Sep 27th '18

Stretch Armstrong & Curtis Kulig


Artist Curtis Kulig and DJ Stretch Armstrong go way back. Ahead of their collaborative music/art project titled, “Tremendous Pressure,” they sat down to reflect on their longtime friendship and to discuss the current projects keeping them busy.

curtis kulig: Recording.

stretch armstrong: This is au naturel.

ck: This is called the “arsenic interview.”

sa: I don’t even know what that means.

ck: It’s the chemical in here. Did you just learn that this month while building your new deck? That’s a good intro. Stretch moving to Bedstuy. Adrian in Bedstuy!

sa: After 47 years in Manhattan, I took the leap over the water. 

ck: 47! That’s just about “over the hill”

sa: I know. Can you believe I remember the ’70s?

ck: What are we talking about Bartos? We should definitely talk about your podcast. 

sa: The show is called “What’s Good with Stretch and Bobbito” and it’s via NPR.

ck: How did that come about?

sa: As you know, Bobbito and I made a film called “Stretch and Bobbito: Radio that Changed Lives.” It’s a documentary about our radio show from the ’90s. (It’s currently on Showtime and Netflix.) We screened it at NPR headquarters in DC and did a hilarious Q&A which sparked a conversation about us being a part of the NPR ecosystem.

ck: It’s not the same energy as your old show, though? I assume it’s a bit more serious.

sa: Well we can’t escape the goofiness and humor; that’s just kind of who we are. But this is an interview-based show that is anchored in serious conversation. 

ck: You’re interviewing individuals from all over the spectrum.

sa: Yeah, exactly. We’re trying to elicit stories that you haven’t heard before. We’re in our second season and our first three guests have been Erykah Badu, Lenny Kravitz, and Rakim. I don’t think you’ve heard interviews with any of them that sound like this. I’d encourage people to check out the first season, as well. We had Stevie Wonder, Dave Chappelle, Linda Sarsour, Chance the Rapper, Regina King, Eddie Huang, Rosie Perez, and many others.

ck: How long have we known each other? Stretch and Curtis, how long?

sa: I was seeing your mark on walls and stickers around town for a while, which was kind of unavoidable. From 2007-2010, I mean, you were everywhere. And I didn’t really think much of it. Around 2011, I was at Shady’s house, and he had a really early painting of yours. I saw that, and I asked him who the artist was. He told me “my man Curtis.” Then maybe like a week later, I was with Ricky Powell at the Standard and he was showing me a collaboration he did with you.

ck: Oh right he was doing a show during that time where he was asking artists to paint over their photo of choice and I chose a picture of young Ricky standing in front of his place in the West Village.

sa: Yeah, so I was like, “Oh shit, this is that Curtis guy again.” I asked both of them about you to see if you were cool, because at the time I had a loft in Tribeca which I wasn’t living in, but couldn’t rent out, and thought I’d find an artist to use it as a studio. You know, put it to use.

ck: But you were making music out of there at the time, right? It was kind of an office for Plant Music.

sa: Yeah that’s right. We were using it as the office for a record label. The space was really raw—plywood floors and semi-constructed walls. I don’t know why, out of the blue, I just decided to give my place up to a total stranger but…

ck: It was the studio gods that brought us together. The universe.

sa: I think it was. I mean, I liked what you were doing. I thought, if this guy is cool with Shady and Ricky, there’s at least a fifty percent chance that he’s in the up-and-up. And I called you up, right?

ck: Yeah you called me up. It was a significant moment for me because it was really my first sizable studio in Manhattan.

sa: So, yeah I called you up and I didn’t know what to expect, and then we hit it off. And then I think like within a week you were in there with your team fixing the floors.

ck: Right. Right.

sa: It was great. I loved having you in there and making use of the space.

ck: It was above the bakery. I wonder if that bakery is still there? Duane Park Patisserie.

sa: Yeah. I don’t even want to walk by because I don’t want to see how lovely that apartment is now.

ck: You haven’t been in it since?

sa: A year after I sold it, I walked by and they still hadn’t renovated it, and it made me wonder if it was cursed. No one could renovate that place. Then they finally got it together.

ck: That’s my favorite street in TriBeCa. It has the park in the middle which obviously makes the street feel more spacious and also makes the light is special. And to be above the bakery was perfect. They say that the smell of bread makes people want to purchase things…. Have you heard of that before? Paintings were flying out the door. (Laughs)

sa: I miss that place, It was a great apartment.

ck: I do too. It was a perfect transition place for me to start a studio in the city. I was there for almost 2 years. Alright, so that’s how we met. What else do we have….Height, who’s taller?

sa: I’m 6’6”.

ck: How tall do you think I am?

sa: You are 6’ 2”? 6’ 3”? 6’ 1”? 6’ 4”? (Laughs) I said 6’1”.

