12 Questions: GREVE (DC5)

By - Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Chicago-based artist GREVE (DC5) has been part of the graffiti scene for well over twenty years, and as evidenced by his past and current works, the world is his canvas. From tags and throws to freights and transit trains, assuredly legal to patently illegal, GREVE has done it all.

In more recent years, GREVE has curbed his inner adrenaline junkie, aching for thrills, in order to focus his energy on painting legal walls, creating art that incorporates his past in graffiti into photorealism. His newest works have been comprised of collages of pictures, painted onto walls. These paint-based collages feature reproductions of familiar graffiti settings, celebrities, scenes from popular movies and television shows, cartoons and sitcoms. Each mural that he paints tells its own story about the art scene and graffiti world, with a particular access point.

12ozProphet met up with GREVE in Chicago as he took some time away from his mural painting to talk about his work and inspirations.

1. Introduce yourself – your name and any crews you represent.

My name is Greve, I am DC5 crew. I’m from Chicago. 

2. Tell us about your name – what are its origins?

I write Greve. In French and Italian, Greve means a strike, as in an organized stoppage of workers. In Danish and other languages it means Count, as in a title of nobility. I speak none of those languages, and didn’t know any of that until Google was a household name. In the 1990s I wrote Grief until I was arrested with a couple of other kids tagging the insides of the CTA trains. The officers made official record of one of the other guys as being Grief, so I switched it up and used the verb form; Grieve. I dropped the “i” to make it shorter and flow better, and have been writing it ever since. 

3. When did you first start painting and what inspired you to pick up that first can of spray paint?

The first thing I ever went out and painted with was a spray can of tree limb remover black tar…shit you put on a freshly cut tree limb. Until this day I don’t even know what it is. Anyway, that was in 1992. I saw beat street on late night television and I was hooked. I wanted to go write a name that same night. I remember being a troubled youth from a newly broken home, just wandering the streets of Chicago trying to find my way. I remember seeing pieces, characters, and productions by the aerosol crew ufg-thc crews and dc5 crew. I remember looking at those pieces and not being able to comprehend how such beautiful and …tribal artwork could be done with any sort of paint. Let alone spraypaint. And thank led me to eventually pursuit something more than just going out bombing; which is essential and very necessary often.. But, I digress.. I just hope that even my art could inspire just one kid to not join a gang or ruin their life. 

4. Your more recent work straddles the line between graffiti and street art, how do you think your work has evolved since its beginnings?

A good friend of mine and I had a conversation recently where he stated that anyone who writes a pretend name thousands of times over and over again is definitely some level of crazy, lol. I feel like a lot of graffiti writers downplay and look down upon street artists as if there should be a separation or a line. Is there even a separation? It’s different for sure but I think it’s all just a label. The actual label that i was always interested in was “public art”. It all fits under that umbrella. There’s some generalization that can be easily made in both street art and graffiti. I feel like the landscape of graffiti has changed so much and I watched graffiti change, and that took a certain level of acceptance no different to me than the level of acceptance necessary to embrace street art as a fellow spraypainting culture or genre or whatever. Graffiti tends to be egotistical and masculine, machismo even. And there are very different labels and divisions within graffiti itself. Train painter; subway or freight, bomber, legal wall painter, etc. I try hard to not let old graffiti “rules” that were engrained in me long ago govern me. You can’t teach old dog new tricks but I’m trying. So first and foremost, my work and i have changed by just getting over that hump. Once there are truly no rules to going outside and using spraypaint, the work is going to evolve. I just still love graffiti and trains and the marriage that those two things have too much to stop including it in my public art. 

5. Does your work take influence from any classical painters or artists? I’ve noticed you mentioned neo-impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac on your Instagram. Who are your favorite painters?

Absolutely. My family immigrated to America from the former Czechoslovakia so albeit cliche; Alphonse mucha has always been one of my greatest inspirations… And Mucha led me to Windsor McCay, J.c. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, and all of the advertising greats, and that continues to be my favorite stuff; vintage advertising art. But I can not downplay Comicbooks, again cliche; were and are a huge inspiration. Everything from Walt Kelly and Charles Schulz to Jim Lee and Todd McFarland. I am constantly being influenced by all types of artists and art.

6. Did you go to art school or have any formal art training?

No, not anymore than early high school classes, but I’ve been studying art since long before I was even old enough to even go to art school. We have great museum collections in Chicago. I also learned a lot working as Pose (MSK) apprentice for almost eight years. He had schooling and would share information constantly, and that was an amazing experience as you can imagine. Beyond that, I just love art, music, and painting mostly and always have since as far as my memory can go back. I’ve always loved to read in general, and I’ve learned most things that i know from reading. Maybe google has kinda ruined that nowadays, but I have a thirst for information, regardless of where it comes from.  

7. Your productions and walls are planned from start to finish with extraordinary detail. Which part of this process is most challenging for you?

