Sam Tavill:

The Streets Don't Need Permission

How did you first get into art? 

ST:  My mom is a ceramic artist, she used to be a fashion designer before she had me and my brother.  She was the head designer at Lilly Pulitzer.  She kinda helped start Build A Bear, helped design the first clothes for that.  She switched completely to work in ceramics and that’s what she’s been doing since.  I grew up with a  full studio in my house, she had a kiln and I would just sit in her studio and do art with her. 

 

 Did you take art classes when you were a kid too?  Was she super encouraging? 

ST:  Yeah for sure, I was always a maker.  I made duct tape wallets when that was really big and I was really into fingerboarding when I was little.  I would make my own and get the wood and press them. I would also make my own ramps.  I was always kinda going onto these weird journeys of making.  Then I found graffiti and that took off. 

 

How did your first get introduced to graffiti? 

ST:  I always just thought it was this crazy thing where you didn’t need to ask for permission.  You could put your name where you wanted and then it was there.  I was near the city and would just see things driving.  I would see the tags KID and then PK coming from Jersey into the city.  It was this kinda game I came up with in my head and they would put KID somewhere and then someone else would have to find it and put PK.  I thought it was an interesting group of hidden people that did it.  There was a store near me that sells tons of spray paint and also sells to a ton of artists.  They would have their own events with graffiti artists and I was introduced to people in the community.

 

Where did you graffiti? Were there any abandoned buildings near you?

ST:  For practicing I built a wall, I was a young kid so it didn’t make sense for me to be running around. I wouldn’t have been able to put them in time and make them look good and a piece of art.  My parents were super supportive and my dad helped me build the wall and I would just paint and paint over it.  I did do some stuff in the streets for sure.  My mom was like getting caught is not an option. 

 

That’s probably scary as a parent. 

ST:  They were cool with it though, it was interesting.

 

Did you come up with a name or a tag? 

ST:  I had a name before the one I have now, I was doing SLOB.  I then found out that there were other artists using the name SLOB and I didn’t want to deal with any drama or beef, so I switched it to STAV6.  S for Sam and TAV for Tavill and then 6. 

 

Was the 6 just because it looks cool? 

ST:  I have connections with the number 6, it is an interesting shape as well. 

 

So I know you are now doing more stenciling, what was the evolution for your graffiti technique? 

ST:  It was freehand graffiti that brought me into that world, but I met this guy named Plastic Jesus out in California that would do a ton of pieces and all these crazy stencil works.  If you saw the stencil “Stop Making Stupid People Famous” that was him.  He also does sculpture installation graffiti which is cool.  He showed me a lot of how to do layers and I started to delve into it a little beforehand, but he pushed me to get more detailed and a little more political as well.     

 

Did you meet him through your mom or the graffiti shop? 

ST:  Through mutual friends, my mom knew someone from college that did crossfit with him.  We ended up meeting and it was a cool experience.

 

What imagery did you stencil? 

ST:  I wanted to be very political, I wanted to make a message and make people think about it.  

 

I think the act of graffiti itself is political. 

ST:  For sure, and after seeing this guy that did Kanye posing as Jesus on a wall in red converse.  He was making a statement. I started to think about what is going to make people look at this.  I was inspired by BANKSY and many other street artists.  

 

So graffiti has become more mainstream and a lot of street artists are now in galleries in Chelsea.  What are your thoughts on that? 

ST:  Some of them are definitely looked down upon by the community.  I know certain names that are known for selling out.  I would definitely love to sell my work for large amounts of money, but it is more so where it comes from and the community. 

 

What’s your definition of selling out? 

ST:  I don’t know, that’s such a hard question.  I see it from both sides for sure.  I know some artists that will do a street art cartoony style where they would take already created cartoons and make their stuff from that.  It is using someone else’s art at that point. 

 

I know you have artists like KAWS and they will use existing pop culture icons like Sesame Street and Snoopy and just change a little bit of it and call it their own. 

ST:  I’m a fan of KAWS for sure.  Just seeing his transition from a street art graffiti background to where he is now is super cool.  Shepard Fairey is pretty similar, they’ve developed into these brands.  I like that it is mainstream, it still has an urban feel to it.  It’s pretty hard to be different.  I actually met Shepard Fairey and got a book signed by him. 

 

Where do you want to take your graffiti? 

ST:  I’m really into 3D and making something look like it is real because we experience things in 3D.  I know artists that do 2D graffiti in a 3D way and it looks like a sculpture coming off of the wall.  I got inspired by all of that and brought something into your presence and felt it in a different way. 

 

So you make sculpture of what you would tag? 

ST:  Yeah, I’ve been doing my STAV6 tag.  I don’t want to do a lot of commissions of random letters because I want it to be my work.  It can be other meaningful words and things along those lines in the future. 

 

What do you think of the different styles of graffiti?  There’s an East coast vs. West coast vibe and then you also have what is going on in Chicago.  What do you think are the differences? 

ST:  You even have out of the country and Europe has such a strong street art vibe.  I would say some of the best artists coming out these days are not from the US.  There’s people doing graffiti where you take seran wrap and wrap it around two trees next to each other.  Then they literally created a wall for them to paint.  You can go into the forest and paint anywhere. 

 

So nowadays what even is graffiti and street art is being redefined.  

ST:  Yeah it definitely has opened more into a fine art experience just because a lot of the artists that were doing the trains back in the 70s and 80s have developed their skills and pushed their art into a more fine arts realm.  

 

You’ll see pictures of New York in the 80s and all the subway cars even on the insides are all covered. 

ST:  Yeah definitely.  

 

Do you think that the government in a way needs to be more accepting or is a part of it that it does get taken down. 

ST:  Yeah it is part of it.  That’s why when I was practicing I was fine painting over the same thing.  I never really developed a strong connection to any piece.  When you put it out into the world anyone can tag over it and erase it, it is up for the taking.  It’s always interesting seeing someone cover a BANKSY piece in plexi because it is supposed to be on the street. 

 

So in a way do you disagree with it moving more into galleries because that takes away the integrity of it being street art? 

ST:  I think it being fine arts allows for more exposure for the art itself.  I would love for everything to be covered in graffiti and to see murals everywhere.  But, I think that is only possible to get to that mainstream because it became a more fine arts movement. 

 

Have you tried wheatpaste? 

ST:  Yeah wheatpaste is cool, I know a few guys that are pretty into it.  There’s this one guy I named COST and he’s a real old school guy.  He would do COST is here and he even did something with Madonna.  It got to a mainstream level which was super cool. 

 

Do you think there is something especially cool about being in New York and being able to recognize the different street artists as you walk down the street? 

ST:  Yeah it’s super cool.  My apartment is actually right next to a piece by COBRA and it is the coolest thing to see.  It is awesome to be able to point out to people all the different artists. 

 

Did you find a “crew” to do street art with? 

ST:  I’ve never been into being part of a team, but I’ve talked to a lot of older guys that say you have to get artsier with it.  Tagging is definitely a younger perspective.  I have a friend that was talking to me about the whole scene and invited me into his crew that was WKS, weak kill style.  That is an old crew and he knows COST and it was funny for him to let me in and he hasn’t let anyone in for 30 years.  I was tagging it for a while with my pieces. 

 

Do you think the need to be in a “crew” isn’t as important? 

ST:  Probably not, you should have a crew to an extent, but there is probably less of a gang grouping thing now.  There used to be painting your squad’s name, but now it is more individual and people wanting to be known for them.   

 

 

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