Baltimore Artist Extraordinaire Andrew Katz Exclusive Interview
Andrew Katz is a dope hip hop artist hailing from the east coast, Baltimore to be exact. Andrew is an educator within the public and private school system. He is passionate about giving back to the community through his artwork and teaching endeavors. We recently caught up with this busy entrepreneur to have our own Andrew Katz Exclusive Interview here at Big Noise Radio.
Q. Big Noise: Respect Andrew, it’s good to connect with you. How are you doing this week?
A. Andrew Katz: Yes! Finally, officially connected! I’m well, and I’m ready to establish a more permanent bond with Big Noise. We’ve been informally linked via twitter, for a few years now.
Q. Big Noise: Yes, we’re glad to connect as well! You’re out there on the east coast, in the Baltimore Maryland area; were you born there? We hear it’s cold out there this year, any comments about that?
A. Andrew Katz: I was born in Baltimore, and raised not far outside, in the suburbs. My hometown is called Ellicott City. Yeah it was a cold winter, but we have all the seasons here. We get very hot in the summer, and very cold in the winter. Both extremes.
Q. Big Noise: Right, no doubt. We’ve been checking out your website, following your posts on social media. You have a diverse portfolio of work, what inspired you to get into art?
A. Andrew Katz: I have been inspired to work as an artist from a young age. I guess it starts when you get positive feedback from the adults in your life. I was fortunate to have parents and teachers who recognized some ability that set me apart from others. Looking back, I wasn’t all that much more talented than anyone else, but I hung my hat on compliments and attention, because I was Joe Average (at best) in my academic classes. For me, it all made sense in the art classroom. I loved the challenge of getting a likeness in a portrait, and I started trying to draw my favorite athletes from the 70s and 80s. This really helped me gain an understanding of the human form, and the way light can change the way we see the world.
Q. Big Noise: That’s really cool! Your subject matter ranges from nautical, to birds, to sports figures… your work capturing the iconic figures of hip hop is fantastic, what started you in that direction?
A. Andrew Katz: I had been drawing my favorite baseball players and other athletes, when I moved to Maryland’s Eastern Shore in the year 2000. My focus shifted to include the beautiful landscapes and sights that I would see when I would go out and explore – rusty boats, blue crabs, raptors, watermen, and other nautical objects and scenery. I immersed myself in painting watercolors that would capture my newest surroundings. All along, ever since the 1980s, I had been listening to Hip-Hop music. I would return to it over and over again, and it was always on heavy rotation – through cassettes, CDs, MP3, and eventually streaming. I live between Washington DC and Baltimore, so I had always heard about shows that were coming through the area. After hearing that The Furious 5 would be at the Howard Theatre in 2013, I decided it was something that I couldn’t miss. I brought new artwork to the show, in the form of a portrait of Keith ‘Cowboy’ Wiggins. I connected with the members of the group, and got to spend some time talking with Mele Mel. When I realized how the artwork was received, and that it afforded me incredible access to some of the icons, I was hooked! I began painting and drawing with abandon. Each time a Classic Hip-Hop act would come through DC or Baltimore, I was there with brand new artwork. In this way, I’ve been able to establish a formidable collection.
Q. Big Noise: Wow what a great ice breaker, beautiful. Your work is very detailed, your use of classic techniques with water colors and ink are well defined; did you know you would get into hip hop when you were in school?
A. Andrew Katz: Hip-Hop really found me. I’m a white guy from the suburbs. Like many of us, I was introduced to Hip-Hop through Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys. 1986, 1987, and 1988 were formative times for me. I was 14 – 17 during those years, and I was immediately interested in this alternative music that had borrowed beats and clever, poetic, turns of phrase. The better the boast, and the more interesting reference to pop-culture, the more I wanted to hear it. When I heard Public Enemy, I lost my mind. I was so impressed with Chuck’s voice, and the incredible Clyde ‘The Funky Drummer’ Stubblefield samples. On top of that, PE was educating the public at-large. Utilizing conscious rhymes, and the impetus to make the world a better place, Chuck, Flav, Terminator X, Griff, and the S1Ws collectively helped me to gain a better understanding of the world. These groups remain my favorites of all-time, and I consistently seek out opportunities to listen and introduce them to younger people.
