IInterview by T.K. Mills - Images by @walkinggirlnyc - @acool55
Thirdrail: How long have you been making art?
Hektad: Since 1982. I stopped for a while. What got me back into art, five years ago, was when Banksy came to New York City and started ruffling a lot of feathers and making everybody crazy. Last time I seen Banksy was 13 years ago, and I didn't think he was gonna be at this level. And that's what woke me up. And I was like, you know what, I got to get back on my grind get back on my shit.
I started in 1982 on trains and then after that I kept going all the way to 2001. And then in 2001 I just took a break because there was no money in it. I had to get a job. I worked at a motorcycle shop. And then, like I said, once I saw Banksy doing that thing, I'm like, holy shit. It just opened up my eyes and I'm just like, the time is now for me to start. And I was just like, you know what… when I came back out, I had a show. I sold out everything and that's when I said fuck it. I'm just going to go 24-hour full blast on there for everything else.
I just told myself like, I'm not gonna have any more breaks or any more stops. it's gonna keep going all the way till I till I'm dead.
ThirdRail: Can you tell us the story of your name?
Hektad: My uncle used to write graffiti in the 70s. It captivated me. I told him one day, I'm like, look, I want to write graffiti, but I noticed that everybody has a name. Can you give me a name? So, he thought of shark, SHRK and some others. I didn’t like any of those names. He's like, alright, so I'll give you a name. Hec. See? But everybody in the fucking whole world was writing Hec, ya know? Hec, I knew like 10 back in the day. So it’s like you know what, I'll leave you with the K. And ever since that I've been doing Hek...
...I noticed a lot of people had crews like TYS and TFB… all these crews. But the thing was those guys that were putting me down with crews, they were doing shit with other people, robbing them, and so if I was with their crew, automatically, if they ran into me I was getting beat up, stabbed or whatever, because I was with that crew. I said, there's too much drama in the fucking crews. I'm going to come up with my own shit. It's clean, no problems. It's just an art crew. I came up with. Toys Aint Down. I've built up the crew TAD. And I had a lot of guys that were down with it. But you know, some passed away, some quit, some… you know, so yeah. So the TAD crew just died down and I was just like, you know what, since it's just it my crew. I'm gonna keep it with me. I decided to put the HEK and TAD together.
Thirdrail: When did you start painting hearts?
Hektad: I was doing hearts in 1996. My mother was an artist. She did paintings and I used to watch. I've always been into art more than graffiti. When I wanted to do art, I really couldn't do art because in that era, it was more about graffiti. I couldn't do a heart back in the day, because they would beat the shit out of me. You know, like Keith Haring always got beat up.
In 1996, I did a wall with a bunch of hearts, the same hearts that I do now. I wish they were a little tighter, they were not as refined. But I'm doing it the way I was doing it decades ago, ya know? At that time, we didn't have Instagram, we didn't have anything, so art wasn't really a mainstream thing. There was nobody to take pictures, nobody cared. It was just graffiti. I mean, now, everybody's taking pictures. Everything's Instagram.
ThirdRail: How do you think Instagram has changed the art world?
Hektad: It changed our world a lot because back in the day, it was harder. When we did graffiti, it was all about fame. It was about getting your name up and getting your name known. It wasn't about money. It was about getting your name up the most, being king of a line, king of a train yard. And the thing is, graffiti was so cluttered. Everything is different now. If you do a wall, when someone takes a picture, they post it on Instagram, it’s already going viral. It’s easier today than it was back in the day.
ThirdRail: How do you feel about the cultural differences between street art and graffiti?
Hektad: I'm happy and blessed to know that I'm living in both worlds. That's why people respect my work. If you look at all these other artists their shit is getting destroyed or tagged up, somebody hits it. [Taggers] know me because of where I come from. I come from not only the art, as they say, the artsy fartsy shit. Yeah, no, I come from the gritty graff. I come from that first. That's what made me who I am today. You know, so I can't be a hypocrite.
I tried speaking to a lot of graffiti writers that still do graffiti bombing. I'm like, dude, you already got your name out there. Your name is known. Take your name and use it, tweak it and change it and then start doing legit shit. You're getting paid for it. You understand?
Thirdrail: How do you feel your style has evolved?
Hektad: I still haven't found my style, man. I still haven't found myself. I'm changing. But I wind up going back to the same heart shit… and I'm trying to break out from that.
‘Cuz it's like everybody's doing that now. And I'm known as the heart guy and I don't want to be pigeonholed to that.. So it's like, I haven't found my niche yet. I've been doing Cubism since the 90s. They used to call me Marc Chagall, back then, because he would do a lot of Cubism shit. I never even knew who he was until my friend gave me his book and said, look, you paint like him, and I'm like, holy shit, and I never knew who this guy was...
...It just goes to show you how artists think. I don't think like, oh, you copied me or you did this shit. A lot of artists think the same, man. This girl was doing the same for with the hearts, from Russia. She never heard of me. I hit her up and I'm like, you know, I like your work. Just like mine. But I go look, we all stand for the same thing: love.
ThirdRail: Is there any mural or wall in particular that you're particularly proud?
Hektad: My first street park wall, all the hearts that I do. It's because there was an old lady who used to live in a building. She was on the first floor or the basement and there was a fire and she passed away. But before she had passed away I remember I asked her ‘can I do this wall?’ She asks, ‘what are you gonna do?’ I'm like ‘I'm gonna do hearts. I'm gonna do it for you.’
And ever since then I just started doing hearts on that one wall. I kind of feel like she's always there. Then she passed away and ever since that… it means a lot to me because of her.
ThirdRail: How do you think you feel about a solo show versus a group show?
Hektad: I get a lot of shit with that too. Like I get shit from all these OG, like ‘Hek, you’re making it look bad. You've been doing this shit way longer than these guys. Why are you mixing yourself with these newcomers? Why are you even putting yourself in?’
One thing about me, is that I'm not a cocky stuck up artist. You know what I mean? I get down with anybody. I don't give a fuck.
ThirdRail: Is there any advice you’d want to give artist just starting out?Hektad: When I give advice to people that are coming up in the art world, I say, think about the art.
Don't think about the money. Don't give up. Keep on pushing and keep on building your name.
All text, images and videos are copyright @thirdrailart - @walkinggirlnyc - @acool55 NYC 2020