Andy Katz is one of Chuck D’s mADurgency artists who has been delivering artwork to Chuck for many years. After learning about how Andrew got into art, how he creates his art, and how he honors hip-hop and it’s culture, it is clear that Andrew enjoys his profession and is a valued member of SLAMjamz.
The SpitSlam Record Group (Kate G): When did you first start getting into art?
Katz: I can honestly say, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making time for art. Beginning as a small child, I would try to draw members of my family, my sports heroes, and comic book favorites. I would often emulate the most appealing styles, and learned by trying out different media and surfaces. The first positive reinforcement I received in school was based on my drawing and creative abilities. It set me apart a bit, and I felt that I was able to express myself in a way where words might otherwise fail me. It was a new language.
Describe the process for creating your artwork.
Katz: My process for making art varies, depending on what I’m trying to convey. If I’m rendering a watercolor portrait, I draw a lot with pencil first. I look for shapes of color, shadow and light. I rely on a descriptive, accurate, sensitive line that allows me to translate the preliminary sketch into a fully articulated watercolor painting. Achieving a strong likeness is paramount, especially when attempting to make a portrait of someone famous. This might be my favorite part of the challenge. For this reason, I often share my step-by-step process on social media. It allows others to offer a fluid critique of my progress, while inspiring me further with the necessary feedback I need for edits and improvements. The process of creating each piece of art is collaborative. In recent years, I’ve been paying tribute to my Hip-Hop heroes. Over the days and weeks I’m working on a specific Hip-Hop artist’s portrait, I’ll immerse myself in their music. I study the lyrics, listen to deep cuts, and become a fan all over again. I’m often left with new favorites that are over twenty years old. Once a painting is finished being rendered, I begin the sharing process. Using Twitter and Instagram, I post the new work, coupled with short bursts of lyrics. Here, I’m able to connect with the artists themselves, and let them see what I’ve made. Many times, I’ve been able to establish a loose connection with them before I bring the painting to a live show. The fact that I’m able to still see and hear these legends perform is the ultimate capstone to my new process. In what has become part of the experience, I’m able to use the paintings as a ‘ticket for adventure’, as it emboldens me to strike up conversations and make connections with Hip-Hop gods. In a small gesture to preserve Hip-Hop culture, I ask the artists to cosign the work with their own quintessential lyrics. Through this experience, I have been able to meet the authors of some of my favorite songs, and I’ve been able to amass a collection of one-of-a-kind imagery. This collection is my record of incredible experiences that Hip-Hop culture has provided me. It’s a permanent reminder of the music, the memories, and the connection. The art serves to perpetuate the Hip-Hop culture and celebrate those who have shared their art with me.
Tell us about your current project you are doing with PE.
Katz: I like to think that by the time someone reads this, I’ll be into something new with PE. Mr. Chuck continuously provides me with many new and inspiring opportunities: designing a new cassette tape stack t-shirt, curating the www.publicenemy.com website, and working with a group of talented artists and designers to develop imagery for Man Plans God Laughs. Being a part of the Man Plans God Laughs album design was a surreal experience. I was very fortunate to have my watercolor painting included along with the liner notes in the album. Recently, I was tapped to be a part of a UK endeavor called 12-inch Artwork. Reformatting one of my Public Enemy watercolor paintings (Chuck & Flav) to the size of a vinyl record album, we are able to offer a limited edition 12” x 12” image that can be purchased at live UK gigs and on-line. The plan is to offer affordable, hi-quality, prints, that are each signed by Chuck. This serves as a great example of how Chuck supports the arts, thinks innovatively, and continues to redefine and expand the reach of Hip-Hop culture.
What were your musical influences?
