A 2004 Interview with Klutch

The Stencil Archive just found out that Russell "Klutch" Short passed away on June 8, 2023. This led us to doing a quick search on the site for some of his contributions to the art world, this site, and to stencil culture, art, and fandom. This Stencil Archive interview with Klutch (here is his stencil archive) is from 2004, soon after the amazing Vinyl Killers 2 exhibit (here is the stencil archive for VK1). This post needed a bit of revision, but Klutch's humor, opinions, and love for making and living art still shine through. His thoughts and words needed no revision! Rest In Paint, Russell Short.

K: I was born in Oklahoma and raised by hippie parents. I lost my mom when I was 12. This really affected me, so losing her early in my life has made me focus on living in the moment. After she was gone my dad told me I could do anything I wanted, but that I was also responsible when I fucked up. He wouldn’t be there to bail me out. I still did some crazy shit growing up but knew it was all my ass if I got caught. This sense of urgency about not wasting a single day, self reliance, and a complete lack of respect for all authority figures has shaped my whole life.

My “live for now” attitude has twice led to me leaving secure and lucrative careers to do what I want with my life. First, I left a job in the early 1980’s for skating and hardcore. I left another job three years ago to get out of the rat race and spend more time doing art and playing in the mountains. Money can be a very empty reward when you aren’t doing what makes you happy.

SA: Where did the handle Klutch come from?

K: It’s from a stupid Disney movie called "Superdad". Klutch was a weirdo artist trying to scam Superdad’s daughter away from Kurt Russell. The guys in the old hardcore band NOTA started calling me Klutch, and it has stuck for over 20 years.

SA: How did you get into stencil art? Do you do other types of art? Any influences?

K: While ski bumming in BC, Canada a friend from Australia told me he was doing stencils. I thought, “whatever dude,” but then he showed me some of his work. I was amazed by what was possible and how much things had progressed since the old punk days. I read the how-to on Banksy's site and almost overnight I became completely obsessed with stenciling.

I have played around a bit with art since my hardcore days, making flyers, comics/zines, shirts, stickers, and crap for my friend's bands. Like my stenciling, I jacked images from popular culture and reworked them.

Influences are pretty obvious. Early on it has always been Robert Rauchenberg and Futura 2000, and later Barry McGee (aka Twist) and Ryan McGinniss. Futura 2000 is my biggest influence and has been for 20 plus years. The first time I saw him was on the Tom Snyder show painting a backdrop while The Clash played. As the song was ending, he walked to the edge of the stage and started hitting the curtains and studio walls. As they went to a commercial, he left the studio and was hitting up the hallways of NBC. His performance stoked me so much: what he was doing with graffiti and for taking his big moment on TV and just fucking going for it. I still remember it like I saw it yesterday.

SA: What's your process for making a stencil? What do you use for the cut-outs? How do you decide on the images you use?

K: Roll that shit, light that shit, smoke that shit. And a good mix tape will put you in the right mood.

I use a computer, but suck at it, so it only helps a little. As far as images, I just pick things I like and see if I can make it work.

SA: What's your paint of choice? blades, etc.?

K: As much as I want my paint to be the cheapest possible, the truth is that I am now exclusively using Belton. It is the most reliable of any paint there is and can be counted on to perform no matter what the situation or conditions. Cold, hot, humidity, or whatever are no problem and those are all big considerations here in Portland. It will clog stencils quicker than the other brands but if you have got enough use out of a stencil to clog it then it’s time to set it free.

The cost is pretty tough to swallow, but the local shop that sells it is usually pretty cool about giving artists they like a little discount.

For knives, I try everything but they are all just a waste of money. The best so far for me is the X-acto retractable.

For the stencil material I usually just use manilla folders. I like oil board, but can’t afford it. Same with Dura-lar.

SA: How would you describe your art style?

K: Searching for a beat. Other people comment on the wild layered abstract backgrounds mixed with simple clean images.

SA: Seems like there's a tight stencil community in Portland. How did that come about?

K: Vinyl Killers happening at the crest of last year’s stenciling wave surely helped. Last year was an enormous growth year for stenciling worldwide. Having something like Vinyl Killers and Henrietta Pussycat’s show to gather around made it easy to connect and expose others to what's happening here.

