RVA #26: The mystery men behind Brooklyn-based artistic duo ASVP

by | Nov 21, 2016 | STREET ART

Since leaving the corporate world and advertising industry to form their own artistic duo, ASVP has developed a graphic style marrying Eastern and Western iconography with nods to advertising, pop, and comic book culture.

This article was featured in RVAMag #26: Fall 2016. You can read all of issue #26 here or pick it up at local shops around RVA right now.

Their identity layered behind the acronym that labels their effort, they continue to make impacts in every city they visit with their own unique visual language.

Based in Brooklyn, the duo recently immersed themselves in the gracious Richmond scene in order to take part in the Richmond Mural Project. Their work, located at 2315 West Main Street, was a strong part of this year’s showcase, and fans and artists alike have raved about the duo’s unique contribution helping to fuel the city’s vibrant energy.

Though mysterious and reticent at times, the duo recently sat down with us and discussed their time in Richmond as well as their current and future projects. More importantly, the duo pulled back the curtain on their artistic philosophy and what drives it, offering a unique insight into one of the art scene’s most sensational artistic partnerships.

How did you get together to form ASVP?

V: We were both working as creatives at an ad agency. We worked on several projects together as part of a larger creative team and eventually decided to take our work and our ideas in a different direction.

Is it just the idea of being able to take your art to the public more, or just being able to pick your own clients?

S: It’s kind of a combination of both, but we really wanted to be more in charge of what we do and bring our work to the public. We did a lot of outdoor posting runs. We started printing and got the work out in the street, but it was more about being tired of having to answer to other people, and seeing our work get diluted. We wanted to be more proud of what we do and be more satisfied with what we work on.

V: I don’t know if “proud” is the right word because I think a lot of the work we did was strong, but I have a slightly different perspective on it. I think that the public aspect of creating things when you work in advertising is something that we liked, that we embraced. The idea that our work was getting out there on the streets, on bus sides and billboards and things like that, was I think something that we grew to appreciate. So, that aspect of the work was learned from the agency experience, for me anyway.

Was it the messaging that bothered you eventually?

V: We were both pretty much on the same page with the fact that we wanted to make things that had more meaning for us. You know, they say a commercial artist solves other people’s problems and a fine artist solves their own. I think we were looking to spend our time and talent on something that was more meaningful.

So when you first started putting up work around town was it done illegally? Or did you have some commissions and some jobs back to back?

V: No… it was… un-commissioned postings.

Do any of you come from a graffiti background?

V: I threw up a few tags in High School, but knowing graffiti artists now and understanding the culture, I wouldn’t consider either of us as coming from a graffiti background or being writers.

In every interview I’ve seen and on your own site, you guys keep your identities a mystery. Why is that?

V:It’s because of some of the legal gray areas surrounding how we were showing our work in the beginning. Over the course of the last ten or so years, sharing artwork publicly has been embraced by many more people, and even encouraged. I think that as a crime… in quotes… I think that the perception of it has softened, so that was initially the reason why we chose to keep our identities to ourselves. Eventually, we will lift the veil.

I won’t ask you to reveal it all for this interview, but is ASVP an acronym for your own names?

S: In the beginning we had periods between the letters and yeah, like an acronym that could stand for something, but we never revealed the initial meaning. So the result of it was people reading into the name [with] very funny things, which was a great part about it. It was a guessing game and that was actually what we intended in some ways. We never really explain ourselves.

V: It also went along with the anonymity. It’s just this element that’s connected to the work that we’re doing. It’s an identifier, but in a way that’s not fully explained, which was in line with the anonymity at the time.

Together you guys do amazing screen printing work. What is about print that keeps you coming back to it?

V: It lends itself to the nature of the designs that we make. A lot of the work that we do, a lot of the images are really clean and it’s a way for us to reproduce them in a controlled manner. But that’s also very, very fine, and more akin to a painting or a finer work, rather than something that’s produced mechanically or digitally.

How do you pick your subject matter?

V: It’s tough since it comes from different things. Usually, it’s actually connected to the previous [stuff] and some of the initial images were based on us usually riffing off of the body of work that precedes it.

S: Old advertisements.

V: Advertisements, and sort of strong Eastern and Western icons. Like we had some retro People’s Republic of China images from the Eighties that we were mashing up with very American things like Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and cowboys. [We] started a movement for us to then push off from stylistically as well as conceptually. So from there, we pushed into more like kind of cartoony comic book things that were inspired by those initial images and then that pushed us into concepts for shows like for the “Make Your Own Luck” show [October 2015, Brooklyn].

S: Or the [screen printed] tickets which we give away at the “Make Your Own Luck” show.
V: Right. The ticket was sort of a cheeky look at why people were all sort of glomming on the whole street art thing and buying art for the wrong reasons, because it was like a raffle. They just wanted the next big winner — they weren’t really interested in the work for the right reasons.

