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Futura: “Artists have got to stop compromising”

September 20, 2023
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Futura, is it true you that despite the fact that you spent decades as a graffiti artist in New York City, you’ve never been arrested?

I was never arrested! I’ve been stopped before, but I didn't go to jail. My experiences of painting trains were very stealth, I took every measure to be careful to not get caught. But you have to remember, this was a time of very little security, no cameras… I loved to investigate construction sites, you know, there was a lot of development happening around New York in the sixties and seventies when I grew up, and those were places that were very accessible after hours! No security at all! So as a kid, I used to ride those elevators and jump rooftops… And then the subway opened up for me. New York was my park, this was my playground. Some kids grow up having that rural Midwestern experience, but for me, I knew the city very well.

Were you ever scared?

Sure, but I was attracted to these dangerous things! I grew up as an only child, and I always felt a bit comfortable when I was alone. I started out in graffiti but then I spent some time in the military, so I feel like when I came back, I was a bit more savvy than some of my peers. I had a lot of experience in life itself, so I felt more aware… But at the same time, when it was scary, the fear was part of the thrill. We used to do this thing called “benching,” where we’d tag a train and then go sit on a bench in Brooklyn or the Bronx and wait for the train to go by, and that was another thrill, seeing the work like that. There’s this very famous bench at the Grand Concourse in The Bronx, where all these celebrated writers used to meet and hang out, and us graffiti artists, we would bounce from the rooftop to the bench to the street, just waiting to watch our names go by. It’s like dreaming!

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René Frank

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Mr. Frank, as a pastry chef and the owner of CODA, a desserts-only dining experience, you’ve often described dessert as the most emotional of all the courses. What kind of emotions are you feeling when you eat a good dessert?

Although I think dessert is something everybody has a different understanding of, across all cultures and countries, I think overall, it’s something which connects you with your childhood. It takes us all the way back to drinking our mother’s milk, which is a bit sweet. For me, it reminds me of the cakes and cookies my grandmother and my mother made for me — certain chocolates and sweets at Easter or Christmas, cake for birthdays, when I eat this, it conjures such a strong memory. I think it’s so emotional in that very nostalgic sense, but it’s also exciting because there’s always something new to discover.

For me, there’s also a bit of indulgence or even greed in eating a good dessert, no?

You’re right, for sure, but at CODA, although we use dessert and pastry techniques, it’s not like eating a brownie or ice cream where you have that indulgence that you mentioned. It’s about discovering what else dessert can be. It’s an experience that I think is very new, because although everything is inspired by dessert, we are serving something different. Most of our dishes are savory, in fact. We have a lot of dishes that play on the traditional dessert form, for example, our caviar popsicle, which is made to look like this classic kids’ treat here in Germany called Nogger, it’s vanilla ice cream covered in ganache and chocolate with crushed nuts. It’s pretty iconic, and that was my inspiration for our own popsicle, it really recalls the same look — and it’s also playing with the contrast of a cheap ice cream with expensive caviar.