Hip-hop immediately makes an impression on most people. Words like loud, rebellious and powerful often come to mind. And when fusing it with the fine art world, it can be beautiful. Today, professional location artist Borbay unveils his newest exhibit “The Kings of Hip Hop” in New York City. Borbay sat down with theGrio to discuss how he broke away from the corporate world, the parallels between the rap and the art worlds and his one unforgettable encounter with Tracey Morgan.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well when I was 4 my mom let me paint a wooden bunny and from that point on I was hooked on art. However, as I got older, I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally so I ended to go to [Boston University] to run on scholarship where I majored in graphic design. I ended up working at as a designer for a company called The Beacon Hill Times, a small staff weekly paper. After that I planned on out moving west with a slam poet but then I decided to stay in Boston because I then got cast into a reality TV show and taping was for the following 6 months…
What was the show called?
It was called The Roomies. Basically it was a radio exec in Boston’s pet project . But thankfully it was before the evolution of technology and the explosion of reality TV. We were shooting our stuff exclusively on web cams with 24/7 coverage and while were testing previewing the show in different markets, the network collapsed. If only we waited two years later when people got hip to YouTube we would’ve made a killing. It was a blessing in disguise for me to pursue my other interests.
So after moving to Manhattan with no money, I started doing stand-up comedy. One man on the stage type stuff. True story, my first time performing live I was scared out of my mind. Like sweating through my clothes. In my moments of nervousness I didn’t even notice that Tracy Morgan was sitting right next to me.
Yeah it kinda blew me away. So I start talking to him asking him if he is going on before me and for any advice in general. Tracy looked right at me without saying a word; motioned for his security guard to come over to us and whispered in his ear.
I like where this is going already.
Ha! The security guard then proceeded to tap me on my shoulder and says “Don’t talk to Tracy” and walked away. Then I did my show.
I guess with Tracy’s disrespect he inadvertently fueled you into other ventures.
I got sick of the hustle of the comedy game. Long hours. Too much booze. I was burned out and it wasn’t for me anymore. But to make a long story short, I made a contact with someone who was affiliated with the Trump Towers. I landed a desk job there and went the corporate route and was involved in big large scale Trump licensing projects that were spread all over the world.
How long were you with the Donald?
I was working there for a little under 2 years, where I began to parlay into the world of advertising. I became successful within my field and a few year back I was on vacation in Hawaii with my then girlfriend now wife. I met this artist from New York while I was out there. We connected and through him I rekindled my passion for the arts. I was literally painting on the beach, 6-pack to the side and I began to think to myself, ‘Dude this is the life.’ The world doesn’t another a**hole selling websites.
Let’s fast forward a bit. How did you get the concept for your painting style?
Well my break literally came from playing ice hockey in Chelsea. When you snap your fibula, it comes with a lot of downtime. I’m an avid reader so I took to the newspapers. The New York Times was too business oriented…The Daily News was OK. But I became a fan of the New York Post. It’s like the perfect mix of gossip and news. So as I’m doing my rehab and on my meds, I realized that the variety of content in the Post was crazy. So I began to create these collages using the headlines and words from the paper. They were part artistic expression part social commentary.
And that was the beginning. After being commissioned to do a multiple projects in NYC, I felt I was ready to do some portraits. One day I was blogging and I was looking for inspiration for paint and title my post: “I got 99 problems and finding a portrait subject is one”And I’m assuming this lead you to wanting to painting Hov. Why Jay-Z?
Well first of all I’ve been listening to his music for years. Second, I respect him as a businessman. I wanted to combine to the lyrical and sensational nature of headlines with the art I was creating with the person. So I started with Jay-Z and with my criteria, added Dr.Dre, Kanye, Diddy, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Lil’ Wayne.
Could you elaborate more on the criteria?
Some of the criteria were they have all their mouths closed. And they stand in front; behind and amidst the words they created to build their brand. While the all words aren’t direct quotes, they are headlines that could be associated with them.
Free word association at it finest.
So why these seven ‘Kings’? Hip-hop is so vast that whoever you deem to be a king will come with criticism.
I did my research on this project before I dove into it. Each artist I painted met my guidelines to be eligible to paint. Every artist here has his mouth closed. All of them aside from Dre and Eminem all are wearing sunglasses. I couldn’t find public shots of them wearing shades. From the context standpoint, they each had to have released an album within the past year and have to be involved in social media.
Ok now it makes sense.
While those were my set criteria, things started getting ridiculous after Forbes dropped their list of the top hip-hop earners in 2011. I predicted 7 of the top 8 with my project. One of the biggest reasons I chose these artists above anything else is to compare. What hip-hop artists have done for the hip-hop industry in comparison to the Fine Arts community, we look like we’re in the dark ages. Up and coming and veteran artist are still basically owned by art galleries.
They take away 50 percent of our potential earnings. They decided when to showcase their work when it’s in their best interests. You’re apart of their general roster and will only promote you if it works.
The mindset that I admire from the hip-hop world that I feel is lacking in the art world is the independent take no prisoners mentality when it comes to our work.
A killer’s mentality?
Right. There is a lack of a “killer’s mentality” Like I mentioned before, we’re in the dark ages. Similar to when Jay was being stonewalled when building his brand, when he constructed Roc-a-Fella from the ground up. He was not taking no for an answer it came to his work. Aside from knowing a few people in the industry, you don’t really new any special certifications to run a record label. And to be an art dealer, it’s the exact same thing.
I agree. You should never feel like you’re being owned out when it comes to your product.
Agreed. I feel like I’m a capable enough guy to run this on my own. I can book the venue, set up sponsors. I worked for Donald Trump for Christ’s Sake.
What would you like viewers who come to your exhibit to get from looking at your 7 ‘Kings’?
James Rose once said, At best, as an artist it’s a 50/50 relationship between your art and the viewer. So whatever they take away from the work I’d love to hear it because I can’t predict that other 50 percent interaction.
And it wouldn’t be too much ask to take these beautiful paintings off your hands as well right?
Yeah (laughs) that wouldn’t hurt either.
For more info on Borbay’s Kings Of Hip-Hop exhibit click here.