There have been a couple of other stencil shows but they weren’t open to others. Hopefully some other fools will learn to appreciate the value of connecting, 'cause I am old and tired.

SA: You're a driven show curator. How did Vinyl Killers come about? After two VK shows, what's in store for VKIII and onward? Any manifesto for the VK movement?

K: Honestly it was inspired in large part by your Negative Spaces show and what I saw the Australians doing on Stencil Revolution. The Aussies inspired me with the quality of art at their stencil shows and you showed me that maybe a guy like me could do something in Portland (so that we could have a cool show to go to).

VK3 is up in the air except to say it will happen. Now that it has grown to so many artists it has become a great deal of work for my wife and I. VK takes over our lives for a couple of months. Selling work for and paying 100+ artists complicates a lot of things beyond just putting together a show. Those who have done a few shows know that there aren’t too many shows selling work for anyone who wants to participate, and a good number of shows are either flaky on the follow up or are dodgy with paying people. We run a tight show and follow through on every commitment, but doing so takes a big toll on our personal lives. But, yeah, there will be a VK3 in some form.

SA: Portland is home to Nike, maybe the largest usurper of street culture in the world. How are you surviving the commodification of street art, or do you care?

K: For a while I thought I was real clever for turning them down when I had an offer. However, I was recently enlightened as to just how much money they can offer. Let’s just say when someone takes the bait it isn’t for just a nibble. Now all I can say is “hate the game, not the player”. If taking their money helps someone to survive, then I suppose it’s a necessary evil.

Although there seems to be a number of people who not only have no moral dilemma with taking corporate money but actually can’t wait for and seek out the opportunity. It’s pretty sad when that is someone’s motivation.

SA: Does Portland have a large street art community? What types of art are popping up on the streets?

K: I will probably piss off some people with this, but there really isn’t a big street scene here especially when you consider how many artists there are doing street-influenced art. The upside is that there is more coming every day. Most of what I do see isn’t just generic crap but has some thought and work put into them.

Recently there was a cool article in local free weekly that raved about the street art scene in the SE industrial area, saying it was more exciting and viable than anything happening in the big galleries. It’s likely that I am just jaded from living in San Francisco during the 1990’s and seeing that place explode with activity.

The bust factor is rumored to be really tough here although I don’t personally know anyone who has been busted.

SA: While archiving stencil pics, stencils on vinyl seemed to happen simultaneously around the world (there are three well-known vinyl stencilers here in the Bay Area who've been doing it well over 2 years). How did you catch the meme (idea) and what do you think about all the vinyl shows popping up (most recently in Australia)?

K: I was doing paintings of turntables using oil sticks and one day I was tracing a record as a template. While I was waiting for the oil stick to dry, I decided to paint the record just to kill time. It came out awesome and I started doing tons of them. I looked everywhere to see if I could find anyone else doing them and couldn’t. Once I started promoting vinyl as a medium it literally blew up overnight, and within weeks people all over the world were doing their versions and sharing them with others. By the time VK1 rolled around in November it had blossomed into a full-on genre within stenciling and it shows no signs of slowing down.

A couple of the San Francisco people have since stepped up to claim it as their invention. One was super cool and wanted to get in the next VK and the other did a lot of shit talking without really knowing who they were addressing. So I enlightened him and never heard back. All I have to say is that I don’t think anyone really cares who was first. No one talks about who did the first postal sticker or painted the first broken skateboard and I don’t think vinyl is any different. The shit looks cool, is cheap or free, easy to store and ship, loved by almost anyone who sees it, and again it really looks cool, especially multiple pieces together in a show.

As far as the other shows that have started to pop up I am all for it as long as the aim is to spread the love for painting on vinyl. The girl, Minigraf, who is doing the Sydney, Australia show has been very cool about giving props to VK and helping other artists. I have been totally supportive of what she is doing and will be for anyone else doing it for the right reasons. A few weeks ago, someone from Denmark contacted me about their doing a vinyl show there and it just keeps on growing. If it’s for personal fame and fronting about how cool they, then they should just know that kook karma can be a motherfucka.

SA: I know you're an art book junky, so what have you been reading lately? What's coming up in the press related to street art.

K: A lot of old 1970’s skateboard books, and Ryan McGinness’s "Project Rainbow".

