Interview: Curtis Kulig aka Love Me
From the Midwest, to Los Angeles, to Tokyo, to the 5 boroughs; his never ending stickers and neat cursive handstyles lace the city streets. Not so much a tag, but a statement, “Love Me” has seemed to take on its own meaning depending on who you talk to. On rooftops and building walls, to mailboxes and street signs, Curtis Kulig (photographer turned writer) began his relentless “Love Me” campaign over a decade ago; along the way catching the attention of not just the graffiti crowd, but fashion designers and fine art critics as well. His seamless transition from the street to major commissions (like the billboard for makeup brand Bobbi Brown and installations at the Ace Hotel) has helped Curtis leave his mark on an even greater audience; and made “Love Me” impossible to miss. 12ozProphet sat down with Curtis Kulig to discuss his transition to the fine art world, why he doesn’t claim to be a “graffiti artist”, and his compulsive need to get up; whether its legal or not.
What was your introduction to graff?
I don’t know if I have a story behind it. I was always very into text and writing things; when I was little I remember copying definitions of words out of the dictionary for no reason. I grew up in the Mid West (North Dakota) and there wasn’t much serious graffiti going on where I was from. I would see stupid “Ozzy Osbourne” tags and shit; I can’t tell you how many people wrote “Anarchy” symbols all over the place (laughs). A few people had their little crews and such, I was definitely aware of the writing around me, but I don’t remember paying any real attention to it until I moved to Minneapolis at 18. It was like the “big city” of the Midwest; I began noticing a lot more serious tags and pieces everywhere; and started experimenting with my writing more.
Were you already writing “Love Me” by then? Do you remember the first time you wrote it?
It was a long process. I used to just fuck with any words possible and try to make letter combinations out of them that felt good to me. I wrote so many millions of things before I found “Love Me”. It came out of a more personal statement.. or message I guess, that I needed to make. Not just what letters fit well together. I was going through a lot of shit in my life, feeling burnt out from the lifestyle I was living; So I completely sobered up and separated myself from all this negativity around me. In changing everything about how I was living, I distanced myself from a lot of people I’d normally spend all my time with, and spent all that time alone. There was a lot of writing in sketchbooks, journals.. trying to unload all my bullshit on something or in some direction. I don’t remember exactly the first time I wrote “Love Me” in a sketchbook or whatever, but I do remember that almost immediately the “M” formed a heart shape; and I kept playing with that idea from there. There was no real flow to the letters (laughs), not that my handstyle is some masterpiece now either.
Tell me about the transition to New York
After Minneapolis I was in L.A for 8 years. That’s right when I had sober’d up, around 22. In 2007 I made the permanent move to New York. Before that I had been back and forth (between LA and NY) visiting friends for a week here or a week there. I’d catch a few tags, maybe throw up some “Love Me” stuff, but it was sparse. When I moved here seriously, I was in the only seriously relationship I ever had.. which lasted about 5 months after we got to New York. My transition to the city was laced with alot of feelings of “What the fuck am I doing?” I had a great job at a gallery in LA, a girlfriend, plenty of friends; but I wasn’t happy. (Moving to NY) served as an ego check. I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew there needed to be a change.
What was the reception to “Love Me” like in NY?
I don’t know how long it took for people to start noticing it. I wasn’t trying to just come into a new city and like… bash the whole place out; but anybody who really spends the time it takes to go out every night can definitely make a mark. My intention wasn’t to go too crazy, I wanted to feel it out a bit. The reception has been mostly positive from the start, especially with the general public; and I think that’s because “Love Me” is just so obvious. They’re two words that anyone at any age has some relation too, whether your a OG New York writer or a middle school girl; people just get it. Obviously there is going to be hate, but I don’t think it’s one specific group of people. There isn’t one genre of person that likes or hates “Love Me”, but more often then not the reactions are positive.
What did you learn from your time spent with Shepard Fairey?
I learned about work ethic from Shepard. His drive is obsessive, and I feel like I share that same obsessiveness. I feel like anyone who puts stuff up in the street has some type of obsession; theres no other reason why you’d be out there. That was a huge thing I took from my time with him. Even at his age he still is fuckin driven to get stuff up. He is beyond obsessive. No matter what, he just wants to get up. Whether its stickering poles or murals on the sides of a Hotel in whatever country. He just wants more. More, More, More, More. That’s definitely what I got from Shepard, just the work ethic to produce and put it out there.
How did you make the move from the street to the gallery?
It seem to just happen. It kind of came from a few girls who were like, “Can you write it in my bedroom?”, or something like that. At some point someone just brought me a canvas and was like “you should write it on a canvas”. So I did a few of those, and I started doing this repetitive sort of thing where I’d just write “LoveMeLoveMeLoveMe” etc. and cover canvases. I guess it started through people wanting me to write “Love Me” somewhere they could hold onto it, rather than the street. It’s still now slowly forming into what it is. It’s almost a meditative thing for me. I like the idea of writing on canvases, I like the idea of different techniques, different mediums, that sort of thing.. so it all formed naturally.
What’s your favorite medium to work in?
I enjoy canvases alot. There is so much give, and you can layer so many colors and that sort of thing; but overall, I really like the idea of rustic, tough metal. Oxidizing patinas and stuff like that. This year I started doing a lot more of that sort of thing, holding onto the handstyle and actually writing with the patina still on the metals, then letting them sit and watching them come to life. I really like the look of that, it’s just tough looking.
Tell me about your relationship with KRINK
I’ve always respected KR as a writer, and been a fan of everything he’s done. The product he’s developed is great, its spot on. I’ve been using his stuff for a long time, the tools they make are always on point. Sometimes I feel like I use so much.. I’m going to drive him out of business or something (laughs).
If you could get up ANYWHERE, and not get caught, what spot would you choose?
Whats the right answer like, the statue of liberty? Realistically, I enjoy billboards a ton. I’m into the idea of taking over a billboard. The idea of using a designated area for advertisement as your own medium is amazing to me. Billboards are it. Any one.
I don’t want to say with what company.. but I am doing a shoe this year. I’m doing some jewelry with Anna Sheffield, she’s amazing. A collaboration with OBEY, which has been a long time in the making, Its alot; like 20 pieces. Just did an installation in a bar in Miami, got alot of those coming up which is always cool. I feel like I have to look at my day planner (laughs). Theres a lot of stuff. I just want to do MORE.
Curtis Kulig and Skullphone “Scripture”
October 6th – November 8th, 2011
Mallick Williams & Co Gallery
150 11th Avenue, New York, NY
Photo: Brian Kelley