An Interview With Graffiti Legend Josh Franklin Aka Stash

Back at the inaugural Culture Cartel in Singapore, we interviewed Josh Franklin aka Stash. The legendary graffiti artist and streetwear pioneer has seen the culture rise up from the early 80s tagging trains in New York to the early days of collaborations culture in streetwear through his Subware/Recon labels. Here’s what he had to say on various topics.

Do you think the term “collaboration” has become overused?
Yeah I do, I think it’s overused. There’s a starting point and once it’s up and running, we have to develop a new language that accommodates point A to point B to point C right, so I do agree with you, I don’t know what the language would be but there is an overabundance of collaborations where brands don’t stand alone anymore, it’s always X something. It’s driving a lot of the community but it’s also giving these brands a voice and a demographic that they didn’t have, so that artist is their entry point into a level that they didn’t feel that they could achieve on their own.

How does it compare when you first started?
Back then, it was new and interesting, it was unheard of, like oh wow, “x” brand is working with a young artist from Brooklyn, or an amazing brand has found this artist in Tokyo and oh my god they’re bringing in these great products, but now it’s kind of normal… It’s not as exciting because it’s almost expected, who they’re gonna work with, who’s the hot new guy, oh I bet so and so do a shoe with them and there you have it, that model’s kind go set up now, how do we disrupt it or how do we raise the bar… I don’t know, but it’s kind of what’s happening.

How do you think streetwear has changed since your Subware/Recon days?
I mean, it’s changed a whole lot. When we started making T-shirts, we were impressed we could make T-Shirts. Now, you can make anything! You can make sneakers etc. The world has become an easier place to access, factories you thought you could never work with, will work with you. It’s not so much like OMG you guys made a backpack! Oh shit, amazing! It’s more like… yeah, well that’s what you got to do to survive now. So, it’s a much different place because of the accessibility of what you can make.

How do you think social media affects the culture?
It’s fake as fuck. I only Instagram because it’s easy, it’s on my phone. I don’t know… my kids love it, I am addicted to it. It’s really weird and I don’t like that. My branding was writing graffiti and going out, doing shit and leaving my mark, giving products out or doing stuff that was branding. This whole world… is fake. It’s as flat as your phone, you could drop your phone and break it on the floor… you could drop me and you’d break me… You know what I mean? it’s a different sort of mentality.

What advice would you give to a young artist trying to come up?
I wouldn’t know what to do today. I wouldn’t even know what advice to give because when we were doing it, I just got up that day and knew what I had to do. I was like I am going to go paint this, or I am going to go do this… Nowadays, you got to figure out like what do I need to do, how do I… It’s a different world. I don’t even know what to tell people. I got two kids, I don’t even know what to tell them half the time, go ask your mother, I don’t know. Like jokingly but not jokingly, people today need to actually participate more and get out in the world and do shit and stop looking at their fucking phone.

Do you think people are more exposed to street art and are more appreciative of it because of social media?
You still have to look for it though… Like back in the day, if Jahan and I met pre-internet, he’d send me a black and white fanzine of art he took in Asia. Four weeks later, it would show up all crumpled and fucked up, but I would be like, oh shit! All black and white, I wonder what colours they are. We would find it, we would want it, same with the internet. It’s like what are the keywords, what should I type in graffiti? You actually still have to make an effort to find it, it’s there, it’s accessible, but you have to have an interest. What you do with that interest is up to you now and how interested you are, people are fuckin’ lazy man!

What do you miss about back in the day?
I miss back in the day. That, all of it, every part of it. You know what I appreciate? People would hold things dearer. It wasn’t so like… NEXT. Everything now is like, ok yeah… next. Is it because you are over it, or is it because you’ve been told it’s already done. I do and dress however I want, I don’t give a fuck about what people say. I dress like this when I was 18 and I’m still doing the same. I don’t care what the critics say, FUCK YOU. People are so affected by what other people say, it dictates the way the live and that’s a problem. You gotta be who you are, 24/7.

So you think people back in the day all had that mindset?
I think so, you weren’t judged anonymously. If I didn’t like Jahan, I would have to go up to him. I couldn’t be just like (types on keyboard)… enter. Right, it’s this false impression. It says Jahan is wack, so you must be wack. People believe this shit, it is so crazy, it is not real though. Back in the day, it was always about emulating and bigging someone up. We had language fresh, fly, dope, it wasn’t wack, hater or all this shit people talk about now. We didn’t want to be associated with that. It was always about bigging someone up, like you’re the man! That’s all the internet… it could be like Jahan is my Best Friend, you see us together all the time but be his biggest hater online and nobody would know it’s me. That’s what I don’t like, people are full of shit.

What do you like about today then?
Amazon Prime. I can get it delivered today. I don’t even need it but it will be here today. FUCK IT! (laughs) Seriously, just the global acceptance, just that it’s more accepted now and there’s more dialogue and this kind of stuff.

Thanks to Culture Cartel for arranging the interview with Stash, look out for Culture Cartel 2019!