• Artist Editions: cleofus X UO

    Designed exclusively for Urban Outfitters, Artist Editions is an ongoing series of limited edition graphic t-shirts created by a rotating roster of artists from around the globe. 

    Cleofus is a Colombian-born, New York-based artist and self-taught graphic designer. He studied fine arts at the Conservatory of Art in SUNY Purchase. Since the late ‘90s, through the use of traditional and digital media, his work has explored a critical view of social and cultural issues. His recent work can be viewed under the monikers Polito Vega and No Way Jose—both are especially gaining popularity via social media.
    Photos by Noah Sahady
    Words by Anthony Pappalardo 

    You come from a fine art background, right? What attracted you to that lane rather than graphic design or illustration? 
    Graffiti got me into drawing early on. I had an art teacher in high school that got me into doing more traditional art, which later got me into art school. She introduced me to art that was political and social in nature, which influenced me to make more traditional art at the time. Later on, the lack of studio space made me explore different vehicles like digital media to express myself. 

    You work with a lot of references from the ‘90s, but what is it about those icons and images that resonate with you? 
    Growing up in the ‘90s and the feeling of nostalgia for that time is always an inspiration to me. I’m trying to acquire items that I couldn’t obtain as a youth. My appreciation for the past comes from the craftsmanship that went into a lot of the Polo items that I collect. They always take you back to a better time. These are all things I hold dear and want to express through my work. 

    How do you feel about graffiti’s massive leap from outlaw art to a viable and profitable form of high art? 
    The leap is good for the most part, because my favorite artists are getting the light they deserve and the work is more accessible. With graffiti, I appreciate the grittier side of it—a nice drippy tag or a throw up on the highway, more than an intricate mural that looks overdone. 

    Most New Yorkers don’t grow up having cars, whereas in the suburbs, your car can be your identity. Do you think that touches on why clothing is so important to city kids? 
    Clothing is another vehicle for expression—it’s the first thing people see. It’s a great means to express yourself and make a statement or represent your culture. The colors or graphics can make you stand out or blend into the masses. The choice is yours. 

    What are the elements of a great t-shirt? 
    For me, a great t-shirt design can take different forms. As I grow older, I can appreciate white t-shirts with just a simple print. A Ralph Lauren multicolored t-shirt with a bold design will always be a banger for me. There are too many examples from the golden era of Ralph Lauren from 1987 to 1995 to mention. 

    What did you draw from for your contribution to this series? 
    For Artist Editions, the imagery depicted is inspired by New York and the things I love about the city, interpreted in my own way. Familiar objects are reshaped to express topics like life, death, or time. 

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