Victor Ving: Street Artist and His Quest Across America
Since its birth in NYC during the 60s and 70s, street and graffiti art has shifted from urban alleyways and subways to galleries and public spaces. The sole elements of street art and graffiti is ultimately about self-expression, creating styles unbounded from private spaces or restricted institutions.
However, it is now a global phenomenon incorporating unique aesthetics and artists from around the world. The misconception of graffiti and street art being equated to vandalism has been substituted as a legitimate artistic practice. It is now integrated into retail, fashion, corporate buildings, and urban centers.
Despite the exposure of street art within a global market, Victor Ving, co-owner of Klughaus, Greetings Tour, and Graffiti USA has bought authentic graffiti designs in the public sphere. His artist-operated agencies have connected anonymous street artists with projects from renowned clients. Ving’s current project, Greetings Tour, allows him to travel around the United States, painting postcard-like murals representing all the unique aspects of a city or location.
Jennifer Gutierrez: What is a typical day/week for you?
Victor Ving: This is going to be a pretty unique answer for an agency owner, but I actually live and work full time out of an RV across the country. I left New York City in 2014, and this mobile lifestyle has enabled me to build a network of artists and clients nationwide. With that said, I usually wake up around 7 am and get some uninterrupted work in before breakfast. The rest of my days are dedicated to client development and making myself available to support our team. The Klughaus team is mostly based in New York working out of our studio in East Williamsburg, and we also have a project manager based in Portland, OR.
Luckily, the RV acts as a solar-powered mobile office and thank you to Verizon unlimited/hot spots! There’s also a lot of time spent at various coffee shops or co-working spaces when stronger wifi is needed! Any time I’m in a new city, I’m always keeping my eyes out for talent on the walls and looking for new opportunities to introduce graffiti & murals.
Jennifer Gutierrez: How did you become interested in street art?
Victor Ving: My business partner and myself come from graffiti roots, meaning letter-based artwork primarily done with spray paint. The public often groups graffiti and street art together as one thing which is why we position ourselves as a “Graffiti, Street Art and Mural Agency.” One of our goals is to educate the public and clients on the differences once we have their attention.
Taken from our website:
“Graffiti is a generational art form. Our artists learned their craft on the streets from pioneering masters who came before them. After decades of apprenticeship, they can command distinctive lettering and trailblazing techniques unique to the aesthetic.
This on-the-ground training gives graffiti artists unprecedented skills for commercial work. Unlike street artists, who are initially trained in prestigious studio art programs, graffiti artists innately understand large-scale, unorthodox project needs.
At Klughaus, we’re pushing this misunderstood medium into new territories. By connecting these specialized artists with renowned clients, we’re championing these artists’ unrivaled skills and bringing their authentic graffiti perspective into the public arena.”
ASKEW ONE did an article with 1xRUN a while back that did a great job of breaking down the difference between graffiti and street art. I never attended art school and learned to paint primarily through graffiti. I now utilize those skills to create legal public art on my personal project called Greetings Tour. I’m still very passionate about graffiti and humbled to where it has brought me in life today.
Jennifer Gutierrez: Your project, Greetings Tour, allows you to travel across the United States and create postcard style murals. What were some of the best areas you had visited?
Victor Ving: Before the Greetings Tour, I’ve traveled internationally but never took the time to really enjoy my own country. The RV lifestyle opened my eyes up to the beautiful national parks in America. We spent last summer in Alaska, and it was one of my favorite parts of the country. Everything was so remote, wild and I’ll never forget how quiet it was. We actually had the opportunity to paint a Greetings from ALASKA mural in Anchorage while we were up there as well. If you’re into nature, I would highly recommend taking the trip.
When you spend a lot of time outside of cities, you also realize how insignificant graffiti is when taken out of an urban environment. I think the Greetings Tour really helped push me to create art that was out of my comfort zone. The goal of this project is to introduce spray painted public art to communities throughout the country with the hope that it gives other graffiti street artists opportunities after we leave. We also try to collaborate with local graffiti artists to paint their own pieces within some of the letters.
Jennifer Gutierrez: Historically, graffiti art has elevated into a form of art that has significant and cultural value in New York. How do you integrate graffiti and street art within public organizations?
Victor Ving: I feel that most public organizations are very open to the medium of spray paint being used to create imagery in public art. However, when it comes to tags and lettering, there’s still a huge misconception. When the public doesn’t understand something, it can seem threatening to them as easily dismissed as not being art. Even in New York, it’s rare to see graffiti being celebrated by public organizations. I have seen a few public museums incorporating graffiti exhibits in their programming and feel that’s very important. The best thing we can do is continue to educate the public about the history of graffiti. We haven’t been too involved in the world of public art grants yet, but it’s something we would love to explore in the future.
Jennifer Gutierrez: As an art founder, what are some challenges to face in terms of running and operating a graffiti-oriented art agency?
Victor Ving: By nature, graffiti is rebellious and anti-authority & corporations. Most graffiti artists don’t start writing with intentions to make a living from it by selling their artwork. It’s one of the reasons why I still consider it to be such a pure form of art. It’s a very delicate business model since graffiti artists doing commercial work with brands are easily viewed as a sell-out. However, we are careful with the projects that we choose to take on. There’s often a very fine line, and we have definitely turned down some projects with brands that have attempted to exploit our culture.