ck: Really? 6’1”?

sa: (Laughs) Yeah but you’re like twice as wide as I am. And your hands are like boulders. When was the last time you punched someone?

ck: First off I don’t “punch” people. My hands are definitely boulders though. 

sa: I mean the last time you punched someone, they turned to dust, right?

ck: As if I am a superhero. I know that’s how you see me (laughs). You’re 6’6” and I’m 6’4”—

sa: And neither of us play basketball. 

ck: I played the other day on Chrystie. 

sa: Actually you beat me recently.

ck: When did we play? Chrystie? Damn, I did beat you. I was smoking cigarettes then as well, it’s that my jump shot is unstoppable! You need to practice more. Though you definitely have me in tennis. We haven’t played tennis since France last year.

What was the last book you read? You read good books.

sa: The last book I read was Sapiens. It was written by an Israeli man named Yuvall Noah Harari. It’s about the history of mankind.

ck: I feel like you read often.

sa: I read a lot but I don’t spend enough time reading books. Buying books makes people feel smart. I’ve definitely bought a lot of books that I never cracked.

ck: Have you ever had braces?

sa: It’s sad that you have to ask me that (laughs). It probably looks like I never have, but I have.

ck: Braces or Invisalign, which one?

sa: I don’t think I ever had braces-braces. When I was a kid I had these metal dental appliances, made out of platinum and gold. They were essentially removable braces. You couldn’t see them and they were super expensive. I remember they cost like $10,000 and I lost them once. My dad wanted to just throw me out the window. And I never completed the treatment. So I’ve got these gaps in my teeth. My mouth is busted. Trying Invisalign now. Not optimistic.

ck: I know when you’re wearing them. You talk funny.

sa: We’ll see if I finish that shit.

ck: Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Manhattan, Queens. Borough of choice?

sa: Well right now it’s Brooklyn.

ck: Come on, you’re a Manhattanite. You think Brooklyn’s your borough? If you’re living there, it’s your borough?

sa: It is New York City, less of its history has been erased (compared to Manhattan), and it’s beautiful. It’s vast. I’ve been in Brooklyn since February of ‘17 and I feel like I don’t know anything. It’s like traveling every day, with fresh eyes. Every day is novel. Now that it’s nice out I go biking around to see stuff. Walking around in Brooklyn, I get recognized a lot, too. It’s nice.

ck: Let’s talk about the time we went to the Kanye show in Brooklyn. That was the first time I realized how popular you were in that circle. And all my friends were like, “Yo, your studio’s in Stretch Armstrong’s spot?”

sa: Whatever.

ck: I remember painting in the loft listening to back recordings of the Stretch and Bobbito Show. It was an important time to have that broadcast. But when we went to Kanye it was crazy. Everybody was like, “Stretch! Stretch! Stretch!” (laughs).

sa: My nieces and nephews were impressed that Macklemore knew who I was! (laughs) It’s cool though. If you’re from New York and you know me, you might know me from clubs, you might know me from the radio. But you and me, we just met because we got along.  You didn’t really know who the fuck I was.

ck: Right. I liked you for you. (laughs)

sa: I like that. It’s nice to have friends that aren’t…wait, this is ridiculous. I’m talking like I’m some kind of super famous person. This is coming out the wrong way. It’s just nice to make friends in a different context than what you’re used to.

ck: I understand, and I am happy to have met the way we did.

Favorite living or non-living artist?

sa: Visual artist?

ck: Well whose art do you own the most of?

sa: I’m not a collector.

ck: But you own art.

sa: Not a lot.

ck: What do you mean?! 20 plus pieces.

sa: Well I’ve got a John Kessler sculpture from early in his career, which I love.

ck: Your dad told me that he had the choice of that or a Christopher Wool painting.

sa: Right. John Kessler and Christoper Wool were both being represented by Luhring, Augustine and Rhodes, a gallery that my father got me a summer job at when I was 15. I’d go to Christopher Wool’s studio and pick up paintings, like those early splash paintings, which were on metal. I remember my parents talking about how they really liked both artists. And John Kessler was buzzing hard back then, more so than Christopher Wool, so we got the Kessler and not the Wool. I love John’s work. He’s a great guy, too. Of course, Wool’s paintings go for small fortunes.

