interview / liz rice mccray

Dear reader, this month we welcome the lovely and talented artist Timothy Curtis to the cover of Bl!SSS Magazine. To date, Curtis’ artistic style is defined by a powerful and evolving line that, for the artist, communicates his thoughts and emotions through the action of creation. Through facial and figure interpretation, Curtis uses intuitive painting and drawing techniques seeking to understand the mind’s innate way of constructing human representations. The work is intended to inspire an augmented visual language, inclusive of and available to all people regardless of access, background or conditioning. His playfully simplified figures are riddled by direct, as well as abstract, entanglements—a commentary as to the root and nature of human relationships—an essential and unifying connectedness. As further suggested through the compositional tension of his more recent bicycle paintings, there emerges a narrative on the complexities of progress, while preserving a child-like spirit of fun. Many thanks Timothy, for taking the time to answer our questions, as we really enjoyed interviewing you. To see more of Timothy Curtis’ art, visit his website at www.TimothyCurtis.com.

My favorite question to ask, will you describe where you are right now? This way everyone reading along can imagine the setting. And once we have the visual, will you please introduce yourself to our reader, a mini-synopsis, if you would?
At this moment I am at a memorial party in Philadelphia, celebrating the life of Tommy Gallagher, my friend Matt’s dad. Forever, Hothead and Ses are rolling dice with about ten other people on a table at the back of the party. I am on my phone answering these questions, wearing a brand new suit and surrounded by dozens of drunk people as well as a balloon sculpture of the painter Bob Ross. Tommy was a painter too, as well as a songwriter. His greatest hit was “I’m Going to Knee Cap You,” a song about a snitch in the Philadelphia Water Department, where he once worked. He was a star and loved by many. But more to your question, my name is Timothy Curtis – the first-born son of Lisa Milligan, born in Philadelphia the same year that Rocky 3 came out. I live in Brooklyn, New York, where I draw and paint every day, which is what I’ve been doing almost every single day now since Rocky 5 came out. Life is good.

 Agreed, life is good and a nice reminder to hear it. You are a self-taught artist; will you talk about your early beginnings?
When I was nine years old, an older friend (he was 14 or so) named Steve King gave me and my friend Eric Sears our first tags. Mine was “Pipe,” which was short for Piper Tim. Steve was from Southwest Philly, skateboarded, and wrote graffiti really well. He was a large and looming figure, around 250 pounds, which made everything he did that much more incredible to watch. The day after he gave me my tag, Eric and I stole markers from Squire Drugs, we started writing on everything and I haven’t stopped marking things since. Steve passed away from a drug overdose but I recognize now that he’s the one that got me in motion from such a young age. I owe him, and he is missed.

Will you share with us your memory of the first time and the feelings you felt?
The first time that I put a tag on a wall and thought about its purpose was in a hallway at Patterson Grade School, the short hallway that led to the girls’ restroom. I was trying to get the attention of a few girls. It worked. It still works.

How did you adopt your moniker Agua?
The name Agua came from a neighborhood in Philly called Overbrook. My friend Anthony always used to say, “I’m thirsty, I need some agua.” This was a joke, because at the time in Philly, mostly North Philly, you would hear “Agua! Agua! Agua!” in the streets and it meant that the cops were around. I was getting into a lot of trouble at that time, and the name stuck. Plus, I looked up to an older writer named Agent, so the “AG” was perfect then, like a reference to someone that I admired at the time.

What would you say the difference is in today’s world, regarding street art and artists starting out on the streets?
As far as I am aware, the streets and creating street art having nothing to do with one another. This is all a blur to me. If an artist has written graffiti or if they are self-taught, and if they paint a mural or do a project outdoors, they seem to be labeled a “street artist.” However, if an artist that went to school and has an MFA does a mural or a project outdoors, it seems to be labeled as “public art.” And at the same time, it seems that real estate developers like partnering with artists and organizations to put murals in the streets of the neighborhoods that they are working quickly to gentrify. How are these projects classified? I don’t know. Public art is very important, I do know that. If you’re an artist that’s from the streets, or if you’re an artist that goes into the streets, no matter what, at the end of the day you are an artist. People deserve access to art, so all labels aside, this is all that really matters.

What relationships/environments do you credit most in this moment to who you are?
The city I grew up in and the things I learned there have shaped me into who I am today. My daughter Nassia keeps me focused and grounded and my friends keep me connected to what’s real. I would be nothing, and would not be able to accomplish anything, without the support of my family. There are about eight people who make my world go round and without them I couldn’t exist. If you don’t have good friends that you can trust, I advise that you find some quick.

