By James Maher
Name: Maurice Whitaker and Laura K. Reich (Lulu)
Occupation: VolaVida Gallery
Location: 240 E. 4th Street (off Avenue B)
Time: 2:30 pm on Monday, July 13
Maurice: I was born and raised in Brooklyn but I’ve lived in Manhattan pretty much my entire adult life. I spent a lot of time around the neighborhood with friends who grew up around here.
I used to be a graffiti artist back in the 1980s. I started my graffiti in 1982 and I did it until ’87 or ’88. Maybe on a scale of one to 10, I was a four or five. I was just connected to a lot of bigger artists and I got around. But I’ve always been an artist. I’ve been a graphic designer, digital artists, I’ve worked in music, fashion, television, and even just doing art.
The best experience is being in a train yard though. During that time I used to go to the Bronx — not too much because back then New York was pretty divided. You couldn’t really just go to the Bronx. You’d have to stay local. But I’ve been to Queens, Jamaica Yards, the Ghostyards in the Bronx, 207 [Street Train yard], all of them. You don’t realize how big trains are until you’re in a train yard and see that the bottom of the door is right here on your face. You don’t realize it because you usually see the trains on the platform. And the trains make noises even when they’re not moving. It’s very intimidating.
Lulu: I’ve lived here in the neighborhood for about 10 years, but I’m from the Chicago suburbs. I came when I was around 24. Fashion brought me to the city. I was one of those girls who came out with the dreams of fashion and I actually did pretty well. I worked in jewelry for lots of designers, and then I decided that I needed a little break. There are a lot of interesting people in the luxury world and a lot of beautiful products, but creativity-wise it just seemed like a lot of it was very mass market and I missed art.
I fell into this. I have to say part of the influence - one of my older brothers is into street art and blogs for Street Art News in Chicago. He’s always pushing me to go to events and things like that. I had dabbled in digital advertising job and I was miserable. I was on a computer all day, no contact with people, and putting up ads. It was not for me.
I’m also like an insomniac, so I would go and walk around at night and all I saw was the art and it meant a lot to me. Then I started going to these shows. It turned out to be the warmest community. It was so diverse and welcoming and it had been at a time when my family had moved out of the country. I felt so alone and these people were so amazing and talented that I wanted to go to every one of their shows. I wanted to help them any way that I could. So when people started asking if I could work with them, I was like ‘Ah, I don’t know, I have this corporate job and I’m not sure if I’d have the time to dedicate to you. I’m not sure.’ And then Mo approached me and it just fell into place and it’s been really gratifying.
I’m a street art nerd. I also have to say that I waited for my apartment for five years, not because of the size of the apartment but because I have a teeny tiny yard but there’s a Chico mural there. That’s the best part of the apartment.
M: VolaVida started in August of last year as a popup gallery. For years a friend of mine was working in a gallery in Chelsea and I just liked it; I liked the idea of selling art. I believe in art. I believe in what it can do for people and I decided to just roll with it. We did a couple shows in Chelsea and then I started doing it at the Cherry Tavern. No one feels intimidated in a dive bar. You come in and have a $3 beer and maybe buy some art. It turned out that we were actually successful. I didn’t expect it to be. The first show we did there we sold three pieces. I was like, ‘Whoa.’
I met Lulu and we just connected and we had the opportunity to get this space and we took it. Doing only the popups is just too much pressure to sell something in one night. If you have a one-day show, not everyone can show up on a Thursday or Friday night. But if you have seven days or 14 days to run a show, and actually having a brick and mortar place to go to everyday and have people walk in, you have the opportunity to sell more.
L: And you can develop a clientele and meet the whole neighborhood. This neighborhood has been really friendly and supportive. People look in and they recognize an artist that they see on the street and we’re able to educate them about these elements that are within their environment everyday that they wonder about. We have that information behind it. We’re also always looking for the next show or thing that we’re working on to setup within other spaces, which we’ll still do. We want to do bigger events and spread VolaVida’s artists beyond here, but to have this space has been extremely productive.
We have an extensive collection of art and artists that we’re working with. We have FLOOD, who did the anti-Bill Cosby campaign. And there's Wane, who I was so excited about. He does the graffiti on the trucks. He actually just walked in here one day and I couldn’t believe it. Christian Hooker also did a piece here. The title of it is The Paramount of Global Destruction Will Be Televised. He actually worked on a found oil painting and reworked it and created a whole frame and all of the detail was handmade. He does amazing things with wood and canvas. He actually made these benches for us — the actual nice furniture in here.
We’re also showing the debut of DEBT, who’s a local graffiti artist. I think that’s another important part of our gallery. We are getting people in who are aspiring to be in the galleries but do not feel comfortable going into these places. We want people to come and know they can hang out. Look around and talk — ask us questions about the artists.
M: We also have a Bansky and a Space Invader now. The Banksy was part of his installation on Ludlow Street and the Space Invader is from 176 Delancey from a building that was going to be knocked down. Those items were salvaged by two people. The Space Invader was anonymous and the Banksy was taken by ClockWork Cros, who does the face clocks — the clocks in Mikey Likes It. He lives down the block. A portion of the proceeds of the sale will go to GOLES. Technically it isn’t our stuff or the people who took it. It was put there for the public display of art. But we feel like people should benefit from it because it’s worth a lot of money. It’s my belief about sharing.
L: It’s very generous of the people who provided the pieces to us. They could definitely sell them on their own but they are giving us the opportunity to support our cause of supporting street artists. GOLES supports low-income families. They are helping maintain the culture of the neighborhood.
M: The street art community is an entire world. When the lights go off and these guys come out. There’s a whole world and a whole mindset behind it. They have their own social scene. We’re just spreading the word in terms of de-stigmatising street art and graffiti. I like to use the word urban expressionism, because it’s really just what it is. Street art is just a part of urban expressionism. There are definitely some vandals ruining property but there are also a lot of people who we’re working with who want to beautify the city. There are so many walls that are empty – why not make them look better? We’re going around the neighborhood asking people if they want their gates or their walls painted because they can make some really awesome murals, so if anyone’s interested send them our way.
L: We have pieces from $25 and up. We try to have something that everyone can afford. We just meet more and more artists and friends and street art nerds like myself. It just shows how much the art around us makes a difference in where we live. These artists put their heart in it. They do it for the love of art and people.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.