Interview by Evan Pricco
The way that street and graffiti culture has spread throughout the world, different regions and pockets have continually remixed and reinvested in its visual aesthetic, ensuring that fresh ideas keep emerging decade after decade. Haifa’s broken fingaz crew (deso, kip, tant and unga) have indeed put Israel on the map with their unique blend of graffiti, poster art, comics, murals, animation, fine art and good old-fashioned sign painting. After almost 20 years on the case, the broken fingaz moniker has become synonymous worldwide with bold, visionary works with an often brutal sense of humor from one of the leading lights of the Israeli graffiti scene.
How many people are now considered to be in the BROKEN FINGAZ CREW?
The core is four of us. But for the last few years KIP has been more into making music. We have a bigger crew of homies that travel and work with us, so sometimes there’s three of us and other times 12.
How did you come together? What was the criteria and artistic commonality that you shared?
We came together from being good friends in Haifa, looking for trouble and having a common obsession with graffiti. So first it was mainly about the action and adrenaline, but we all share a similar taste and approach. We always liked flat graphics, without many effects, just a strong structure. We are all very into music, and we all want to try as many mediums as we can. We also want to keep it independent. Money was never our motivation —we just wanted to shape our lives in a way that will allow us to only do the things we love.
Tant and Unga grew up together in a small hippie community near Haifa. We were part of a community of five families living together in the countryside. Our parents worked together as architects and artists under the name of “Tav group.” We were always surrounded by nature and interesting people from all over the world making different kinds of art, so it was very natural for us to make art as well, working together in a group.
In 2001, when we started high school, Unga and Kip started BFC as one of the first graffiti crews in our hometown. At that time, we began to design posters for local parties and musicians, mostly influenced by ’80s skateboard graphics and American comics. That’s when our style started to take shape.
What does the graffiti scene in Israel look like? And specifically in Haifa? Is it hard to stand out?
The graffiti scene in Israel is pretty much centered in Tel Aviv. It’s a playground — nobody cares and there’s no buff, so the city is bombed, but it feels like it’s gonna change quite soon, as everything is being gentrified. Meanwhile, in Haifa, the heavy buff killed all the ambition for the young generation to even start doing graffiti; plus, the scene is so small that the only people who are up are the same ones from decades ago.
Do you remember when you brought the BROKEN FINGAZ aesthetic out of Israel and into other parts of the world and what the reaction was?
It was cool to discover that people on the other side of the globe also get it, that we have something to offer outside the country. As kids in Haifa you imagine that everyone working abroad is original and great, but then you realize it’s only the top 5 percent that you see in magazines and the majority are just following.
Painting in China in 2010 was one of the first encounters we had with the foreign scene, and it felt like the locals dug our wacky and trippy imagery.
I remember when I started seeing your work get bigger, and then the animation work, and it dawned on me just how different and separate you guys were becoming from the street art/graffiti scene and sort of creating your own universe. What do you call what you do?
The fact that we came from a place with zero scene made our progress much slower at first, but it gave us the liberty to invent. So we just mixed whatever we thought was cool, until we slowly understood what it was we wanted to do. We didn’t go to art school; we learned by doing hundreds of posters for shows and parties, so a lot of the aesthetic of what we did in the street came from posters. We don’t really have a good name for what we do — some people called it psychedelic pop.
Has the street and graff scene in Israel changed at all in recent years?
The scene is getting bigger slowly, but it’s still too young to have an independent identity. That is true of a lot of things in Israel, though, because the country is only 70 years old. It’s still looking for its own identity.
Your recent residency in Mexico at the end of 2018 was, at least to me, a completely new side of BROKEN FINGAZ. These beautiful and lush watercolors. And even though I saw some of your techniques and style in there, it felt fresh. Is that a direction you want to go in or is that just how travel affects your work?
The last few years we started a journey, a search for something new, diving more into traditional painting. It came from a need to push ourselves to the unknown, and also from us being fed up with the direction we feel street art is going. There is a big lack of integrity; artists know that they are doing boring things but still keep doing it because it sells or gets them many likes on Instagram. We have painted outside for quite a long time, but we are still babies in this “art world,” so for now we feel we just need to experiment a lot.
On the topic of travel, do you have a favorite place you have painted?
We all spent some time in India; we got a lot of inspiration from this crazy rich and magical culture. The colors we saw really stuck with us, and also the role art takes in day-to-day life.
What’s better, painting an illegal wall or working with U2?
Actually, a lot of the first video we did for U2 was done illegally. We had to produce a video in seven days and didn’t have time to start looking for spots, so we just went outside and did it. For us, working on a video production or painting a wall, it takes the same level of devotion, and neither would give us satisfaction if it’s done carelessly.
The rush of doing an illegal wall now is not as strong as it was when we were 18. You need different things to keep you interested. When you’re young you do crazy things and you don’t think too much, but now we have to deal with the consequences. We had to cancel a solo exhibition in NYC for not getting a visa because we got arrested there once years ago, and there are other countries that we’re banned from, which is a big pain in the ass.
What does the next 10 years of BROKEN FINGAZ look like?
After a decade of having no real home and just traveling constantly, maybe the next decade will be a bit more into being in the studio and searching deeper, making lots of art and big sculptures. Maybe more political, hopefully living together somewhere near the sea with many kids, evolving as much as we can, painting more, working less on computers, eating more fish.
Available now on our store is the Broken Fingaz - Curtain Print
Images shown from top to bottom:
Photo by Yona Preminger
Haifa, 2018 Photo by Yona Preminger
Reality Check. DESO-PARGOD, Gouache on paper, 55x70 cm, 2016 - Galleria Vars
Haifa, 2018 Collaboration with Ahmad Zobi. Photo by Yona Preminger