The Man Behind 'Spaceman'

The Man Behind 'Spaceman'

This article was scraped from Rochester Subway. This is a blog about Rochester history and urbanism has not been published since 2017. The current owners are now publishing link spam which made me want to preserve this history.. The original article was published December 10, 2012 and can be found here.

An interview with the man behind Spaceman.

   Recently I asked, "     Who is Spaceman?    " This guy's work has been showing up in unexpected places around town for a while now. Although I'm still not sure who the guy in the space suit is, the actual artist did come forward. And I had a chance to sit down with him at Boulder Coffee in the South Wedge. Among other things I asked him what he thought about people who call his work "trashy" or "criminal." With the Geico Gecko watching us from the billboard across the street, he pointed to it and said, "Would you rather see a Geico ad at every four-way stop? I'm just trying to make people smile."

For two hours we talked about his work, what motivates him, life in Rochester, keeping our waterways clean, philosophy, Tibetan monks, and other stuff. For obvious reasons he wishes to remain anonymous, so I'll refer to him in this interview as "Spaceman Artist". Here's a taste of our conversation...

Spaceman on I-490.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     I understand why you'd want to remain anonymous. I don't even know your name and I've been referring to you as "Spaceman." Do you have a name? What should I call you?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Spaceman is not me. My name is ----.

I mean I'd like to keep my name as far away from this as possible. But "Spaceman"... that's not me. I'm just working towards a bigger purpose and Spaceman is just an idea that came to me to do that.

Obviously there's the Spaceman project, but once I'm done working on something, whatever happens to it after that, it's on its own. Once it leaves my hands its gone.

A Spaceman poster on the side of I-490 at the Can of Worms interchange.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     Do you have formal art training or is this more of a hobby?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Formal training no. I grew up in Brooklyn with a lot of train/subway painters and spray paint artists. Those guys are super talented...

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     You grew up Brooklyn? What neighborhood?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Bushwick. Until I was about 8. Then we moved to Rochester. My brother would bring these guys home and that got me interested. To tell you the truth I didn't have money for school. For a few semesters I would sit in on some design courses - RIT wasn't really too down with it but MCC was - and the instructors would let me sit in and work with everyone. I would just tell them I had an interest in art and wanted to sharpen the edges a little bit, and they were really eager to help out with someone in my position.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     What brought you to Rochester?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Family actually. My family opened up a few small restaurants... but Rochester really does have a ton to offer. I talk to people who say they're so bored here, but I think if you're bored here, you'll be bored anywhere. There's so much around, and within just a half hour of the city, in any direction; we've got the Great Lakes, natural forests, the Genesee River, so much history, Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, the women's suffrage movement, the underground railroad, Mount Hope Cemetery, so much historic architecture, just so much history. It's something you've got take in, and not all at once. In bits and pieces.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     So you're about 30 now?


ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     Do you have a day job?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Yeah. I'd like to just say screw it. It's not in the creative field. I wish it was and I'd like to be able to quit and kick my creative projects into high gear, but it pays for living and transportation. If I do sell a piece I'll donate most of it to charity. I'd really like to raise money to clean up our waterways. That's really my main goal. We need to clean up our waterways. They are disgusting - and the land in general. Because they're just a great resource.

Spaceman print on yellow.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     So is this the goal of the Spaceman work?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Some, but it's not by any means a good representation... You know how everything is changing? Art galleries you know? ...No one wants to be inside... I'm just trying to take art outside and give people something to smile about. It's like art for the working person. People who rush by at 60 miles an hour to their job, and hating it. I just want to give those people something to smile about.

Some people look forward to seeing weird stuff on the side of the road. For some people their only contact with art is while they're in their car on the way to work.

I guess in a way I'm trying to usher in a new way of thinking about art. A lot of people don't have time to go to a gallery.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     Do you have a studio?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     I work out of a few cardboard boxes in my garage. I'm working on getting a shared work space at -------. I got one box for my papers, one for my screens, one for my paints. I don't really have time to set up much of a studio.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     What inspires you?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Aw there's so much inspiration around. I should start off with my father. He's like a freight train. He's the hardest working shop foreman I know. But even just a person walking down the street could be inspiration. This one guy I see, he must have lived in Rochester for 100 years. He's got one giant dreadlock and he's just a smelly old man but he's walking art. I've never said a word to him but you know, I put my own story together. That moment of passing is more than enough.