I also recently acquired a piece by Alexandra Bell, a great artist who is most known for her critiques of how the media covers race and gender. She’s taken NY Times covers and presented them next to her edits of the same cover. I first saw her work in Bed Stuy after she installed her piece on Michael Brown on a wall near my house. I think her work is important and compelling, and I’ve gotten to know her a little, which is an added bonus. 

ck: Who’s the guy that did all the Giuliani portraits?

sa: Oh yeah. Robert Lederman. New Yorkers might recognize his pieces. They frequently portray Giuliani in an unfavorable light, calling him “Ghouliani” and making him look like Hitler and whatnot. Robert is a tireless fighter for artists’ rights, and when he isn’t painting, he’s in court. When Giuliani was instructing police to harass street artists and vendors, sparking protests, he would show up with these quickly-painted pictures on cardboard and hand them out to people to hold. Protest art. You’d think he’d be a little bit more visible right now with this administration and with Giuliani and his gang sort of reappearing after what we thought was the final goodbye from these unsavory fuck-faces.

ck: They’re fucking back.

sa: Oh, I also bought a painting from Alan Streets, who’s this British artist who used to sell paintings in Washington Square Park. I believe he suffers from schizophrenia and his art has just gotten progressively more and more twisted. I actually interact with him on Instagram and he’s actively painting. I love his paintings from the early ’90s. The piece I have is this sort of fantastical scene depicting 125th Street with Jesus playing the saxophone on top of the Apollo Theater, cops eating donuts, and Uncle Sam running off with a shopping cart filled with gold. It’s an indictment of power and corruption. America!

ck: And you have a [Eric] Haze piece? Don’t you?

sa: Yeah Haze gave me some original sketches from The Beastie Boys’ “Check Your Head” hand styles he was doing.

ck: And they say “Beastie Boys” and “Check Your Head.” That’s the verbiage, no?

sa: They say “Beastie Boys,” yeah. I’m trying to remember the name of this other artist I have…Oh, Pietro Sanguinetti. That’s the wall sculpture that says “bluff,” made of multi-color plexiglass and neon.

ck: That’s a cool piece.

sa: We recently hung this massive Seb Janiak photograph from his Kingdom Series, which is this really dramatic cloudscape. It’s a huge piece, like five by nine feet. It’s breathtaking. We have a few by Richard Hambleton, who passed recently.

ck: Oh yeah I forgot about Richard Hambleton. The cowboys?

sa: Yeah, the Marlborough man. But I’m not a—

ck: You just named fifteen…that validates you as a “collector”.

sa: No, but listen, I go to my friends’ houses and they’re chock full of art from artist friends and I’m like, “Why haven’t my artist friends gifted me with anything?” (laughs).

ck: You don’t have a Jose Parla? 

sa: I don’t…I don’t have a Jose Parla.

ck: Damn, Jose!

sa: Maybe one day if I’m nice (laughs).

ck: [Reading off notes] Remember on Lafayette when you had all those different nut cheeses and the fridge died so you put them in a bag and hung them out my window? It was winter (laughs).

sa: Oh my god, yeah. How long was I on your couch, a month? Yeah, that was a crazy time. I lived on your couch for a month. It was winter. I was lonely, going through a hard personal transition. 

ck: Come on, we had fun.

sa: No, yo! I’m saying it was amazing! I had a blast. But I remember (laughs) it was cold on that couch! I was freezing and Jack would not even give me any fur love. Your fridge broke and—

ck: Ugh, you saved nothing else. I was working in L.A. at the time and I came back to a rotting fridge. But you had made sure to take care of your fucking nut cheeses.

sa: My cashew cheese!

ck: And you hung them in a deli bag outside the window because it was cold enough outside.

sa: And what did you do?

ck: I came home…I definitely didn’t care to have a vegan cheese grab bag hanging out my window onto Lafayette.

sa: And you threw those shits away! It was like three things of Dr. Cow! Sacrilegious.

ck: Instagram or Twitter?

sa: Oh, Instagram all the way.

ck: But you used to be more of a Tweeter, no?

sa: No I was more into Instagram. But I’m pretty bored with it.

ck: Do you feel like, work-wise, you need to be…

sa: Right, the only reason I’m on it is because it’s one of the ways I promote things I’m doing, and, you know, part of my career depends on a level of engagement. My social media is pretty much all work-related. Almost nothing personal.

ck: If you post something about animal activism, or politics you lose followers.

sa: (Laughs) I posted an anti-Trump photo. And it’s amazing that there are people that consider themselves down with hip-hop that are for Trump. This one dude was all about old-school hip-hop and was like, “Yo, I’m really disappointed in you Stretch, you’re a bitch ass nigga.” What the fuck was this guy thinking? Is it that surprising that I’m voicing my opposition to this fucking disgraceful clown of a man? That was nuts. So I posted a few Trump things, and then I had a meeting with the head of ethics at National Public Radio, and he told me I can’t be political on my socials. They get funding from the government, and NPR has to maintain the appearance of being objective. We can’t give the right wing bozos reasons to take away funding from NPR.

ck: NPR are more left?

sa: I mean, if I had to guess where the political compass pointed for most of the people that work at NPR, I’d say it pointed to the left. But as such, I think they do a really good job of engaging audiences not just from the coasts, but everywhere in between. If you listen to shows that have people calling in, they’re people from everywhere. NPR has a phenomenal outreach in every state, and there are sensible people in every state.

ck: The US exiting the Paris Accord is startling. We’re living in strange times.

sa: It was a non-binding agreement anyway. The countries have to self-monitor. His reading of the Paris Accord is completely uninformed. His portrayal of it is just completely wrong, likely because he hasn’t read it. And I think the people around him know how easy it is to manipulate him. They just push the Trump button, and there he goes, out there spewing his bullshit. It’s so bananas.

ck: You can’t make it up.

