It’s official: Danielle Bremner aka Utah, is finally a free woman, after sitting down for a 6 month bid on Rikers followed by an additional sixer in Boston. Debt to society now served and free to admit that she is indeed the infamous daredevil that has adorned the world’s trains and walls over the last 10 years, the 27 year old student and artist is ready to take on the internetz with her new blog.
Just so you know, I am lucky enough to call her a friend and got to catch up with the very pretty, petite, and unusually chipper young lass, who was kind enough to grant an interview. That and more after the jump…
If you’ve never heard of Utah, either you know nothing about graffiti, don’t read the paper, or live in a cave in Williamsburg. Her arrests and subsequent court appearances produced numerous write-ups in the media in the last couple years – the vast majority of which have painted her and partner/boyfriend Ether as a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. But there’s more than that – Bonnie and Clyde robbed banks for riches, Utah and Ether painted cities all over the world for nothing more than the satisfaction of getting over and leaving with a nice photo of their work. Being that nowadays risk for anything but monetary reward is pretty unheard of, Utah stands to remind us that self-satifaction can still be found elsewhere, and that somethings are worth doing just to do them…
What year did you start and what made you start writing graffiti?
Growing up in NYC, I was surrounded by graffiti from an early age. As a kid I was somewhat fascinated with it, wondering who did it and how they did it, but it never occurred to me as something I could do myself. I didn’t start writing until way later, around 2000/2001. At the time, I was hanging out with a few kids who wrote, and I would always go along with them on missions. They would paint while I would take photos and explore. I did that for a while, without ever picking up a can. After getting into a few chases, and realizing that I would be arrested and charged the same as everyone else, I figured I might as well join in on the fun and write my name too.
What are your major influences?
Early Americana. Hunter S Thompson. The first season of Twin Peaks. Oh, and Pokemon.
Why the name Utah?
I guess I just liked the letters. I know, you were probably hoping for some really witty and intelligent reason why. It’s kinda an unusual name, so I can see why people think there’s a story behind it. But nope, it really is just random.
Any favorite partners?
At this point, I only chill with crew members, or by myself.
Favorite brand of paint?
I’ll use it all. I’m not a paint snob. If I can use it to write my name on something, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do, regardless of the name on the label.
Is it easier to get over in the States, Europe or Asia?
It’s really all the same. I think it has more to do with who you are rather than where you are.
How many times were you caught in your career?
Surprisingly few, considering it’s something I’ve done almost every single day of my life for the past 10 years.
Being a woman was an advantage or disadvantage? (Sorry, had to ask)
It is what it is. Its a non-issue for me.
How was the case built? What kind of evidence? What was used against you and how was it linked?
My lawyer has some very interesting paperwork, that’s for sure!
“What if” sucks- but what would you have done differently both as an active writer (pre-arrest) and for your defense?
I have always had a pretty strict policy of not having regrets. To me, there is nothing more unattractive than someone who lives in a world of “should haves” and “what ifs”. It might sound kinda corny to say that I am really happy with myself and my life, but I am. Be it good or bad, I believe that experience is what makes a person who they are. I’ve definitely had more than my fair share of both good and bad experiences, but hey, at least it’s never boring.
Tell us about jail?
Jail isn’t great by any means, but really not that terrible either. It’s just the biggest waste of time ever. It’s like hitting a giant pause button on your life. Basically you have a whole bunch of time, and its kinda up to you how you’re gonna use it. You can relax, reflect on things and come up with a game plan, or you can sit around being angry and sad that you are in jail. I dunno, I think there are enough crybabies in the world already, don’t you?
New York vs Boston?
Each had its pro’s and con’s. At the end of the day, jail is jail. None of it is particularly ideal.
Did you have friends? Have to join a clique inside?