An old abandoned building that people drive by and never even notice. Mt Hope Cemetery is an amazing place. Durand park. It's all amazing. By the river there are dozens of derelict buildings that no one looks at. I watch the course of things and how they chip away over time. Sunlight. Water. Bruce Lee would say, "Be like water." Water is penetrating and gets into everything and it's just there.

Tibetan monks are an inspiration, how they set themselves on fire for a belief. It's nothing you can touch or own, they just do it because of a belief. The Tao. I get a lot of inspiration from the Tao. It just gets me thinking. One of the verses especially, "to call a walking stick a walking stick would be denying it of its past existence as the tree it once was."

A Spaceman poster on the side of I-490 at the Can of Worms interchange.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     What's your creative process like?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     When I get an idea I've got to write it down or it's gone in a flash. Like I'll go into the other room to get batteries or something and then I'm like, what did I come in here for?

And I'm like a "series" artist. There's a few different pictures of models I did, I did some work of different types of fish - what ever it is, once I have the idea, I do a run of that one thing, and I work laterally with it for a while. So each work grows quicker than if it were its own thing, cause I'm feeding off the previous one. But I also have some stand alone work. Some sculpture and stuff.

Then there's obviously the Spaceman, and it's sort of become a trademark. A lot of people invest a lot into their ego, and their names, but I try to be the opposite of that. The "Spaceman" thing I guess is a more of a word association with the image. It's not a branding thing. I don't sign my work. When I took that picture, it was an actual guy in a prototype space suit at a science fair. And when I printed it and cut it out, I was like, "You know what? This guy is pretty cool." He sort of reminded me of an action figure or something. So I did some photo enlargements and worked on some silk screens and stencils. And I just put it out there for people to enjoy. There was no real meaning behind. I just wanted people to see it and smile.

I try not to put any hidden meaning behind my work. I'm just trying to make people come together and give them something positive to talk about. And this is the only way I know how to do it.

I don't like to do stuff that's politically charged. I did some things with people in fatigues once, but that's about the extent of it. I don't like to bring politics into my work at all really. I'm not trying to add to the clutter.

I've been printing on this all-recycled paper, using a non-chlorine bleaching alternative to get it white and I'm using soy based inks. Cause I know once it goes up on a wall I know it's really just trash, you know? If someone wants to tear down, or paint over it, you know, go for it.

Spaceman prints were raffled off at Greenovation last week for charity.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     So you don't mind the Defacer Eraser truck coming along and taking your stuff down?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Ha, no. I have always wanted to see those guys at work... just power-wash something off a wall. You know, like I said, it's an ego thing. If you're familiar with Buddhism at all, there are these hard core Tibetan monks who spend days, weeks, sometimes months making these super intricate, huge works of art all with sand. And then when they're done they take it to the ocean and like, dump it in. You know?

I think everyone has too much of an ego. And it helps that I feel like I'm working towards a higher purpose to just dissociate myself with it. There's a bigger picture for me. I'm wanting to start a charity to clean up the waterways around Rochester. Because there's only one Great Lakes. There's only one set of Finger Lakes... and they are getting fucked up. And it's only getting worse. We're getting into hydraulic fracturing and dumping benzine and stuff like that into the land... if I wanted to get into making art that deals with stuff like that I could, but people wouldn't drive by it and smile. They'd drive by and go, "Aw that sucks." So I'd rather try to do something about it from the top down--from a governmental aspect. Like, I need lobbyists or something. So that's what I'm trying to do.

Right now I'm gathering some backing from other local artists and restaurants and bars and stuff, and the plan is to raise money and build local support. But sometimes I go down there to the lake or the river with garbage bags and some friends to clean up, and we fill up our garbage bags and believe me it's not fun.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     Do you ever get discouraged?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     No. I know the planet isn't going anywhere. And in a thousand years the earth will heal itself and it'll be fine. But we've got to take care of ourselves. A lot of times when cars are going by me at 70mph and I'm putting up artwork, I'll try to see it from behind me as though I'm looking down at myself. I try to look at the big picture.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     Sounds like you try hard to keep things in perspective.

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Yeah you know, a lot of times I'll sit there on the side of the road and just look in the cars as they're flying by. They're not paying attention to me, or anything. They're zoned out but they still get to where they're going. Just seeing that moment happening, and knowing that I'm going to put this thing up, and some people will notice it and some people won't. And of course there are some people who will see me in the act of installing it. But you know...

