From Tabriz To Brooklyn To Unstoppable: ICY AND SOT

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Photography by : Ken Caruso and Icy & Sot

Text by : Ken Caruso

March 4, 2014

The two brothers Icy and Sot, as their known in the states, are Iranian street vandals/skateboarders who started tagging in 2008. From Tabriz, Turkey, Paris, San Francisco and Brooklyn, which they now call home. They have mastered the technique of stencil art. To me they produce some of the more powerful images out there – from the Monsanto rebellion and anti-gun messages to hopes and aspirations. They are on track to being, in my opinion, gallery accessible, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is by acquiring works by them. They came to America following the advice from their good friends in the band The Yellow Dog’s. They lived together in Brooklyn, played together and even toured together, painting the backdrops for the band as they played. Sadly, tragedy struck on the night of November 11 when two members of the band and brothers Arash and Soroush Farazmand were killed along with a fellow musician and friend Ali Eskandarian. Many prayers went out and its a true testament that even though they were foreigners in this country, the art community welcomed them and made them feel like a part of this universal family of creative minds. We don’t need to go into the details about this tragic event because that’s not what this story is about. But what I wanted to make known is that any one of us can be blindsided by an event that no one could imagine and it’s up to our inner strengths to carry on, keep creating, and try to make sense of certain situations…. Even if they may never make sense.

When I was introduced to Icy & Sot by our mutual friend and curator Robert Aloia the two brothers were very receptive, polite, and a little humble because I kept on telling them how great I thought they were. Big smiles appeared on their faces, and you could tell how gracious they felt, and that it was maybe even a little undeserving in their minds. But as the pictures will show, they are well deserving of all accolades. A piece called “Forbidden” was my first encounter with the brothers, which you can still see on the side window of a restaurant in Soho. The boy is wearing red glasses with a diagonal red  line through them. You can (and should) interpret your own meaning with this, and all controversial street art. Art is self reflective.

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Over the summer I brought my daughter to see your mural in Brooklyn on south 6 by the bridge and I have to tell you that it’s breathtaking. A very moving image that gives hope. It’s like Life( in color and all it’s beauty) raining down on these children ( in black and white) and they appear to be drinking “life” in,letting it wash over them.Such a positive message. It was right then I knew you guys were destined to move out of the streets.I’ve seen and loved your stuff for awhile. But that piece floored me. How did that mural on South 6 in Brooklyn come about?

We wanted to give hope to that dead wall  and to the people who saw it and yes,we used lots of kids with lots of colors. You explained it very well in your opening. Our artworks are pretty simple and people usually get what were trying to say about it or even make their own meaning out of it. its pretty straightforward.

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Being that you are brothers, Icy is 28 and Sot is 23, how do you guys get along when you work? I know when I would do anything with my older brother it was either his way or I would get knocked on my ass. How does  the creative process go? Does one come up with a concept or idea and the other one helps put that idea together and add to it or does that one person just take over?

Besides being brothers we are also friends, good friends, and we are always together. We grew up in an environment where there was nothing. We were crazy in peoples opinions – doing extreme sports, painting in the streets – but we always had each others backs. So to answer your question either one of us will come up with an idea, sometimes we go with it and sometimes we add to it or change it a little bit but it always comes together in the end.

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I read somewhere that you guys did 18 months of military service in order to get your passport what was that like?

It was like you know when you hate something, but you know you have to do it? We had to do it, in order to be free to leave our country and to be able to travel. So that was our goal,we had a goal set so we tolerated it for its outcome.

How long have you been in America now and New York City?

It’s been about one and a half years.

Since your first show in 2010 how have things  changed for you guys?

Things have changed a lot for us in a good way since our show in 2010, we got into a huge street art community here in Brooklyn and NYC. We got to know a lot of great artists, good people, and we have been staying really busy with our art since then.

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Do you miss your homeland? And is it true that you can never go back to Iran?

To be honest with you we don’t really miss our country. We just miss our family, friends, and the food there. And yes you are correct, for now we can’t go back but you never know, one day.

Their messages jump from the despair, terror, and authoritative brutality to hopes and dreams, aspirations, and wall therapy. Like they said “It’s pretty straight forward.”

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You guys started out as skateboarders back in Iran when you were kids, how did you turn into street artists?

At the time we were into skateboarding and we used to make small stencils and stickers and put them up in our skate spots where we used to hang out with our friends. This was always on the streets, and then when we got to know other street artists on the Internet, we got even more interested in it. We thought stencils were a great way to share our vision with the people in the streets because it was quick, and easier to get away because it didn’t  take so long like regular graffiti did.