I was super cool with everyone I met in jail. It wasn’t cliquey like how its portrayed in movies or television dramas. Basically, its a bunch of grown women hanging out all day in their pajamas, reading Cosmo and watching Law & Order SVU. Its not like anyone can go anywhere. You all are pretty much stuck together, and it’s in everyone’s interest to make the best of that. I mean, for sure there are disputes, and if you go into a scenario like that looking for a fight, you’ll have no trouble finding one. For the most part though, everyone’s just trying to do their time and go home.
Wait, you guys watched law shows in jail? Kinda ironic, no?
Oh my gosh, pretty much all we watched were law shows. Most of the time they were the only thing everyone could agree on to watch. I am pretty sure I have seen every single episode of Criminal Minds at least 5 times now. Law & Order, The First 48, Cold Case, CSI, NCIS, Americas Most Wanted, the list goes on. Except for Monday nights. That when we all watched The Bachelor.
Being a vegan is truly difficult in the outside world – how did you survive on jail food?
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that I probably never want to see a pack of Ramen noodles again.
How did you spend your time?
I slept. A lot. Like, 18 hours a day a lot. Seriously, when else in my adult life am I going to have the chance the sleep until 4:30 in the afternoon. I figured I might as well take advantage of being away from my day-to-day responsibilities. Other than that, I read a whole bunch and traded drawings to people. In jail, once people find out you can draw, you’re pretty much set. Everyone wanted a drawing, so I kept myself busy sketching out names of people’s kids and baby daddy’s and whatnot. Lots of people asked me to draw them up tattoos. I don’t tattoo, but I can draw. And judging by some of the tattoos people had in there, I figured whatever I designed would probably be a whole lot better than what they were getting on the street. I drew the line at designing anything Tribal though.
Oh yeah, and there was a treadmill and exercise bike in Boston, so I was getting my fitness on.
What are the major flaws in the penal system?
Haha, oh gosh, what isn’t flawed about the penal system? That would certainly be a shorter list. Basically take the most simple, everyday situation you can think of and then picture handling it in the most backwards, inefficient way ever. Now times that by 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Yeah.
What was the most interesting thing you learned in jail?
How to make a lighter out of a double A battery and a piece of wire. I don’t smoke at all so its not like i really need a lighter for anything. But just knowing that I could construct one, if I ever wanted to, makes me feel super crafty. Kinda like that guy on Man vs Wild.
How do you feel about graffiti now?
Um, I think it’s awesome! Wait, is that the wrong answer…darn, a year in jail, and I still cant get it right…
Seriously though, I don’t feel any differently about it than I did before. Which is to say I don’t really feel any way about it, beyond that it’s a super fun thing to do. I never really sat around and analyzed the significance of graffiti, and I have no plans on starting to do it now. To me, graffiti is something you go out and do, not something you hang out and ponder the greater socioeconomic meanings of. Its funny, with my case being in the media so much, it seems that everyone has come out of the woodwork with some sort of opinion about graffiti. It for sure amuses me to have made everyone think so much about something I give so little thought too.
Was it worth doing a year bid?
That’s a good question.
Everything has been crazy-busy lately. I’m in school full time, which doesn’t leave time for much else. The few free moments I have are usually spent concentrating on my artwork. I just finished a canvas for the T.A.G Les Lettres de Noblesse auction at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris on February 15th. The proceeds go to a racism prevention organization, which I think is pretty cool. I have some group exhibitions coming up later in the year, so I’ve been hard at work preparing for those. I’ve also been working on finishing up the layout for my book, and focusing on my new website, utahoner.com. Yeah, after all these years of holding out, I’ve finally joined the interweb. I figured it’s a good way to let folks everywhere know what I’ve been up too, especially since pretty much all of the exhibitions I participate in are overseas. People can go to the website to see my artwork, and read the blog to find out what shows and events I have coming up. I’m also working on setting up a store, it should be up and running in the next few months. There will be limited edition prints, cool gear for the cool kids, and even some original artwork.
We hear she might even become a contributor to Blogue – go team!