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7 Questions with Street Artist “Army of One” [Interview]
Amble past any random Lower East Side corner, and it’s likely been graced at one time or another by the work of Jef Campion. This firefighter-turned-graffiti artist goes by the pseudonym Army of One/jc2, and uses Diane Arbus’ iconic “Grenade Boy” image to spread his dual message about the plight of children in the face of poverty, war, and greed. He was in the news last year after being arrested for delivering his creative passion.
Campion is headquartered in Chelsea, but maintains a studio space up in Yonkers where he’s worked as a firefighter for over two decades. The artist was kind enough to talk to us about the inspiration behind the images and placements. Herewith, five questions with Army of One/jc2.
BOWERY BOOGIE: In your opinion, what is it about the Lower East Side that makes it so attractive to graffiti artists?
Jef Campion: In this metropolis, where the powers that be are trying to make every neighborhood a picture perfect postcard, after being squeezed outta TriBeCa, SoHo and Chelsea, we as artists still feel we belong. The vibe, attitude and the grittiness are still evident, even though the push is on to “pretty up” the LES for the tour buses.
BB: Explain the inspiration behind Army of One, and what you hope to achieve with each placement.
JC: Army of One was born from the ashes of 9/11/01. After spending months on the twisted rubble at Ground Zero, nothing made sense to me anymore as a firefighter, let alone as an artist. Trying to return to life as I knew it, I realized the world lost its innocence, and children were being put in harm’s way through erroneous wars, poverty and disease. As a human being, I volunteer for and raise money for children’s charities, and wounded soldiers organizations. As an artist, Army of One /jc2 was born, and we wanted to make a difference through our images to bring to light the plight of children globally…..
BB: What’s the ultimate message? Any throw-ups in particular that you’re most proud of?
JC: We are extremely proud of all of our work on the streets of this world, though the images and artwork are just a vehicle for our message. I am prepared to face authority and condemnation from the new world order. Our images are a metaphor for pain and ignorance to a child’s plight, the innocence lost, on political corruption, religious vagrants and corporate greed. Army of One may never end war, poverty nor disease through our grassroots meanderings and art, but we are the new visionaries.
BB: The Grenade Boy image comes from Diane Arbus’ photo of a boy in Central Park, circa 1962. What do you say to those who would claim that appropriating this work makes yours less original?
JC: I am and always was a huge Diane Arbus fan. Through art school and beyond, her life captivated me, as she was a fellow New Yorker, and lived and suffered not far from where i live now. Her spirit haunts and drives me. jc2 and I decided that Grenade Boy would be our first image, as a perfect metaphor for the hurt and pain children endure in this land of lost innocence. We doctored up the image and put our own suffering and details to the fight. Through the centuries, artists have borrowed pieces of time and artwork to tell a story; I was schooled in art and art history, so does that make me any less original?
BB: How many do you make at a time?
JC: About 20 at a clip.
BB: Do you think the swift gentrification in the neighborhood will sanitize the flourishing graffiti scene down here?
JC: As long as there are walls, curbs, signs, mailboxes, and sidewalks in this decaying city, there will be street art. And the messages will be clear,”We are the new prophets, the blood of the new and the never Lasting.
BB: Other thoughts?
JC: Revolutionary violence is unnecessary, as it is not a liberating force. Let art be your weapon. WRITE ON MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS WHO RUN WITH THE NIGHT
Army of One will be featured as part of the xCIA exhibit at the Hendershot Gallery beginning tomorrow evening.