I like to think that I always had discipline with my art, even when it was illegal graffiti on trains. I would meticulously watch the spots and try to police who was in and out of them, time myself, time the workers. Wait what was the question again? (Lol) okay. I think of my work as some sort of penance, it’s excruciating. It’s all very challenging. So many feels, hi-s and lows while painting these new pieces. It’s very detailed and it requires a high level of concentration. If you see me paint, it’s a rather slow process, meticulous, perhaps even boring. It takes forever, I have to draw it and redraw it, trying to remember all the color combinations is like some sort of a mensa game. I’ll build up the characters and the train and whatever else I have laid out and I’ll paint the letters on the train last –kind of a reward of sorts. And it’s funny because I really enjoy the final picture of the painting when it’s done best. And given the context of the art; there’s irony in that.

8. What’s the context behind these robot-themed pieces? Do you have a particular affinity for robots?

Haha! This reminds me of that terminator quote from one of the movies “not a robot; a cybonetic organism” in your best Arnold impersonation.  Well, this particular piece was robot themed. And it’s based on “man vs machine” which was a quote I once did on a train, and then a mindset I often times had while painting trains. When you’re standing in a subway yard and all of the electric is buzzing around you, and it’s just you and those giant people-moving machines; you gain a respect for them. But you also feel like you’re fighting them somehow or they’re fighting you…without going too far off the deep end. I have an affinity for nostalgia from my childhood and a faint premonition that a war against the machines could actually take place one distant day from now considering how much The United States loves it’s defense systems and fear tactics. 

I definitely have an affinity for trains. Some of the pictures from recent paintings are real and some of them I have recreated or redone based on pictures that I was never able to get, or that got away from me somehow,or maybe even what I’d like them to look like. Every time I was arrested for painting trains, the police or court clerks or the lawyers; would always make these side comments to me that “I’m very talented” and things like that and that “if I put my talents to better use I could be an amazing artist”. I don’t know if this is better use, but in a sense, im creating my own world, and in that world I’m painting my own trains with no repercussions. It’s a dream come true. 

9. Speaking of artificial intelligence – how do you think technology has influenced graffiti and street art as a whole? 

Well, there’s the obvious, 12oz, Instagram, they’re often instant gratification. When we were kids we had to really seek this stuff out, now it’s just served on a digital platter. This is a whole new world it’s not graffiti or street art that have changed, the whole world it lives in has changed which has also changed the participants. I was at a family barbq the other day, and there were five kids under the age of ten playing outside; on their iPads. It blew my mind. 

You used to have to find people to meet them. You don’t have that anymore, you just have to find their social handle. You have street view walking you straight to wherever you are looking for. And in this world there is a remarkable number of cameras. When I was a kid I never owned a camera. My mom was in control of photographs. In the modern street art internet era there are so many photographers and urban explorers that document. They are essential to keeping the movement alive… even if they do sometimes step on toes and some of them are annoying at times. Back in the day Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper were the photographers. Many stories remain untold, and newer lessor stories are now easily glorified which creates bitter feelings, which probably could even lead us back to the graffiti / streetart conversation. 

10. What do you think about Chicago graffiti? 

I think it’s interesting and I think that we’ve actually been catching more attention and respect lately. It’s an interesting one because we have a subway train scene that can only be compared to those scenes in Europe, and there are absolutely amazing things that infamous writers are doing and have been doing, constantly for the past 30 years. We have a huge successful street art scene. And we have many successful artists who carry Chicago on their backs. It’s always important to keep in mind that Chicago in general, is a still a very segregated conservative city. Chicago has a lot of great graffiti role players who are instrumental to the scene and do a shit ton of work, paint trains and travel, get arrested, etc for ten years or less. Eventually the harsh penalties and the negative view from a city that generally hates graffiti weighs down on them and other than the occasional drunken tags leaving the bar, they are basically finished. And rightfully so, it’s also called responsibility. And the more that I think about it; they’re not Chicago exclusive, there’s many veterans who fought hard in the war against the buff in every city who don’t get the credit that they deserve, and these people were the backbone of graffiti becoming what it is today.  

11. What are your thoughts about 12ozProphet and its place in graffiti culture?

12oz definitely has to be included in the conversation of graffiti.  There was a time when 12oz was like riding the lines. You can go city to city to see who was up on the forums and threads. I think a lot of that has evolved as the internet has. I feel like now, 12oz has grown up, but 12oz was Instagram before Instagram existed, and changed the way many of us see graffiti. 

12. If you could do it all over again – would you do anything differently? 

You live and you learn. You make mistakes and you learn from them. It would be a lot easier if I could do it again, but I wouldn’t be who I am today without the experiences I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned. The grass is always greener.

Bonus round

13. What’s next for GREVE in 2015?

Well, I’m in New York right now, so hopefully just more traveling and more painting while meeting good people along the way! 


You can check out more from GREVE and see what he is up to in the big apple by following him on Instagram @knowtrespassing.

Photos by Jeff Mancilla

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