I keep going back to food…tofu or mussels?

sa: So as you know, I consider myself vegan but I do eat clams and mussels. 

ck: (Laughs) Damn we are not getting into this!

sa: I talk about how I’m vegan and people are like, “Oh but he likes mussels? Mussels are animals!”

ck: But they don’t have a central nervous system.

sa: No, they don’t. And I’m totally fine with that. I love mussels. I’m not that into tofu. Tofu is the thing you eat when it’s the only vegan thing at some restaurant that’s just not catering to people that have a plant-based diet. So yeah, screw tofu.

ck: From the health aspect, what’s healthier, tofu or Steak? 

sa: (Laughs) Oh my god.

ck: Tofu is processed garbage, let’s be real.

sa: I mean tofu doesn’t grow on trees like, “Oh, this is the tofu fruit.” Yes, there is a process. The Chinese were making tofu thousands of years ago. Not in a factory, but in a kitchen by hand. So it doesn’t have to be factory-processed, but it is processed.

ck: Are you into kombucha?

sa: I’m wasn’t but I’ve come around.

ck: I think you should start to brew your own concoction now that you live in BK.

sa: I got projects right now. I don’t have time for that. I’m gardening now. I’m going to give you some tomato plants, two feet tall. You want some? I have so many tomato plants. It’s ridiculous. I planted way too many. I planted like 70 tomato plants. You put the seeds in seedling trays, which are small, and then they get bigger and you re-pot them and the next thing you know your whole room is tomatoes. People walk in my office, which has grow lights and all that, and they immediately think that I’m growing weed. I’m like, “No it’s tomatoes!” (laughs). And you can see into my office from the street. I know someone’s going to call the cops like, “Yo this dude’s got a weed farm in Bed-Stuy.” The cops are going to come over and…tomatoes (laughs).

ck: Fedoras or fitted caps?

sa: I don’t wear hats.

ck: You had a time when you wore fedoras. 

sa: Eh, once in a while.

ck: Kangol?

sa: Kangol? No, I never did a Kangol. Are you crazy? Me? Dude Look at these big glasses! I’m going to wear a Kangol with this nose? I’ll look like Shock G from Digital Underground. (laughs).

ck: When’s the last time you were in Tokyo?  

sa: Last year. Last April. How about you?

ck: I haven’t been in Tokyo for a couple years, which feels weird because I was traveling there a few times a year for a good 5 years consistently.

sa: You’ve got a lot of new work that the world hasn’t seen: your target paintings, boxing paintings, drawings etc. You going to show those somewhere?

ck: I’m focused on the boxing series at the moment. I’m showing them with Agnes B in the beginning of October. I will be releasing a book with Pacific Pacific at that time as well. I’m showing mostly drawings, one bigger oil painting and a video piece. I feel good about it. It will be a coherent body of work.

And you and I have a project we’re dropping in conjunction with my next show, right?

sa: That’s right! As you were developing this amazing body of work – sculptures, drawings, and paintings – based on boxing, it made me think of the many great reggae records about legendary boxers and fights. So we joined forces to make a limited vinyl album called Tremendous Pressure, the artwork on the cover featuring images from your boxing series and the audio being a continuous mix of Jamaican oldies interspersed with old television broadcast commentary. It’s pretty bugged out but it just makes sense, at least in my mind!

And you’ve got the crazy roof deck. Oh, you don’t want to ask me about my roof-decking?

ck: Yeah what’s up with your roof-decking? 

sa: You tell me.

ck: You came over and saw me getting my roof deck on and got jealous. You YouTube’d some videos on how to build a deck…

sa: No I was excited that you were building a deck, because I already started planning on it. So when your dude was here – who was a professional – I just looked at what he was doing, and he wasn’t doing anything that different from what I knew I had to do. I think in a different life I’d be a builder or a furniture maker. There was a place in Brooklyn where you could rent space in a woodworking studio where they have all the high tech tools and you could talk to a professional about what you want to do and get some help and then do it. And I went there because I wanted to build a bed. I’m trying to find another place like that. 

ck: I just got a horsehair bed.

sa: I used to have one. My grandma’s horsehair bed. It was getting old though and I had to toss it.

ck: Can you be a vegan and sleep in a horsehair bed? 

sa: Not really, no. You can’t.

ck: I guess I’m not vegan then.■