RIP BÄST: NYC Loses a Street Art Pioneer


May 6, 2021
Jaime Rojo, Brooklyn Street Art (Original Link)
(Photo: Stencil Archive caught this BÄST tag stencil in Brooklyn, Fall of 2003)

His wit is what we’ll miss the most! BÄST (Stencil Archive LINK) took no statement so seriously that he couldn’t satirize it – including ones that came from your mouth. A sweet-faced wiseguy with sartorial style, his illustrations on the street at once celebrated and skewered popular culture, codes of behavior, and our presumed heroics; His experimental reworkings of images and texts were a charged play on our assumptions and insinuations, an intrinsic, peculiarly bright purveyor of visual communication.

Thoroughly schooled in New York street parlance, BÄST nonetheless toyed with graff culture and its preoccupations. Some OGs of graffiti may have expected a polished vocabulary – a certain Wild Style finesse and layered smooth hand, perhaps. Neu D.I.Y kids were rocking long-handled rollers and beginning to fiddle with uncontrollable extinguishers. BÄST claimed his fame with a full-body gestural fury and indifference – a single color nihilistic splatter tag that nonetheless delivered style and raw energy, well framed by a freight elevator or a doorway.

When BÄST played in concert with duo Faile his compositions set new standards in image-making and manipulation, arguably defining a critical and intelligent street art culture that shook specific New York neighborhoods in the late 90s and early 2000s. Together they mastered new screen-print and stencil techniques on the street in real-time, poking fun at pop and advertising conventions at a scale not seen previously. Here were familiar, sometimes mysterious faces recombined, with messages chopped and collaged and stuttered and glittered, warped and bloated, sprayed and wheat-pasted.

Time and again, BÄSTs mangled and unmatching graphics somehow smashed it. His cryptic text and wordplay seemed comic; his intentional command of the power of the image was confident, its relevance ripe for the hi-jacking. His continuum of offerings wasn’t simplified for your comfort and certainly not spoon-fed, steering clear of stereotypical street art signifiers – unless he’d been the one to originate them. It is not that he wasn’t painfully aware of the game; he was bored by it and knew how to write his own.

As the swelling commerce of Street Art beseeched him to produce “product,” he responded to his competing instincts as well – how to embrace reward and the funhouse absurdity of an art market while rejecting the cynical underbelly and easy commodification. It’s a familiar dynamic with which we all contend if we have a conscience.

As he moved from street to gallery with enthusiasm and reluctance BÄSTs insatiable discover-lust set him on new streets of alchemy, embracing a fully sensorial alterna-world filled with characters and curious tales. In-studio and on the Insta-stage, you could say that his more recent creative industry was a further evolution of some of his earlier street work but with much more dimension heartened by fevered experiment, ingenious craft, candy-colored storytelling, and stiff early-Kraftwerkian automation.

Spattered, controlled, or soaked in absurdity or critique, his work was somehow always buoyant, often perfect, and it brought much joy to a great number of people on the street, in the studio, and in the museum. Here’s to BÄST for setting new standards.

Our sincere condolences to his wife and family for their loss and our hopes for gentle healing as time goes forward.