Q. Big Noise: Very nice, Chuck D was so ahead of his time! Can you share some of your school experiences with us. What was the environment like, did it contribute to your current endeavors? Was diversity embraced in the classroom?
A. Andrew Katz: I’ve been an art teacher for 23 years. I have worked in both public and independent schools, schools that are in affluent areas, and schools in areas of need. Art class can be the best part of a student’s day, and I try to come at it from this perspective. It is a chance for young people to express themselves, and I take that seriously. Often my lessons are designed around what I love – music, sneaker-culture, painting and drawing, and, history. Students in my class design guitars, make personal sundials, self-portraits of all kinds, and construct new footwear. If you design a lesson properly, the results are varied and sophisticated. My assignments are ‘challenges’, and the students’ artwork are the ‘solution’. A middle school art classroom is always a place of energy and experimentation. I’ve been fortunate to work with a wide breadth of students with different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. It makes for a richer experience for both teacher and student.
Q. Big Noise: Excellent answer, we need more teachers like you! What kind of music did you listen to when you were in school. Did you listen to the classic hip hop artists you’re depicting in your artwork today?
A. Andrew Katz: I was introduced to The Police, The Talking Heads, U2, Men at Work, and other alternative/new wave music, as an early teen. I still love those groups, and the sounds that came along with them. Once I was introduced to Hip-Hop, my playlists became a more eclectic mix of styles and genres. It all started when a guy attending a party in my basement left his mixtape behind. The next morning, when we were cleaning up, I noticed a green, clear, Maxell, recordable tape in the deck. As I didn’t recognize it as one of my own, I pressed play to hear what was on it. That tape changed my life. I heard Rakim’s Microphone Fiend, EPMD’s Jane, Doug E. Fresh’s The Show, JJ Fadd’s Supersonic, and Kool Moe Dee’s Wild Wild West (among others). I have fond memories of listening to that tape, driving around my hometown. It was my education.
Q. Big Noise: Ha-ha…lol Wow that’s how it goes down, nice! How do you connect with the artists you’re working with / showcasing? Do you work from pictures, live subject, combination… what’s the process?
A. Andrew Katz: I definitely work from photographs. We were fortunate that, with the music came the visual imagery of Hip-Hop. Photogs like Janette Beckman, Glen E. Friedman, and Ernie Paniciolli archived the movement in the mid and late 80s. As a result, we have thousands of rich, vivid images that tell the story of Hip-Hop. I play with these compositions in my own work, often using alternative surfaces to capture what has already been captured. I use cardboard, wood, and high-quality watercolor papers to pay tribute to the Hip-Hop artists, as well as the photographers who put themselves in the right place at the right time. I would love to do live painting, and I have considered it, but my style, right now, is too tight and detailed. By the end of a show, I’d only have a small bit done. Ha! I always marvel at those artist who can paint quickly and expressively. That just isn’t me.
While there isn’t just one way that I connect with the artists, my M.O. is to use social media to get my artwork out of the studio and into the world. When I finish a painting, I tweet it to Hip Hop Gods and Hip Hop Golden Age. These accounts have become reliable friends. I push out imagery on Facebook, IG, and Twitter. If I’m lucky, the artist sees the work before I attend the show. This way, they know that I’ll be in the audience. Many times the artist communicates with me publicly, and this opens the door for an in-person meeting. I’m never pushy, and try to always to be polite and patient. There is a lot of legwork and waiting for these fleeting moments. It’s almost always worth it. The artists have been accommodating and gracious, making for substantive connections and inspiring memories.
Q. Big Noise: You’re a good man sir! Can you share with us your experience working with the legendary Chuck D? What’s going on with the Public Enemy movement today? How are they involved with today’s hip hop scene?
