Interview: Susan Blasdel

Photos and occasional comments: Aineki Traverso

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BYT: What’s the origin of your name, BYPO, and the duality imagery you’ve put in it like I see the + – and the male female signs?

Well, I’m manic-depressive, bipolar is the common terminology and so BYPO is a term I came up with in consultation with with some of my street art collaborators as a way of publicly acknowledging the mental health issues I deal with, but also making it a bit of a metaphor for stuff that all sorts of folks deal with. So I use the plus minus, I play with all sorts of dualities and look at the ways in which contradictory ideas can morph into new ones.

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BYT: So your blog’s name is BYPO evolution-

BYPO revolution.

BYT: Revolution. Whats been your evolution as an artist, like did you have a means of expression before tagging and how long have you been tagging?

I grew up in DC and did a lot of theatre and dance and music growing up and I went to NY for school and danced a lot there. I only discovered visual art about six years ago and it was kind of as a means of therapy really, I just had a lot of mental energy that I wanted to express and I’ve got a lot of artists in my family, my aunt, my grandfather was an artist, his girlfriend was a really amazing photographer, I’ve got a lot of cousins who are artists so it was a natural outlet for me to find.

I then sort of met folks from the street art community largely in the capacity of being an organizer, and it’s only been in the last year and a half that I’ve gotten more confidence in myself as a street artist. I feel like I still have a lot to learn, I mean I don’t have the skill with my hands that other folks have, I can’t really spraypaint but I think I have a lot to say and I just try to say it.

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BYT: Do you consider your tags to be more lyrical or poetic?

It’s a good question, poetry is the mode of expression I’m most comfortable about, and I’ve never been able to write a journal so poetry is kind of the way I journal. I only recently started to try to make poems rhyme but I ‘ve discovered that rhythm and rhyme really helps ideas stick in your head especially if your out of the street throwing stuff up on the fly, coming up with something that rhymes and pops really helps you remember it, and if you want to get a message out of the street you’ve got to repeat it. You put something up on one wall and it’s going to come down. I think prose and poetry, theres a continuum between them, it’s a little bit like the BYPO thing, I like to sort of blend the two.

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BYPO with his protege, Perish

BYT: Your tags mention social justice, do you feel like your art is effecting positive change?

I do, I really try to- I wrestle a lot with what kind of messages to put up. If you read my blog you’ll find that some of my poems are kind of dark and are about real struggles that I’ve had with depresseion, issues that friends have had, I’ve even written poems about friends that have committed suicide or been suicidal, but I try to put positive messages up on the street and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people that have said “Wow that really brightened my day.”

Or other artists that have said I inspired them to want to put stuff up on the street. How I got started putting stuff up on the street was wheatpasting poster’s up around town for events, so I’ve really been inspired for the potential for street art to motivate people to get involved in social struggles, because you can communicate pretty complicated ideas with art that are difficult to put into words.

Using concepts visually to communicate a message incredibly powerfully and one of my real inspirations for this is RVLTN design, which has produced some of the most phenomenal street art in DC and DECOY’S work has inspired me, Owel and Graham, the whole DC 51 crew has really inspired me a lot. They’re able to work in so many different mediums and get messages out and really make them pop in ways that have opened my eyes.

I come to this from an organizing background, I have a lot of experience in the human rights movement and doing anti-racist work. For me as an organizer being around artists helps keep organizing fresh. It’s easy for organizing to become routine and draining and soul sucking but being engaged with artists helps me be creative about the organizing work I do and it’s a logical step from there to progress into being a street artist myself, and a street poet.

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BYT: If you threw a BYPO Charity Ball, what would your charity, celebrity guests and theme be?

That’s pretty exciting. I’ll do the easiest one first, celebrity guests would be Lady Gaga, I’ve got a lot of Lady Gaga poems on my wall and she has really moved me by coming out strong on the Arizona issue. I think I would give the money to Casa de Maryland, because they do some of the most amazing immigrants rights work in the DC area and they’re a tremendous community resource. What was the other part of that?

BYT: Theme.

Theme…theme… Evolve or die trying? I dunno. Like I’ve got a poem “Los Raices de la Esperanza,” I could build a theme around that. Human rights, or civil rights. I love the idea, I’m gonna throw some balls.

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BYT: This section is greater than/less than and why. So you have to pick one of the two options that is greater than the other and say why.

Hip Hop vs. Slam Poetry

Hip hop.

Why?

Hip hop is about self expression and self assertion and at its best it’s giving a voice to the profound anger in working class communities in this country. I don’t denigrate slam poetry but I think hip hop is a vaster body of work, has spoken more broadly to issues of greater concern.

BYT: Slam poetry is so personal.

Yeah, I mean I’m not against slam poetry, I think they’re relating bodies of thought.

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Queer Struggles vs. Race Struggles

Oh wow, you can’t make me do that. Cause I’m queer and black, you can’t make me do that.

BYT: You don’t have to pick.

Yeah I can’t.

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Lady Gaga vs. A team of fierce drag queens

(Laughter) Lady Gaga, cause she’s the queen of the monster army.

BYT: She is a team in one.

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