Jennifer Gutierrez: In street art, one of the elements of the artist is their anonymity, placing emphasis solely on their work and skills. How do you manage to find talented artist? How do you go about contacting them?
Victor Ving: This is actually a very organic element of our business. As an agency owned and operated by graffiti artists, very rarely have we reached out to artists without knowing them through 1-2 degrees of separation. Before social media, there was a powerful underground network of graffiti artists that vouched for each other. While that tradition continues today, the majority of graffiti artists can easily be found via Instagram. It makes it easy for brands and companies to contact them, but some of the graffiti artists that are still “active” are hesitant to work with people they don’t know.
Our company provides artists with the option of being featured as an artist or working anonymously under our company name. From a business standpoint, a talented artist and a reliable/professional artist are two completely different things. We strive to find the right balance with all of the artists that we work with.
Jennifer Gutierrez: Which artist or companies did you enjoy working with?
Victor Ving: There are a few artists that we click with, and we really enjoy working with: CASEY BOLDING, GLOSSBLACK, VIZIE, BISCO SMITH, AMUSE126, MERLOT, and KEY DETAIL to name a few. We’ve had our fair share of painting skylines and company values for offices and prefer when clients trust us to create something original and out of the box.
Jennifer Gutierrez: If you could give advice to inspiring street artists, what would it be?
Victor Ving: We are seeing a lot of opportunity for graffiti artists these days that never existed in the past. I fear that it’s going to inspire kids to get into for all of the wrong reasons. It was never about quick fame and monetary gain. It’s a double-edged sword since it’s great for business, but we don’t want to lose sight of how we got here. I would ask yourself if there was no Instagram/Social Media and you never got paid for graffiti, would you still dedicate your time to it?
Jennifer Gutierrez: How are you able to adapt into a constantly changing environment that is the art industry?
Victor Ving: We try to avoid chasing trends, but instead focus on our current niche as spray paint specialists. Graffiti (as in the lettering form) still hasn’t had its mainstream success yet, but when that time comes, we will be ready as the premier agency in that craft. Patience is key, and until then we will do our best to educate clients and the public about the art form. There isn’t much of an industry for graffiti & street services, so we are still pioneering a lot of strategies every day. As far as a nationwide agency that specializes in this niche, there’s not too many out there in America. I do want to be clear that we aren’t an artist management company. We work with too many artists, and that would end up being a conflict of interest. Our job is to connect clients with the right artists and consult in the creation of graffiti, street art, and murals.
Jennifer Gutierrez: Who are your role models and who or what constantly influences you and your work?
Victor Ving: As far as role model graffiti artists a lot had changed from when I first got into writing. Unfortunately, social media has taken away the “mysterious” element of graffiti that initially attracted me to it. I’m thankful for artists like REVS who have resisted the social aspect of graffiti for so many years. It’s funny because he would probably hate everything about our company and I wouldn’t blame him! On the other end of things, there are graffiti artists like BORIS from the Grifters and LUSH who have taken the social media direction lightheartedly with humor and have fun with it.
Jennifer Gutierrez: What are some valuable skills a street artist must learn?
Victor Ving: There’s a big difference between artists who come from a fine art/studio background and those who have learned it from the streets. Before you even start painting, there’s the research and planning to get to your canvas (rooftop wall, subway train, etc.) Working illegally, you have to be fast, and there’s no room for error. There are also extremely limited resources, and you are always under the stress of getting caught. If you switch scenes to an artist working on a canvas in a studio, they would have the ability to mix colors, pull up references, controlled lighting, no pressure for time, etc. You can see how different the mentality is and that’s why the artists we work with who come from graffiti roots are on a different level.
To be clear: I’m not trying to say that one route is better than the other. There’s plenty of artists that are now scaling up their art and painting murals with the medium of spray paint, but they shouldn’t be grouped in with graffiti & street artists.
Jennifer Gutierrez: What do you look for when analyzing an artist’s work? How can an artist branch out and develop their unique style?
Victor Ving: Speed and cleanliness with spray paint is definitely a big factor in selecting artists that we work with. We look for consistent line work that’s done in one shot without tons of cutbacks. A lot of it really comes from experience and some of the points I had mentioned above about being used to working under stressful conditions. Basic letter structure is also very important to us. The majority of our projects don’t involve traditional graffiti lettering, but nothing is worse than seeing an amazing piece signed with a terrible hand style!
Jennifer Gutierrez: What are some goals you hope to accomplish in the future?
Victor Ving: As a company, we wanted to have more of a purpose, and we’re happy to have started our yearly Klughaus x Graffiti USA scholarship. Our mission is to expand the possibilities of graffiti — both as an art form and as a career path for individual artists. Given it’s a generational craft, we sincerely believe that graffiti’s evolution depends on the next generation to thrive. You can find out more and apply for this year’s scholarship here. In the short term, we want to finish completing projects in all 50 states (almost there) and then eventually work on more projects on an international level in the long term.