When Jules Muck, muralist and street artist, was tagging her name all over New York City's streets she never thought it would lead her to a successful career as an artist and a home in Venice beach.
Do you remember your first week in LA?
My first week in LA was freaking insane. My friend didn’t want to live with me anymore after she convinced me to move out here. I had given away everything to come here. I gave away my apartment. I had nothing to go back to and then I had nowhere to go.
What was her reason?
She met a guy. It was so messed up. So I was just driving around and I ran out of gas in Venice. I parked on Electric Avenue.
For a while I had a storage space. I tried to rent a room. Things just kept going wrong. I lived in my car right on Electric Avenue for about six months. I would meet people that let me use their facilities or couches. The whole thing was really kind of amazing. I remember thinking, “This is not bad. It’s sunny. There are palm trees. I have coffee.”
I didn’t have to buy a lot to take care of myself. I just needed art supplies really. Canvases. I would spray paint on them on the street because I didn’t know the deal with the mural stuff and I didn’t want to risk any legal issues. So I was just spray-painting on these massive canvases and someone said that I should have an art show at the coffee shop, Abbot’s Habit. That’s where I was camping.
Did you have a goal when you moved out here?
I had left New York and moved to New Haven, Connecticut. It had gone really well but I was feeling a little bit like there was nothing left for me to gain by being there. At that point I was working on a lot of pop paintings, very large-scale.
Large-scale paintings were a hard sell in New York, because people’s apartments are so small. But also, people were saying that I should be in LA because of my subject matter and style. I was painting a lot of celebrity stuff. I guess that’s the reason I moved here. My original plan was to be in LA for three years and then go to Melbourne because they’re huge fans of my work.
It was almost like paying my dues. You need to put in the time in LA as a pop artist. Then I got here, and honestly it probably would have been only three years if I hadn’t found Venice. It’s really the only part of LA I love. This is my favorite place in the world. And my favorite place in Venice is right here at my house. I live in my favorite place.
Has your work shifted since you moved here?
It’s gotten steadily better, I think. I work a lot and I can work outside all year. In New York it was like quick bombing when I did outside stuff. It wasn’t exactly as attractive because of the winters; it was always about just getting the work up quickly. Here I can take time and the people in the neighborhood are so appreciative.
I go around painting, not only on all the walls, but I paint on trash in the neighborhood. People text me all the time, “There’s a fridge over here….” So everybody loves that. I really like being a part of my community instead of its nemesis. When I was younger it was like, “Oh, those graffiti brats!”
Does it blow your mind to look back at doing this as a kid and doing it now?
I’ve got to be honest, I never respected art. I went around destroying murals. I would just scrawl on top of it in the Bronx.
Did you grow up in the Bronx?
I grew up near there, and we were also in Europe a lot. My mom’s British and my dad’s Greek so I moved around a lot. The Bronx is where I did most of my graffiti, but as I got older I went to different parts of the city.
I painted with this crew called BTC, which stood for “Burn the City,” “Bomb the City,” “Bronx Thug Connection.” It was gnarly. We lived in the part of the Bronx where it wasn’t about making pretty pictures. We were definitely just going out to destroy.
The first time I painted at “The Wall of Fame,” which is at 106th Street and Park Avenue, we destroyed it. Which is funny, because years later I was one of the first females to paint there as an artist.
How did you get in with this crew?
I started doing graffiti in Greece and England because my folks would move me around so much. I would always write my name all the way to school so I would feel more comfortable. I just felt like I didn’t belong. And I did that when I came back to New York. I did it a lot and someone saw me with my black book.
What’s a “black book”?
It’s a book that every graffiti writer has, where you do your drawings before you go put them on the street.
So someone saw it and was like, “Oh, you’re Muck?” At that point in the ‘90s, graffiti culture was kind of booming. There was all this AOL chatroom stuff going on and I guess, without knowing it, I had gotten some notoriety.
And you were just doing it on your own?
I was just writing “Muck” on everything. I had met kids in Europe that were into it, but back in New York I was by myself. Until I met this kid who saw my black book and was like, “Come paint with us.”
The first night that I went bombing was with Spek BTC [Timothy “Spek” Falzone], who was kind of the president of the group. He was later shot and killed. He was a legend in the Bronx because he got up a lot. It was gnarly.
