Made By You: Futura

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This article appears in our “Made By You” special edition issue—created in partnership with Converse.

The internet and social media have made sharing your life with the whole world as easy as turning on your computer or cell phone. For the modern generation it’s nearly impossible to envision our society without the internet. It’s simple now to share your life’s passions with millions but decades ago, when the iconic artist Futura was honing his craft, getting recognized was far more difficult.

“When I started out writing graffiti, or would come up with a tag as my identity or signature, I didn’t realize as a kid that I was creating a brand. Your tag becomes your brand. Graffiti art in New York, and globally, transcended clothing companies, graphics, technology, computing—everything is sort of the next step of what was being done before. You look around and try to adapt and keep pace with things if you can,” said Futura.

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Futura made a name for himself by painting illegally on New York subways in the 1970s as a teenager. Anyone who has seen images of New York from the 70s and 80s knows that the subways and other pieces of the cities’ property were covered with the work of street artists. These artists were “tagging” incessantly in an effort to get their art and name noticed. It’s a true testament to the talent of Futura that his graffiti work was able to stand out from all the other work that was seemingly everywhere in abundance.

“Things were different in terms of what was acceptable and what was tolerated. You can’t paint on the subways anymore—it’s a security risk. That path I took has been erased. That path isn’t possible anymore. People get access to visual information differently today. If I was 15 today I wouldn’t do what I did—I couldn’t do it. I could express myself differently today. I could pick up a camera or write. The opportunities available to young people today are extreme in comparison to what I had,” says Futura in regards to how much our society has altered since his youth.

The opportunities Futura had in the 70s and 80s he took full advantage of. His talent allowed him to rub shoulders with other legendary New York figures of his era— artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Futura is approaching 60 years old and his recent endeavors have had him collaborating with huge companies and products—including Converse. Those collaborations include everything from high-end collectable toys to highly sought after sneakers. Futura has been actively creating art in some form or another for 5 decades now and there seems to be no end in sight for him.

Do you ever take the time to look back and reflect on your legacy?

From time to time. On a regular day-to-day basis I don’t live there in my mind. I have two adult children. There is more going on in my life than whatever legacy I have created as an artist. When it is time to think about being Futura I am super grateful and I realize I am a lucky person. But, normally I don’t think about it much. I just hope I can continue to do interesting work.

You obviously started out quite humbly as a young artist. Has your mentality changed since becoming so successful?

Obviously back then I didn’t have all the experience and skill that I have now. I was a bit of a follower back then. Over the years I have managed to be more clever about how I want to represent my enterprise. I’m fortunate to be working with brands now. I have had my own clothing company. I do graphics for people. I have had my own art shows. I’m very open-minded and I am trying to get back into painting—I’m trying to get back to that.

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Do you think people today have an understanding or appreciation for that world of art you came from?

It goes up and it goes down. In the mid 80s they put the kibosh on that initial craze of subway artists. A bunch of subway artists didn’t survive into the 90s. That whole thing went away and there have been points in time where I thought that art world was in a bad place. Today, I think it is in a good place. Time has been a great alley in terms of supporting the culture. When that era was jumping off there were 15 year olds that were quite impressionable. Now, 30 years or so later, those are the people I am connecting with. Street art, graffiti art—they are much more accepted now. People will always say, ‘these people sold out.’ It’s not really like that—things evolve. You have to give people time to mature and grow. We are in the best place we have ever been right now.

You were a part of the Converse Made By You campaign. What was that experience like for you?

The Made By You campaign was great. I loved how they handled that campaign. I love how it was done all over the planet with known individuals and unknown individuals. They shined the light on people who love Converse. My relationship with Converse goes back to when I was a kid. I have been wearing Converse for more than 40 years probably. They have a staying power that is amazing. It’s one of those American institution companies. You can’t get more real than Converse.

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