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     What are you thinking at that moment? Is it an "oh shit, I hope I don't get caught" moment?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     No I'm just hoping I don't cause a crash or a pile up.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     How would you respond to people calling your work "filthy" or "trashy" or "criminal"? What are they failing to see?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     I'm just giving people something to enjoy. It's like that with everything. But I'd say, would you rather see a Geico ad at every four-way stop? That's horrible. Especially that one [pointing at the Geico billboard across the street]. I mean that thing is yellow and black and you almost have to physically avert your eyes. And then you're in line at Wegman's and they have all those magazines with pictures of these stars when they're at the worst moments of their lives... just so they can put it on a magazine and make a profit off it. I mean THAT's trashy. But you know what, I love those people who say they don't like my work. Because you know what, I hate the color brown... I think it's vulgar... I think it's trashy. There's always going to be those people who disagree with you. Not everybody likes mushrooms... But they still grow whether they like or not.

Spaceman print on dollar bills.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     What do you think about comparisons to other artists like Shepard Fairey or Banksy? Are comparisons like these accurate or off the mark? Is it even fair to try to draw comparisons to other artists?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     I think one of the worst things an artist can do is to take inspiration from the art world. Art should be inspired by everything else. So I think those kinds of comparisons are like saying a pine tree and oak tree are similar because they're outside and have roots. Those guys are millionaires and have teams, they bark out orders and stuff gets done. I'm not bad mouthing them, but those guys are trying to make money to have a bunch of money. I wouldn't use the term "sellout" because selling out is just trying to make a living by doing what you love. I just wish they would take it to the next level. Do something positive with the power of their movement.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     Would you ever do a collaboration with another artist or do something for commission?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Yeah. I mean, I'm going to do stuff anyways, so if I can work with someone... it's like the 'Thirteen Arrows' story, you're stronger in a group than you are by yourself. It's just fortifying my work.

Spaceman stickers.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     Would you be into offering some of your work on     ?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Oh heck yes. I think that would awesome. It's just a different platform for my work. And maybe we could make some money to go to charity. I think that would great.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     You mentioned Buddhism a few times, are you spiritual or religious?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Spirituality and beliefs. That's hard. It goes back to the ego thing for me. Everyone wants to be right. To stand by someone else and say "yeah, this is RIGHT." Who cares what you believe, if its a dude or an elephant with six hands or a spark or a guy with a sun or a guy under a lotus tree (or what ever it was) until he got this vision. People don't really want to focus on being good people. I wish it wasn't true but religion is heavily ego based. The big picture is that in a thousand years humans may not be alive but the earth will be. I believe in a life force. But no one wants to say they're wrong. So it becomes "MY god is the RIGHT god... there's only one." I'm not going to say what's right. People just need to start acting better. Don't be dicks, you know? Get a black friend. Get a Chinese friend if you don't want a black friend. But just be nice. Give a guy a quarter if he needs it.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     There's much the public doesn't know about you... a lot of misconceptions... but what would you like them to know?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Oh wow. Everyone should just get along. Who cares what you look like or where you live. It takes all kinds of people. I'll just say this, without light there wouldn't be dark. If there was no hot there wouldn't be cold. You need the things you love and you need the things you hate. Just don't put your ego behind everything and look at things with a full point of view. You know, like, yeah sure, I hate that picture, but I can respect why some people would like it. And I can dig that. There just needs to be a lot more understanding.

That, and I'm 100% against hydrolic fracking. I think fracking could be the stupidest thing we ever do.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     Do you have a web site or an online place where people can see your work?

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     No, I really have time for that, unfortunately. I leave that to the community, like     . If I had more time I might do more online; do more clothing or indoor pieces. No one can buy a picture that I put outside, but I'll make small prints of it so they can have a piece of it in their house.

ROCHESTERSUBWAY.COM:     Well thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. I like your perspective and I'm a big fan. Keep doing what you're doing.

SPACEMAN ARTIST:     Thank      you     .

You Can Join the Spaceman Artist

He's looking for artists who would like to help him create new work. He's also looking for people who want to help clean up our region's waterways. If you're interested, please     email    .

UPDATE:     Spaceman art available here    .

Chris Gemignani

Chris Gemignani

Rochester, NY, USA