I was the only girl, so they didn’t really know how to deal with me. They didn’t jump me in or anything, but they did stuff like hang me upside down over the Westside Highway to write “BTC.” I wasn’t involved in a lot of the fighting but I was always, “Wait here… Go! Go! Go!” And they would come running out with baseball bats.
I guess it was pseudo gang activity, but a lot of the fights were just about graffiti. We would go on little stealing missions to get paint. It was an all-day thing. We’d go to the mom-and pop-shops outside the Bronx and steal Similac baby formula. We’d sell that and that’s how we would get money.
That’s so specific.
Yeah. It was whatever was hot. There was a time when it was these diet pills Xenadrine, or Rogaine. We’d sell it to bodegas because the wholesale prices were too expensive for them.
We’d fill carts with spray paint at Home Depot and sprint for the door and whoever got through got through.
Were your parents aware of all of this?
They weren’t aware of a lot of it. My mom once had to come to the Bronx precinct to get her car keys. I wouldn’t normally tell her when I had police trouble, but one time I had her car so I had to tell her to come get her car keys. She was so mad. It was so bad.
Were these guys your friends?
I mean, we hung out everyday. Yeah we were friends but I wasn’t as involved in stuff. Thankfully they weren’t gnarly with me the way they were with other girls. They weren’t very nice with girls but I was one of the guys. They didn’t make me do the fighting. They would go off and do crazy shit.
Was there a time when you thought, “What’s next?”
I think because I was female, I got away with a lot more and I got more recognition. So I started getting contacted by other graffiti writers. There was a lot of talk online and I was interviewed by While You Were Sleeping magazine. Everyone got so excited about a female graffiti writer.
Lady Pink found me through all of this. There’s a movie, Wild Style, about her. She was one of the first graffiti writers ever to get a lot of recognition and started doing gallery shows. She started in the subways and then moved into galleries and became an established artist.
She came up on a rooftop where I was painting. I knew her from Subway Art, the book that Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant made about graffiti. That book took graffiti worldwide. That’s how I found out about graffiti while I was living in Greece. Lady Pink was in it, I saw the picture of Lady Pink and thought, “Oh, girls can do this, too.”
Cut to years later, and she came up on the rooftop and was standing behind me saying, “You need to add more yellow there.” I was like, “Who the fuck is this?” My boyfriend at the time was like, “That’s Lady Pink!” I couldn’t even talk to her. He gave her my number and she hit me up and took me on as an apprentice. I apprenticed under her for about four years. It was an awesome situation. I was lucky.
What were you doing for her?
She was working as an artist at that time and she did a lot of diner murals and restaurant stuff around New York. So it started with her just telling me, “Fill this in this color. Do a fade.” And I didn’t really use brushes when we started, so she taught me how to do that. Slowly she would have me do more and more stuff to the point where she was like, “Here’s the design, now go put it on the wall.”
It was a paid apprenticeship. She always made sure I got paid. To go from being arrested to getting paid for doing this was amazing. And honestly, at the point that I was at in my late teens, I would not have listened to anyone else. I was not able to go to school. I was really not good with authority. It was only because I had the upmost respect for her work that I was able to listen to her.
Did you disconnect from BTC at this point?
I kind of did. It’s funny because everyone got connected again through Instagram. I would still see them and go bombing some times because I still wanted the thrill. But Pink started connecting me with old-school writers. People took me to the train yards, the tunnels, they taught me how to get into subway tunnels. All this stuff that I was always like, “Oh my god!” And with the names that I had read about like Smith, and Cycle. All these people that were legends were all of a sudden like, “Yo, come with us to the freight yard.”
It was awesome. She kind of blew up my whole world and probably is the reason I’m still doing this.
I find it fascinating that people who have a passion for something often end up meeting the people they admire and these worlds converge.
It’s an energetic thing. This has happened to me in a lot of different arenas. Like with musicians that I’ve been amazed by. Black Yaya was this music by the singer of the French band Herman Dune [David Iyar], and I bought his CD when I was visiting my mom in Spain in 2005. It was a little obscure and I bought it based on the cover art and I listened to it for years. I loved it.
Last year, this French couple calls me up to say, “We want to buy a piece of art. We’ve loved your stuff since 2005. We saw your street art in New York.” So I was like, “What are you doing in LA?” And they said they were coming here to play some shows and it was the musician!
I was like, “I bought your CD and I’ve been listening to it all this time!” And he was like, “I’ve been following your art all this time!” It’s just so trippy! Now we’re all really good friends. I just did a portrait of them and they come to Venice a lot. It blows my mind.