A. Andrew Katz: I recount the whole, long story of meeting Chuck D on my blog – KatzART.blog – Mission: Chuck D. I’ve turned these experiences and meetings into long-form stories, in the hopes that I will not forget details of these unique opportunities. Chuck is a hero of mine. He uses his art to uplift and empower, and I can’t think of a better reason to make things. He is an incredible emcee, and he’s also a visual artist. It was a goal of mine to meet him, and thank him for his musical and poetic contributions. When I did meet him, I was in awe of his generosity and the richness of our connection. He immediately began strategizing ways that we could work together. After he asked me to curate the Public Enemy website, I realized that often extends opportunities to people he meets. I didn’t want to let him down. I provided photographic content, formatted images, and wrote articles for publicenemy.com for over two years. I know what you’re thinking, “Why you?”. Believe me, I have the same question. I was very fortunate to find myself working with musical legends. Later, Chuck asked me to be a part of a group of artists that he dubbed ‘mADurgency’. There are about ten artist in our ‘Bomb Squad’ of illustrators and creatives. The goal is to provide visual solutions to the Hip-Hop community. If you need artwork for your next album, call us. If you need t-shirt design, help with a website, digital fliers, or anything artistic related to the perpetuation and growth of the Hip-Hop community, we are the group to see. We have artists all over Planet Earth, and we’re tied to one another by our abilities and our commitment to and love of Hip-Hop culture.
I don’t think I’d ever speak for Public Enemy as a group. I know what you all know – that Public Enemy has been making records for over thirty years. They never left. While they have had their challenges, especially of late, there are going to be dates on the 2019 calendar that have them performing together again. I, for one, have missed their live show, and look forward to catching multiple dates.
Chuck continues to be involved in the Hip-Hop scene through his many endeavors – Prophets of Rage, Public Enemy, Spit Slam Records, RapStation, and writing and printing books that advance the culture. He is a renaissance man, and I’m always amazed at the breadth of his interests and involvement.
Q. Big Noise: Wow, amazing… anything we can do to help! Your work showcasing the iconic artists of the 90’s era is so meaningful! There’s a whole new generation of iconic artists, working hard within the last decade. Artists like Low Budget Crew, Black Milk, Apollo Brown and Planet Asia have been holding down the underground scene. Just no commercial recognition. Do you have any plans to document their images for the hip hop community?
A. Andrew Katz: The short answer is ‘I should’. mADurgency, as a crew, makes this a part of its mission. We are a diverse group of avid listeners, and we often bring new acts to the attention of other members of the group. There have been a number of UK Hip-Hop artists that have come to my attention through communication with mADurgency artists from England. I relish the chance to hear new, thought-provoking styles and rhymes. So many communities have acts that need a spotlight shone on them. We want to use our art to shine that light, and help to evolve and grow the culture. I love that we have a potential role in the perpetuation of Hip-Hop.
Q. Big Noise: Excellent, we want to work with you on some of that fresh exposure! What do you think about the state of hip hop music today? Do you think there will ever be a place for soulful music on mainstream channels? Where are we headed?
A. Andrew Katz: Man, I have to say, I’m not a big fan of a lot of what is on mainstream channels right now. That being said, I’m an old head. This music isn’t for me. Just like what is now Classic Hip-Hop wasn’t for my parents. The music is a reaction, and a by-product of what is going on in the world. It’s not always a reflection, but more of a result. I do hope that artist fill the airwaves with more thoughtful and meaningful content. I always liked good beats and clever rhyming, but I love when an musical artist can make you stop and think. I don’t know where we’re headed, but artists like Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, and even Masta Ace continue to reach deeper, and that makes me hopeful.
Q. Big Noise: Yes indeed, we’re with you on that. Homelessness is entrenched in our American culture these days. News channels point the finger at everything, accept the over-inflated property values. How has homelessness affected your community in Baltimore? What type of solutions do you think we need to solve this nationwide problem?
