Neck Face is not a crackhead
Surviving face skids and ducking fans from NYC to Tokyo, Neck Face becomes the new art-world target.

By Lori Spears

NECK FACE HAS one foot in the streets and one in the gallery. He's one of those quiet little geniuses who drop out of art school and make their own way. While he might be considered an art terrorist leaving his mark – a dripping name and sometimes a crazed, pointy-toothed face – all over New York City, San Francisco, and Tokyo, his gallery shows sell out. In contrast to Simon Evans's more cerebral work, which has been supported by a veteran gallery owner, Neck Face has found his own success using medieval themes, working in metal, and creating a raw vibe that fits with his renegade personality and appeals to viewers caught up in a fast-paced world. The Neck Face character is ambiguous yet confrontational, violent, and never boring, but the artist himself is a young man with a dark sense of humor who has been skating since the fourth grade, enjoys a good mystery, and loves to have fun. Remember: people thought Basquiat and Warhol were self-absorbed no-talents. Buy Neck Face's work while you can still afford it.

The first time I met Neck Face was at On Six Gallery. I was telling gallery promoter Lindsey Byrnes that I was running around the corner to see Neck Face's current show at the Luggage Store Gallery when a nearby dude chimed in, "That guy is an asshole."

I immediately cracked up, realizing he was the artist. Neck Face looks like his characters if you squint your eyes and use your imagination a bit: he has a wide, toothy grin and mischievous dark eyes. He slapped a sticker in my hand that read, "IN WITH THE OLD! NECK FACE!"

During my next encounter with Neck Face, I chased him around the city.

We agreed to meet for an interview and photo tour of his work in San Francisco. He told me his mom was dropping him off at a far-flung BART station, which didn't really match the hardcore image of the artist I had in my head.

When I hooked up with him at the Luggage Store Gallery, he was very shy, yet quite friendly with gallery owners Laurie Lazer and Darryl Smith – he constantly asked them questions about art and if he could play a homemade half turntable, half stringed instrument on display. His innocence and curiosity are an appealing contrast to the hyped, mythical image of Neck Face.

When I finally got him to myself, we set out for the streets – his real workspace. The dark sky looked like it was about to spit.

Neck Face claims he doesn't tag. Some call his work graffiti, others call it trendy, while still others call it illegal. His style isn't inspired by old-school '80s graff legends – it looks like it could be a bathroom scrawl. We looked for some old spots downtown he had marked. When I pointed out some Neck Face scribbles on a stop sign close to Harrison and Main Streets, he said he didn't remember doing them.

We worked our way to the Embarcadero, where he found a pristine white wall on the side of a fancy-pants condo and started to lay down some pigment, while I stood around the corner, when a young thick man caught sight of him in the dubious act of making his art. The chase was on.

Neck Face calmly rolled by me on his skateboard and said he would call my cell. I wasn't really surprised that he was almost caught, since it was nearly rush hour and it was still light outside. Later he phoned to say he was at an intersection about three blocks away. I set off to meet him and realized that I was right behind the dude chasing Neck Face.

I called Neck Face and told him to watch out. He split, and I hoofed on, wondering where and when this would all end. Then it started to rain. Pour, actually. This was now officially an adventure, or as he puts it, "another day at the office."

He called again to disclose his location – by one of his latest pieces – where we finally met up. It is classic Neck Face, with dripping verticals in large capital letters set in an alcove, smack in the middle of downtown and, ironically, extremely close to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. With a board design in the works for Mark Gonzales's Krooked Skateboards, Neck Face will soon be closing in on gallery spaces elsewhere, with shows in London and New York City expected this year.

Bay Guardian: When was Neck Face the character born?

Neck Face: Neck Face was always inside of me but came out in high school.

[Neck Face the artist was born in 1984 into a Bay Area family of five boys, some of whom have been graffiti artists. His mother and father are very supportive of his artistic endeavors, with his mother even serving as a lookout on a couple of graffiti excursions.]

BG: Did you attend art school, and did you graduate?

NF: Yes. I never liked school, at all. Art school to me was a waste of time and money, so I stopped going.

BG: What is your typical day like?

NF: My typical day is, wake up and drink some soda for breakfast, go to the garage, blast some Sabbath or Priest, work on my paintings, then go skate and have fun for a little, then come back to the garage and blast some more metal, paint some more. It's all fun every day. If it wasn't fun, I wouldn't be doing it. I'm really productive though – I'm painting every day.

BG: Who is your target audience?

NF: There is no Target audience ... but there is a Wal-Mart audience.

BG: What do you think you're bringing to the art world?

NF: Witches and hairy things.

BG: How do you get the dripping effect?

NF: It is a shoe polish container with custom-made ink.

BG: Why do you feel the need to be a mystery with your pseudonym and, at the same time, be well-known with the tagging?

NF: When people don't know, they wonder.

BG: Describe some of your skating injuries.

NF: [He points to a long scar on his forearm and talks about how he broke his arm as a kid while being towed by a bike, and how he didn't even cry till his mom freaked out because they didn't have health insurance. Then he points to his head and shows me how his hair is a different length because he split his head open last year when he hit a sign while skating in the dark. And then there was the time he did a face skid.] I will skate anything. Whatever's fun.

BG: There is a blog (www.sushiesque.com) with one section dedicated to you. How do you handle the groupies?

NF: What? I got groupies? That's fresh. [He also confesses that he tells people Neck Face is a "crackhead" and "only comes out at night."]

BG: Do you consider yourself a graffiti artist or a fine artist with folkish tendencies?

NF: Neither. I don't know what you are talking about.

I'm going with the flow. I didn't know this would happen, all the mags and galleries. I've always been doing this. Now I just have shows. If it all goes away, I'll still be doing this. This is what makes me happy.