Street Artist RAE Debuts Show in Vacant East Village Bodega


On Saturday night, Brooklyn street artist RAE presents “Word of Mouth,” his first solo show in New York City. Unfortunately, he won’t be attending opening night, because when you use the city as your canvas, you never know if the police might be looking for you.

The space, formerly a bodega that closed after Hurricane Sandy flooded the East Village, is covered in RAE’s work. From the walls to an old beef-patty cooking tray, RAE has used every piece of this vacant store for his own creations. There’s even a robot-like creature built out of a broken-down ventilation system.

RAE has been creating art from trash since he was a child growing up around East New York. He started venturing out into the streets three years ago, and has also done outdoor work in Chicago and Cleveland as well as for neighborhood beautification projects organized by Pawn Works. In February, he had his first solo show in London at Signal Gallery.

A couple of evenings ago, RAE gave us a tour of this remarkable space, on the corner of Avenue C and East 12th Street, which will double as a fully functioning bodega come opening night. He discussed how the show came to be, his interest in bodega culture, and why he’s taking his hat off to Banksy.

How long have you been working on this solo show and what has that process been like?

I’ve been working on this show for about a year and a half, and I always wanted to do something inside a store because every time I went into a store, the signage and everything in there, to me, felt like art. The misspelled signs, how things are put together haphazardly on cardboard always appealed to me. Just the imperfections of things. It just made sense for me to have a show inside a space like this, but obviously I wanted to take over the space. Even if you have an entire gallery, you still have limitations. Here, there are no limitations for me. I can do whatever I want. I almost have to hold back because I want to write on the ceilings and the floors. [Which he has done.]

How did you acquire this space?

That’s kind of why this show is titled “Word of Mouth,” because that’s sort of how I got it. It was mostly through a series of various connections that opened up for me.

What is the message that you want to convey?

A lot of themes in the show are about people conversing, which happens a lot inside or outside a bodega, for good or bad reasons. So there’s a lot of hanging out in my work. That’s the bodega culture. The other component to the show will be about surveillance. There’s going to be a surveillance system that will have everyone on-camera. We’ll also be screening other footage related to surveillance.

What’s your opinion on the latest Banksy craze?

I think it’s great. I think there’s just a lot of haters. He is just doing his thing. But all of the other nonsense that goes along with it is only great publicity. So if someone wants to cross it out or steal it or cover it, he is basically getting what he wanted out of it, which is getting the exposure for it. And that’s why you put it out on the street in the first place. Hats off to him.

Would you consider yourself that type of artist?

I put a lot of work outside. Some of it is legal, some of it is illegal. Anything that I don’t have to spend a lot of time on, then I am not going to ask permission for. I think it’s just a matter of finding spots and things that work for you and playing off things that are already out there, and that’s what Banksy does, which is why it’s so brilliant. It is about becoming part of the landscape. When I put stuff out in the streets, I eyeball a spot for a long time before I make it happen.

It’s pretty great that in this day and age you can still produce an art show on your own terms without all the red tape.

Well, there’s a lot of things in here that probably should not be going on. But I have this space for a month, and I am going to do what I can do. Hopefully we can pull off opening night. … We can worry about the rest after that. You just have to be in the know. I know guys that have lived around here for 15, 20 years. So they can pull strings. Basically, the power in here is sort of jumped. But a lot of that stuff is happening on the fly.

Opens Saturday at 7 p.m., through November 16. Regular hours: 2 to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, closed on Halloween, on the corner of Avenue C and East 12th Street.