A. Andrew Katz: Homelessness and gentrification are huge issues in Baltimore and Washington DC. Once proud communities of People of Color, have been redesigned, commodified, and regurgitated as superficial cultural centers. Only without the original culture. The bottom line is the driving force behind all of this change, and the victims are the people that made these communities rich and robust in the first place. The result is often relocation, an inability to meet new financial demands, and the possibility of homelessness. To say that this is unfair, is a gross understatement. If I had a solution, I would have offered it by now. The pursuit of the almighty dollar has rendered builders and developers blind to these very real challenges. Maybe they don’t want to see. I hope that there are cities and communities that will actively construct systems that will prevent this cycle. We need more empathy, and we need to bring more community members to the table to discuss inclusive, progressive solutions.
Q. Big Noise: I agree completely, most people don’t even know… We seem to moving backward in some ways, regarding diversity in the world today. Any thoughts or comments about that? What can we in the hip hop community do to help?
A. Andrew Katz: Music and Visual Arts education is a conduit that can help communities see the world with a fresh lenses. Music and Art are often the best of what a culture and its people have to offer. It sets them apart, and it offers concrete examples of contribution and vitality. While just playing music and showing art alone wont help, giving people a voice and acknowledging their backgrounds can lead to healthy conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusivity. When we study bygone cultures of the past, we often look to their art and their literature. By preserving Hip-Hop culture, and embracing new and varied forms of creative expression, you are able to view a wider representation of humanity. They tell us Hip-Hop is something that came from nothing – except that it didn’t come from nothing. It came from looking, listening, and reflecting – Observing our surroundings, listening to the Blues and the sounds of our communities, and using these sights and sounds to reflect and express our own thoughts and feelings. For each of us, the Arts can still be the vehicle to do that.
Q. Big Noise: Once again, excellent answer sir, you are so right! What plans do you have for the future? How do you see your brand and product offerings evolving as you move forward?
A. Andrew Katz: Taking a page out of Chuck’s playbook, I plan to be involved in many different endeavors. I’ve begun making art using digital media (i.e. Photoshop, Procreate, Digital Painting), I’m offering my Hip-Hop cartoon illustrations as t-shirt designs and stickers, and I’ll continue to bring new artwork to live shows. I don’t want to become complacent or redundant. Hopefully the work will remain fresh and exciting. Connecting with musical acts and other visual artists can determine the direction my own work takes. Not knowing where I’ll end up is half the fun. I just have to be open to new connections and new avenues for art-making.
Q. Big Noise: That’s a beautiful attitude! For up and coming artists, are you able to support yourself with your craft? Do you do artwork full time or part time? Your social media hustle is nice, how much time is involved?
A. Andrew Katz: Many years ago, I made a decision to teach art to young people. I went to an art school and my major was art education. I didn’t want to graduate without a concrete way to pay back my student loans. I didn’t want to compromise the direction of my work in order to pay my bills. As a result, I make my living as a teacher, while I can make whatever art I choose. I make art because I want to make art, not because I need to make money. I’m so fortunate that I’ve been able to carve out time to make new paintings and drawings. Often there aren’t enough hours in the day, but using social media, and connecting with others, has allowed me to extend my reach. I admire artists that can make a living making their art. It’s not easy, and you really have to hustle and promote. Right now, I supplement my income with commissions and sales, and use my art to perpetuate Hip-Hop culture. For me, I’ve been able to strike a satisfying balance.
Q. Big Noise: Wow that’s something we’re all striving for, very nice! Andrew it’s been really nice speaking with you, thank you man for your time! Any last shouts or thoughts for the people?
A. Andrew Katz: Thank YOU! Shoutout to Big Noise, mADurgency, Chuck D and Public Enemy, Prophets of Rage, and my fellow artists at mADurgency! This connection is a great example of what I’m about. Hopefully, I’ll meet and connect with other members of your community. You can always find me at www.katzart.com, @ajkatzart, IG – ajkatzart, aKatzART.blog, @madurgency, and my Etsy shop for shirts, stickers, and prints. I hope to hear some feedback from some of you.
Big Noise: Andrew, we really appreciate your ongoing contribution to the hip hop community. It’s people like you who make this world a better place to live. Keep up the fantastic work! We look forward to speaking with you again. Anything we can do here at Big Noise to help you or the crew is a done deal! Peace and blessings to you and your awesome network!