The story of Concrete Cathedrals, a new solo show of large-scale artworks by Industry City-based graffiti artist/artist-artist/tattoo artist/MC, Mr Kaves, is the kind of story you hear a lot if you stop and talk to the people who work at Industry City. Two neighbors, in separate spaces, crossing paths, and discovering a shared vision. In this case, those two people were Mr. Kaves, and Stephen Lupima, the founder of Court Tree Collective.
Shortly after taking up residence in their respective spaces in the Maker’s Guild, the two met and started talking—quickly discovering a shared ethos and Brooklyn lineage. Kaves invited Lupima over to his space, where, in addition to operating his tattoo art business, Pigtown, he’d begun his first large scale body of artwork since a fire shuttered his Bay Ridge studio more than a year before. The excitement that Lupima felt upon seeing the work in progress fueled Kaves to keep going, and not long after, they decided that a show was in order. For Kaves and Lupima, this collaboration and their new digs at Industry City, marks a fresh new chapter, but ultimately, all roads lead back to the source, Brooklyn.
We sat down—or stood up, rather—around a big table in Kaves workshop/studio, surrounded by momentos of ‘70s and ‘80s Brooklyn–enormous boom boxes, an old-school telephone booth, cast concrete Virgin Marys, Krylon cans, old street signs, and much much more. We discussed how the new show came together, their respective paths to IC, and why this city within a city has brought renewed energy to their respective missions. Talking with Lupima and Kaves, it’s hard not to think that a certain kind of Brooklyn destiny had something to do with it.
How did you guys meet?
STEPHEN LUPIMA (COURT TREE): Here. We kept running into each other. He came to the gallery one day and we spoke. I knew that he was doing some art work stuff.
MR. KAVES (ARTIST): I thought it was great that there was actually a gallery on the floor. I was thinking, “How cool is it for whoever is on this floor to showcase their stuff right down the hall?” I treat it like, “We just have to go down the block.”
LUPIMA: That’s what we call it actually, the block. I was lucky enough to come in here and see the work being produced, and that experience was completely unique from any show I’ve ever done.
KAVES: It was cool because he got excited, which excited me. You feed off that energy. That’s what’s great about Industry City—there are a lot of like-minded people giving each other energy. I was in that little shop in Bay Ridge for 10 years, and after a while, the energy is gone. Sometimes you don’t even want to go into work. That’s bad for an artist. You want to feel compelled to go in and chip away. So I just got to work. I produced maybe 12 pieces in four months.
LUPIMA: We just decided one day. Initially, I didn’t see it happening so soon, but once I saw what was happening in here, I got really excited, I was like, we gotta do this now. He was hot, and he’s still hot. He was just pumping out work.
KAVES: It really put a fire under my ass to produce. My last shop had a fire next store. I was down and out without working on big scale stuff for about a year. I couldn’t wait to get in here. So I took everything out of storage and we built this place. I look at it as an art installation. We’re gonna create an aesthetic, a vibe—that Brooklyn folklore. It was just a natural thing. Then it was like, OK, we’re anchored in. Stephen’s on right, we’re on the left, let’s attack.
Kaves, what’s the significance of this body of work for you?
I’ve done a lot of things as an artist to pay the bills. I became a tattooist. I started a band. All these things are creative. I’m shedding a lot of that stuff to focus in on what I was born to do: painting. So now I’m back, and I’m really taking all the years of influence and putting them into the painting, and telling the story of my life in Brooklyn as an artist. That’s why this work is very important. This is the first time I’m doing sculptures. It’s all coming together.
Kaves, growing up in Bay Ridge, what was your relationship to this place back in the day?
KAVES: This place in the ‘80s was like a no man’s land. When we were kids, it was a place to write graffiti. It was definitely a more risky place to come. Sunset Park was a rougher place to come. You couldn’t pass 65th street without getting a pass. It was very territorial, but because I was a graffiti artist, I was able to come. I joined a breakdancing crew. Sunset Park was like the sister to Bay Ridge. This place was always cool, but it wasn’t a place where artists came to. When we heard it was getting developed, we were like, yo, let’s peep that out. And right away, there’s an energy here because you have all these artists in one place.
What has joining this community at Industry City meant for each individually?
LUPIMA: To be honest, for me, it’s the best thing that’s happened to our business. The foot traffic here on a slow Friday is better than a whole month in Carroll Gardens. You’re meeting with artists. You’re doubling your mailing list, your exposure. For me, though, what’s going on on this floor is incredible. Ian, the woodworker. To the bee guy, Bee Raw. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on. There’s like 200 artists in this complex. So there’s that possibility to keep doing shows with people here. I wanted to be part of it. I thought the possibility was incredible.
KAVES: What’s a better way to come in and do what you do? How do you really inform people on what you do? You have to show them. I was working on this transition into new work. It was nice to let people in on it firsthand, in it’s beginning stages, because this is going to turn into something bigger. You get to see it on a ‘mom and pop’ level in this place where they’re promoting artisans to craft their thing. What’s cool about this place is you get a sneak peak in on the process. It’s a small colony. We came in as this tattoo shop, but now I want to do something bigger. It’s super unique. If it continues to be that, it could be something really cool.