Has it been hard getting noticed in the crowded New York street art scene? I know there’s a lot of artists up there and you guys have definitely made a mark.

S: We have been at it for – what now, seven years? It’s definitely a journey, but early on we got some really good attention. Creating posters by hand and even incorporating hand painted elements so our work set us apart, you know.

V: People recognize the craftsmanship that went into a lot of what we were putting out.

S: And then we also had that particular image, the Balaclava. I think that was really a break. A turning point for us as well.

V: To be honest though, we’re kind of on our own path. It’s a very individual kind of journey, and we don’t really gauge what we’re doing based on trying to get recognized. Of course, we hope that the work is enjoyed by many people and embraced, but it would be a job in itself to try to keep up with getting noticed or whatever you want to call it. It’s not a priority for us as much as just continuing to make good work and put it out there with the hope that it will resonate.

You mentioned a bunch of installations that you’re doing for companies. Is that something that you wanted to do when you started or is it happening organically?

V: It’s happening organically. We’re just being reached out to more often now. We turn down most of the offers, but if we feel like the engagement is one that’s creative and it’s an opportunity to kind of be inspired and get together with good people on something, that’s usually what drives us [in] accepting it.

What satisfaction do you get from doing murals versus installations or screen printing it in your studio?

S: They are definitely different disciplines. It’s a bit different when you paint a twenty by thirty mural versus screen printing at twenty by thirty inch image on the table. But ultimately, it’s the same thing. We strive towards the same goal of creating something that people love and enjoy and receive well.

V: The only real distinction I would say there is that when we’re doing something like a mural, there’s a social component that’s really nice about it. Like when we were down in Richmond, we met so many new people. We were hanging out and people were assisting us, helping us out, and it becomes a collaboration in a much different way. That, for me anyway — that’s one of the biggest distinctions. The studio’s a little more of a capsule. And when you’re working outside, it opens the whole thing to meeting new people and connecting in new ways with others who are interested in the work.

You weren’t here long, but how did you like Richmond?

V: We had a great experience in Richmond. We were very pleasantly surprised and we’re fans for sure.

S: Yeah all around. Just meeting really great people. It’s just like very nice people all around and that certainly made a great impact.

V: There was a lot about the city that I took away from it. I mean, the people were really welcoming. They were warm, they were friendly. The food in Richmond — you know coming from New York, there’s a lot of good food [there], but I was totally blown away with the food in Richmond, which was great. The scene down there was definitely cool.

Why did you pick the beetle for the Richmond Mural Project wall? Is there a story behind that?

V: We actually spoke with Riggs Ward about a few different images and they had been approached a couple of other times and I guess had certain ideas for what they wanted on their wall. Maybe not specific, but I think they were presented with a couple of things in the past with what they knew they didn’t want. So we presented a couple of different options to them and they had actually noticed the ladybug on our website. [That] was part of a series of images we did for a show called “Make Your Own Luck,” which was comprised of a bunch of different objects that were associated with creative thinking usually at younger ages and fantasizing. We did the ladybug, a wishbone, a rabbit’s foot, and they really gravitated towards it. So we customized it and kind of tweaked it in a way that we thought would be cool for the wall and that’s really why we wound up doing that piece there.

I know you guys are busy. What projects do you have coming up?

S: We have an upcoming wall commission in the Meatpacking District here in NYC.
V: It’s a 9’ X 35’ bulkhead wall on top of a building that will be visible from The Standard Hotel, The Highline and the Whitney Museum. That project is scheduled to begin in two weeks.

V: And we’re working on an 8×12 foot canvas commission for a private collector which is a massive piece that we’re really excited about. We have a couple of other smaller canvas commissions that we’re currently doing, as well as several large scale works at a new hotel that’s currently being built in New York. And then we’re also engaged in a guitar exhibition. We’re going to be hand painting a guitar for an exhibit that’s going to be at The Quin Hotel in New York in the fall. And we have a print edition that’s going to release very soon with Poster Child prints.

You both have different skill sets. What do each of you bring to the table in this partnership?

S: It’s actually really organic. We do have a bit different skills set that’s true, but we both weigh in basically on pretty much anything we do and produce.
V: You know what else too — I mean, I hate getting into like, what does one person do versus what the other person does because it inevitably creates some kind of divide. What I would say is this. We’re both totally involved with the actual creation of each of the pieces of art and we’re both totally involved with the studio practice and how we run it and how we promote it and how we’re scaling it.

V: Within certain disciplines, we may lean more heavily one way or another, with one person carrying a little bit more of that weight than the other. This really comes from our experience in advertising. It comes from learning how to collaborate and be comfortable passing things back and forth and sharing things. So, we could sit here and tell you, I do this mostly and he does that mostly, but the truth is that it really is a shared effort.
IG: @asvpart

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me

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