wanted someone to look with me because they are adults that are paid to do this.
Yeah it is literally their jobs.
AL: Yeah if I am sitting there for ten minutes then one of them can help me look for a job.
But I realized that I needed to be doing it myself and part of my idea of college was reformed. Maybe they should have done some stuff, but every college has promises that are empty. Way before job hunting season I was in their office in October wanting to look for a job. It didn’t work so I thought instagram is where everyone is and I don’t have to email them and get it buried. That’s the missing Pratt information, I needed to actually see how being a studio artist works. I messaged people on instagram exactly what I was thinking, no fluffy words. I would say like hello, I go to Pratt I really like your work, do you need a studio assistant? This guy Bradley Hart messaged me back saying to email his assistant. I sent him a cover letter and resume and he interviewed me on the phone and talked about schedules. I got to work for him, I learned some valuable things, I got to meet people in his building at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City.
So you got a first hand account of what it actually is like to be a studio artist which they can’t teach you in a classroom?
AL: I learned a lot, he injects paint into bubble wrap to create a painting which is super original.
So a 3D Chuck Close?
AL: Yeah, exactly. Each dot got injected with color and when you move back a few feet it becomes an awesome painting. I definitely still had this void to fill of wanting to work for someone who works with brushes and is a more traditional painter. So I wanted next year to go for someone that was closer to what I want to be. Junior year summer is the last summer I am technically in college, so I messaged people in early January. I messaged people the same thing, but this time I was a lot more picky about who I messaged. I got more responses than last year and this one woman messaged me back saying when can you start? This summer was supposed to go a lot differently than it has. I was also supposed to do a residency at the New York academy of art. So we’ve been in contact since January and just trying to figure out schedules. She doesn’t have any assistant, so I’m excited to learn all these things about her and be the first assistant. I would encourage more people to just reach out. Every time I’ve met an artist, I always walk away from it thinking, “oh they are just another human being and even maybe a little bit weirder than I thought”. I would just encourage more people to message other artists because they are just like you, but older.
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