Katz: Wow! That’s a big question. I guess you could say that I was first influenced by my admiration of those who could make music. I’ve always been in awe of artists who could not only play and read music, but could express themselves sonically through lyrics, beats, rhythm, and melodies. I’m not a musician, a rapper, or a beatmaker and I don’t dance particularly well. That being said, I have a deep connection to music that served as the backdrop for the most important moments in my life. We all do. If you’re lucky, at a young age you experience music. I was fortunate to grow up in a family that valued and exposed me to wide variety of music, despite growing up in a culturally homogenous neighborhood. The diversity came from the music. Within my neighborhood and school, I was introduced to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Talking Heads, The English Beat, The Police, and U2. Once I left the neighborhood, I found that there was a whole world of music I needed to hear. One such exposure happened by accident. One evening, a guest at my sister’s party left his homemade mix tape in the deck of the stereo. On that tape was -Jane by EPMD, Supersonic by JJ Fad, Wild Wild West by Kool Moe Dee, and The Show by Doug E. Fresh. Instantly, I was hooked. I wanted to know more about this movement. Enter: LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. Radio, Bigger and Deffer, and Licensed to Ill brought New York to the Maryland suburbs. One day, a friend played a song in the movie called Less Than Zero- Public Enemy’s Bring the Noise. We spent the next month learning every word, and making sure we understood every reference. I loved the props dropped for Eric B, LL, and Anthrax all in the same song. It was like nothing I had ever heard before, or since. The innovation that can be found on those Bomb Squad records, subsequent Beastie Boys albums, De La and Tribe joints are inspiring.
Tell us a little about Chuck’s artist network mADurgency and your part in it.
Katz: If you’re ever fortunate enough to meet Chuck D, you instantly understand what makes him an innovator and a successful entrepreneur. He is a connector. Rather than shying away from the crush of attention his notoriety brings, he brings people together from disparate backgrounds to support Hip-Hop culture. He is often two steps ahead, always knowing how one conversation connects to another and provides vision that leads to artistic collaboration all over the globe. As an ‘EarthiZen’, Chuck has met creatives from every corner of the world. With this in mind, he started the mADurgency artist collective. mADurgency is a group of artists assembled and hand-picked by Chuck, to serve the independent Hip-Hop community. The artists in this formidable ‘art posse’ include: Amy Cinnamon, myself, Montez Petrose, Darren Holtom, Madina, Askem, Kelvin Fonville, and Bill Ladson. We are a well-rounded group of talent, that provide artistic services for Hip-Hop artists who want to personalize the visual elements of their endeavor. To become familiar with the network, please visit www.mADurgency.com. I am honored and humbled to be a part of their group.
Besides Hip-Hop artists, do you do any other type of art?
Katz: I paint what inspires me. It started with trips to the ballpark when I was a kid. Before hi-definition TV, and the multitude of televised games, the most beautiful way to see sports was in person. I have vivid memories of walking up the ramps at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, anxious to see the bright green field and the crisp white uniforms. This aesthetic is no doubt the catalyst for many of my early paintings of sports figures. While I love the challenge of painting accurate portraits, I have also tried to capture the landscapes and themes of Maryland’s eastern shore. Exploring our surroundings can be very inspiring, and I’ve been able to use my artwork as a means to investigate the natural beauty of blue crabs, wooden boats, and waterfowl. Believe it or not, the sports art was the spark I used to bridge the gap back into the Hip-Hop world. In 2012, I painted an image of Baseball Hall-of-Famer Rod Carew in preparation for the Baseball Hall of Fame induction trip I take every year with a friend. While waiting to meet him and obtain his signature on the piece, it occurred to me that he was mentioned in the Beastie Boys - Sure Shot. I decided that I’d ask him to scrawl the lyrics on my painting. I remember being struck with the thought: “I’m on to something here”. It was an epiphany for me, and I set out to continue this personal celebration of music, lyrics, and art.
Anything else you want to tell us?
Katz: My artwork is my way of honoring Hip-Hop, and trying to be a part of it. I want to celebrate the best of the culture, and pass it on visually to a next generation. People are looking for inspiration and for a movement with a message. Hip-Hop can be all of that. At its best, it has been just that.
Kate G is Kate Gammell for Update Reports on The SPITdigital SLAMjamz Recording Label Group