What’s it like looking back at being this kid who looked up to people, and now people come up to you saying they’ve been following your work for years? I use Dave Grohl as an example, because he seems like the kind of guy that’s still so excited to talk to people about his work. Rather than becoming famous and not talking to fans.
I watched Dave when people were coming up to my gate to talk to him and he was so stoked to hear about what they were doing. He told me it inspires him to create more. I get it—when you’re a creator, fame is just secondary.
You just have to continue producing work. There’s no point where you get to a certain amount of accomplishments that will carry you forever. You have to always be making something. You have this feeling as an artist, this kind of projected mentality of “Have you made it yet?” No! That doesn’t happen. I had show at the Bronx Museum of Art in 2006 and I was homeless after that.
I’ve had a lot of times that seemed like breakthroughs. I was in the 11th Spring Street project in New York, which was on the cover of the arts section of the New York Times. It didn’t mean that I was able to sell a painting. It still doesn’t mean I’m able to sell a painting every day.
One of my biggest clients is the hotel Shutters on the Beach, and I got that job because I picked up a hitchhiker. I picked him up in Colorado while I was driving cross country, and when he got out here he got a job at Shutters. When they were looking for a street artist, the marketing person decided to check me out because they thought his story was so cool. So they looked me up and it wasn’t because I was in some gallery.
That’s amazing! Do you see yourself changing paths at all?
I really like making stuff and I like to experiment, too. I’d be open to whatever. I’d love to do film stuff. But I really do like painting so much that I can’t see myself ever walking away from it.
I’d like to add more stuff. I’ve been tattooing but I’d never want to make a career out of it. Tattooing for me is very much just for the homies and the people who really want it. It’s not a money thing, so if I start charging then I’m kind of available to everyone. It’s something just for me that I’m terrible at, if you talk in terms of traditional tattooing. I love doing it and I find that in a small way it’s changed my artwork. It’s given me a lot more attention to detail and I think that happens when you explore a new medium.
Is it crazy to think that you’ve been making this work on your terms since the beginning?
I’m just so blown away that this is working. Every time I get a job, I feel like I’m ripping someone off. I was getting arrested for doing the same stuff. Sometimes I get hired to create exactly the same shit I got arrested for.
I got flown out to New York, put up and paid a lot of money to paint a replica of a piece I had done on the street in someone’s apartment. I was like, “This is fucking weird!” But it was so cool!
My perseverance was unbeknownst even to me, because I fought against it. I never wanted to be an artist. I always thought it was so corny, and not viable, not important. I thought I should be something useful like a mechanic or a doctor. It’s weird. I always get dragged back into it.
You have to follow your gut.
It’ll just come for you. I embrace it completely without any thought now of what am I going to get out of it. That’s what has really freed me up.
What was that transition?
There was a time where people were trying to orchestrate my art. Advising me by saying, “Don’t do this, do this….” There were times when I was angry that I hadn’t priced myself high enough at the beginning. People create this whole mystique about themselves, this fake thing that makes their art more valuable in the marketplace and I didn’t do that.
I understand now that I’ve had a really slow rise, but it’s really solid. I’m not hiding anything. I know exactly what everything is worth to me. I say I feel like I’m ripping someone off because they’re paying me to do something I love.
The fine art world is still a mystery to me. I don’t really understand it and I don’t trust it. I’ve slowly felt out my whole career where I know now how to make a living from it and enjoy it.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
I used to always say, “Don’t try and just do it.” But then I started thinking that was a bit cocky. [Laughs] I would just say let go and go with the flow. The more you can let go and show up at the same time, the better.
Do you have any favorite spots in Venice?
It’s so funny because I’m really into self-serve supermarket style stuff. Erewhon Natural Foods just opened and I’m kind of obsessed. It’s a high-end supermarket that has great stuff. It’s all really yummy and really healthy.
Then there’s GTA, it’s Gjelina’s take-away spot. You just stand at the counter. I love them because they really support the arts. They gave me a free studio in their building.
Where do you take people from out-of-town?
My house. [Laughs] I would say go check out the boardwalk, but I’m not going. [Laughs] I think that everyone who comes to Venice should see the insanity down there.
What does LA mean to you?
I think it means freedom to me. The real kind. I used to say freedom was dumb because I chased freedom for a long time. I was a drug addict and a homeless person and I finally realized that just showing up and taking care of your shit was freedom.
Photography by Magdalena Wielopolski ©