The Spot: Scumbags & Superstars Make Fine Art from Low Culture
Fine-artist-turned-streetwear-impressario George Rosa is on the phone from the Scumbags & Superstars retail shop in Brooklyn. He's explaining why he left the high-falluitin' art world for the subterrean realms of street fashion. You can hear his salty Boston roots in the way he talks.
"Ugh, the art world. It just got really frustrating dealing with galleries owners and collectors and people that weren't really buying because of their own opinions but because of hype," Rosa tells Green Label. "What I try to do as a brand is just gain more of a genuine following—instead of just hype."
Scumbags & Superstars now has a retail shop that straddles the line between high and low, operating as a clothing store but also gallery space for other artists and a museum for Rosa's collection of monster ephemera.
His designs pay very little credence to the prevailing trends in streetwear, opting instead for mutated and mutilated takes on the classics, with bold, brilliant line work that recalls classic horror comics like Tales from the Crypt, Marvel Comics majordomo Jack Kirby, and the woodcuts of graphic novel inventor Lynn Ward. It's pretty twisted.
Blurring the lines between high-brow and low goes all the way back to Rosa's early days as a graffiti artist, before he went to Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and before he even moved to New York. His work these days may be more in line with punk rock than the typical hip-hop or dance affiliations of many streetwear brands, but it all goes back to fat caps.
"Graffiti really inspired me to be more creative and to start making things," says Rosa. "Boston had a really good scene in the mid ’90s, a lot of artsy, graffiti dudes that weren't just doing run of the mill graffiti. It kind of opened my eyes... I started seeing that there was a fine art aspect to it."
From stickers and patches to sweatshirts and beanies, The Scumbags & Superstars shop has a gritty, proleterian feel that has been lost amidst the wave of gentrification and the upscaling of urban America.
"I feel like streetwear has gone in this weird direction, where these brands are masquerading as underground but meanwhile selling to chain stores in middle America," says Rosa. "They're very accessible; I'd rather build a brand on the old school mindset where it's word of mouth."
Rosa and crew have been stretching beyond the typical streetwear community, eschewing the trend-hopping fashion-blog crowd for the world of comic conventions, tapping into a crowd that is far more loyal than it is trendy. It's counter-intuitive but that's the way Rosa likes it.
"People try to chase the money, try to get rich quick. I would just rather build something," says Rosa. "I'm not trying to expand this so we're competing with Mark Ecko."
Images via Scumbags & Superstars