I seek out every street art book I can find at all costs (usually manifesting in hunger). I can’t say enough about Josh MacPhee’s "Stencil Pirates" book. I think he captured it perfectly.

Seems like everyone and their brother is doing a street art or graff book these days. Lots are in the works. I have submitted stuff for quite a few but I have no idea when they will hit the shelves. There is a stencil magazine coming out sometime in August from some of the people who lurk on Stencil Revolution, but it isn’t a Stencil Revolution publication. However, from what I understand Prism has been very supportive of the project.

"Elevated Magazine" is doing a two-page color spread of Vinyl Killers pieces in the next issue, so I am eager to see that. Outside of the street art realm I am really stoked to have an old punk flyer I did appear in the "Art Of Modern Rock" coming this November.

SA: What new artist or style are you digging right now? Any old styles you're into?

K: Changes constantly just like the streets do, but at the moment I am liking that kid The Dark up in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Street art as a whole seems to be just going off these days. Almost every day there is something cool on Wooster that just blows me away. Too much cool shit going on to ever name a favorite.

As far as old heads, I have mad love and respect for anyone who has been at it for a while and are still loving it and giving it their all. To stay in the game and not become jaded takes true skill.

SA: Where do you think stencil art is heading? Does it have the vitality to survive the mainstream?

K: In terms of what is possible with stencils I think we are just scratching the surface. I really believe in stenciling as an art form and want to do my small part to change the perception of it being sort of a “bastard” medium for people who can’t draw.

I read once that up until the WPA [The Great Depression-era program called Works Progress Administration was created to help provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were unemployed] poster project, silkscreening was looked down upon and not viewed as real art since it wasn’t drawing or photography. The artists of the WPA Poster Works set about to change this, and the work they did in just a few years launched screen art prints as we know them. They not only legitimized silkscreening but also invented a lot of the techniques and basic equipment still used today. Even the word serigraphy was a term one of them made up to use to overcome the stigma of silkscreening. This really interested me as it seemed to mirror where stenciling is now.

At the same time, while pushing things, we have to be careful not to lose what is cool about stenciling in the first place. I really love the raw look of a spraypainted line, and it just cannot be duplicated on a computer, airbrush, silkscreen, etc.

If stenciling can’t survive a little thing like mainstream exposure, then it probably has no substance to it and should die.

SA: What do you think about street art/graff in relation to its effect on the urban landscape? How does the law's opinions affect the Portland scene and the younger kids who paint?

K: I can’t speak for the kids because, honestly, I am not that connected to them. For the most part I don’t like to talk about or post pics of street work both because of the illegality of it and for me street stuff not being about self promotion. I save that for doing shows and presenting stenciling and street art to the community. Because of the high profile of the shows, I am sort of paranoid. I just want the two to be separate.

Regarding the urban landscape, it’s a different vibe here than most major US cities. I don’t live in a ghetto and am not constantly assaulted by advertising. My neighborhood isn’t fucked up, and in fact, I kind of like it here. I don’t want to crush the city or do battle with advertisers. For me it is about making things a little more fun on the street and giving something back for all the street artists who have stoked me through the years. I am majorly into all kinds of street art and for all the enjoyment it has given me over the years I feel a slight debt to pass it on. There was an article on Wooster recently that said most street artists love their cities as much as their local civic planners. I totally agree and find that to be true for most of the people I know who are doing work. I have heard similar feelings from other cities.

SA: Tell us about the Graffiti Geezer? Ever have a run-in with him?

K: He was just some old nut who made it his mission to paint a silver circle over every piece of graffiti he could find. Apparently, he would tell his wife he was going out for walks and then would go do his dirty deeds.

He did manage to get up everywhere and created hella speculation about who he was and what it meant. I’m not too up on the exact story but I think it all came to an end when he got into it with a couple of writers and tried to hit one of them with a hammer. They jacked his ass and held him for the cops, though I am not sure how they escaped getting hassled for doing graffiti. Then again, I only know this from hearsay and could be totally wrong about how he got busted.

Now I guess I am Portland’s graffiti geezer minus the silver circle.

SA: Any last thoughts, dreams, visions of the future?

K: Buffing is hate crime. Children are the future of vandalism.