The pursuit of painting – from graffiti to studio art to galleries – will you tell us a little about your journey and what stands out most?
First, learning and reading deeply about art and art history changed my life. Secondly, there is no exact formula. Sometimes the most interesting and valuable opportunities will come in surprising packages. Recently, Tal Cooperman and Jon Gray helped to rebuild the Palms Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. Ordinarily, I’m not sure that an artist would necessarily care, take notice, or have been asked to participate. But what they’ve done at the Palms is phenomenal, they have created something truly new — they’ve brought art to the masses in an incredible way with a centralized vision of audience participation. They rebuilt the casino around the owners’ Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta’s personal art collection, containing some of the world’s most renowned museum artists, like Warhol and Basquiat. But Tal and Jon are working to fill the public spaces with contemporary works by young artists as well, like the 20-foot painting I made for their Cashier’s Cage called “I Wear My Money on My Face.” Now, everyone who cashes in or out at the casino engages with my painting, which is probably more people than would ever visit a gallery. The guys invited me to the VIP opening of the casino earlier this year, and it was insane being there, like something out of a Scorsese movie but way better. I met the one and only Don King in person, he was wearing an American flag around his shoulders and carrying one at the same time. The whole experience was wild. And I think that’s what a life in art can offer; sometimes because of the art you’ll find yourself surrounded by all types of people, legends and otherwise, that you might never meet any other way. It’s like graffiti to me — race, class and celebrity can be forgotten and you can connect with people on a level field. It’s amazing, I’m very grateful for the experiences that creating art provides me both inside and outside of the studio.

What do you think is most misunderstood about your work if anything?
I would put it this way: if my work is completely understood, then I’m doing something wrong. It’s good for both to exist, understood and misunderstood.

Good answer. Your trade mark faces, I must say I want them all over my house, depicting all the emotions I may feel in one day. Will you tell me about the process and the expressions and how they evolve?
I draw every day and I am different on every day. And so, my work evolves as I do. But more specifically regarding the faces that often appear in my work, I’ve spent years compiling notebooks that are filled with drawings of probably tens of thousands of unique faces. I reference my notebooks constantly for ideas. It’s like a visual journal, I catalogue every moment, idea, and feeling through drawing.

Can you share a little bit about your recent solo exhibition with Kaikai Kiki in Tokyo,“Laugh Now Laugh Later”? A long time ago, I wrote on a wall “laugh now, cry later” and it was a perfect description of my life at that moment in time. I was reckless, and I laughed and had more fun than anyone. Then I experienced the consequences of the life I had been living and the choices I had made. Hard times build character and resilience, but you learn the hard way that laughing without a care is a luxury.

I titled my first solo exhibition “Laugh Now, Laugh Later” because it’s exactly where I am in my life. Takashi Murakami is a passionate and selfless person with an incredible eye who takes great care to support and honor younger artists. He gave me my first solo show and it was an unparalleled learning experience that I will be forever grateful for. But more specifically, I am eternally thankful to Murkami for his care, insight, and mentoring.

What is a distraction/hobby that helps you with creativity?
I am my own distraction. When I can sit still, I can draw all day with my eyes closed. But I am really hyper and have a lot of energy, so on most days I can’t really stay in one spot doing the same thing for too long. Writing and drawing do more for me than anything else, and I have found that learning to sit still in order to think for an hour or two can be very powerful.

Not to be depressing, but when it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?
As a good father and friend. The rest will be what it will. Pawn and king both end up back in the same box after the game is over, is what I was told.

Any words of advice to artists just starting out?
I don’t have any words of advice, but Cézanne does. “To a young artist: I have perhaps come too early. I was the painter of your generation more than of my own… You are young, you have vitality, you will impart your art an impetus which only those who have emotion can give. As for myself, I feel I am getting old… Let’s work! Perception of the model and its realization are sometimes very long in coming.” (Paul Cézanne, 1896)

Very last question; do you have any last words, shout-outs, declaration of love or hate? All love, no hate. Thanks to Dana Gluck for all she does and for feeding me so well; to my little brothers Robert and Frankie, my best friends Eze and Christian; and tons of love to my Los Ange- les friends who are too numerous to mention. Many of them put a lot of sweat in or have work currently on view at “Beyond the Streets” in downtown LA. I hope all BLISSS readers will check this show out before it’s over. And a huge thanks to Liz McCray and everyone at BLISSS for the wave.


And a sincere thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.