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How old were you guys when you caught the bug for the art?

Icy: “20″and Sot: “15″

What kind music were you listening to back in Iran?

Clash, The Dead Kennedy’s, The Velvet Underground, Billy Idol, and Joy Division.

Oh yeah, I remember when I came over to your apartments and you were showing me around your place you had Joy Division playing on your computer. That’s when I saw the piece you made of Andy Warhol from a 12″ vinyl record and I said “how much” because I had to have it (laughing). I’ve been called “OutSpoKen” a lot lately.

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What kind of music do you listen to now? Does it inspire you to create?

We listen to pretty much any kind of music right now, it all depends on the mood were in. And yes it inspires us as we listen to the music in the whole process of making art.

Are you guy’s early birds or night owls as far as creativity wise?

We’re definitely night owls.

Being from Iran what was your scariest  situation while you  were creating  graffiti over there?

It was a little bit scary all the time doing shit but it was always exciting doing scary shit.

Well put. If someone ever was to get caught tagging something political, say anti-government, what would the consequence be?

You would never know. They can do whatever they want over there, even for nonpolitical crimes of vandalism. They would just say the same thing, charging you with the crime you’re not even related to like Satanism, political activist, whatever, you just would never know.
That’s probably the scariest deterrence – the fear of just not knowing. At least over here you know somewhat of the consequences.

Whats the one thing you just love about America, especially New York?

The best thing we love about New York is that we have friends pretty much from all over, everywhere in the world, with different cultures and backgrounds.

Whats the one thing that doesn’t sit right with you about New York or America?

Vandal Squads, the NRA, and the food to name a few.

Who inspired you guys growing up?

It wasn’t just one person, it was the urban life. But since then it’s artist like Banksy, Dolk, and Mcity.

When was the first time that you realized that you were good at what you did and that you might be able to make a living career out of this?

That was a few years ago when we started our careers internationally, that’s when it first dawned on us.

I was telling you guys the first time we met about when I saw that image you guys put up in the abandoned building for the Surplus Candy show. It just blew my mind, I fucking wanted that so bad I actually went back after the show was over. I was planning on breaking in there, legally of course, and cutting the fucking thing out, wall and all. I went there on a Sunday morning with my tools all ready to go, no bullshit. When I got there the doors were triple locked from the inside and I had no way of getting in, but I was determined and ready to get busted too. That’s how much I loved that piece. So when you guys told me you had that image and that it was for sale I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. (I am happy to say its hanging in my studio as I write this… and I didn’t have to spend even an hour in jail.) How were you guys approached to do that show?

We got an email from Hanksy (kind of a comedian graffiti artist) who put the whole show together and who we knew from around the art scene.

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Well I got to admit that whole show was brilliant. I’m a big advocate of healthy eating habits and healthy foods so I was intrigued by your Monsanto mural that you created in Bushwick. How did the Monsanto mural come about and why did you feel the need to speak out about them? I mean millions of Americans don’t even know what’s going on with that corporation and here you are, two immigrants more knowledgable about are own food industry? ( For you readers who aren’t familiar with the Mansanto debate please Google for your own good.)

From the day we got here we realized the huge difference in food and fruits with back home. It was just frustrating to see how corporations are replacing organic foods with chemical ones and industry shit. We think this is something very important, an issue that people should find out about and see how fucked up it is. We really realized it when we had a tomato on our kitchen table for weeks and it stayed. That would have never happened at home.

I agree with you whole heartedly.

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Are you guys at all surprised about the recognition and accolades that you are receiving?

Yeah we’re totally surprised. From the first month we were living in the states we had people noticing us.

What’s up next on your agenda, and what projects do you want to tackle on your wish list?

We are planning to go to Europe in late summer to work on some walls and we are having a show with our friends from Iran in Amsterdam. We have some group shows lined up too. We’re also working on a new series of indoor pieces for a solo show in New York in mid-summer and we wish to continue working and just keep doing bigger and better things.

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I would like to thank Icy and Sot for this interview and their warm and honest generosity. Like I said from the beginning of this piece, I believe these guys are going to be as recognizable as the best out there on the streets and the best to come into the galleries.
Check out their work online and support all the arts as best you can…Unless you want The Real Housewives to occupy your mindless souls.

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Ken Caruso is the ANTI Society’s in-house street art and photography expert. He is a decorative artist and owner and operator of Alternative Interiors in New Jersey as well as an avid collector and graffiti hunter. He also has his own radio show on Friday nights “Live…Without a net” on chestnutradio.com. Follow him on Instagram  @djkcaruso.