Artist Sek Fink revives “Rat Fink” fun around the Outer Boroughs of NYC
So I’m riding my bike around Astoria one day, and I see this mechanic’s shop with a huge mural on the side, featuring a crazed monster zoomin’ a hot rod, just like the old 1960s “Rat Fink” characters I’ve loved for years. I hit my brakes nearly as hard as that monster was stompin’ the gas pedal. It kind of blew me away, because I usually saw those monster characters in old punk fliers or garage rock 7” sleeves. The neon, bug-eyed, gear-jamming ghoul isn’t the usual character coming off NYC street art. I assumed it was a one-off from one of the mechanic’s friends or something.
But over the next few months, I started seeing these green freaks flying their tongues and eyeballs all over Queens and beyond. And I soon took note of the artist’s signed name: Sek Fink. So yeah, this guy knew from where he was swiping. And what do you know? While perusing the Queens Craft Brigade event at Rocco Moretto Post 2348 a few weeks ago, a bunch of those beasts were glaring up at me from one of the vendor’s tables, and lo and behold, there was the man himself – Sek Fink!
Here’s his street art story.
PKM: So first off, give me a general background — where you grew up, where you went to school, where you live now, and what you do to pay the bills.
Sek Fink: I came up in New Jersey. Then Virginia. Went to school in Pennsylvania and now I design clothes and graphics in New York City.
PKM: How did you first get into drawing in general; and then when did your street art work begin?
Sek Fink: According to my mother, I started drawing when I was two years old. As a child in New Jersey, I can remember drawing He-man a lot and other cartoons from the ‘80s. My oldest sibling would show me how to do stuff like paper maché and stuff after school. One day she came home talking about bubble letters! Not graffiti-style throwie letters though, actual basic “rounded corner” letters that looked like bubbles. So I started to mess with those a lot and digital-looking letters, like the banners you could get printed of your name at the flea market! So one day in third grade some class mates saw me doing letters, and they started asking for me to do their names! Then one dude was like, “Man, it looks like a computer did it!!!” And another dude was like, “My brother does letters too!” The next day he brought in his brother’s blackbook! He let me borrow it for a day! I redrew (not traced) a double page piece that said ANGEL and some BMX characters in my own binder, then gave it back. I have been doing blackbooks graffiti style ever since that day. That was around 1986-87.
I didn’t start writing actual graffiti on walls until 1993 when I was living in Virginia. When a young guy from Brooklyn moved down the street from me in Virginia found out that I was doing blackbooks with wild styles and characters, we started to hang out and make plans to do walls! And that’s exactly what we did! We did walls, but where we were living there was no subway trains! So we did tractor trailers and moving trucks instead!
PKM: As far as street art, how do you mostly work? Do you get commissions to work on buildings, or is most of your stuff pretty guerrilla? Do you mostly go it alone, or run around with other artists?
Sek Fink: Sometimes its commissions, sometimes it’s not. I usually have at it alone because of my schedule. Just me and the spectators! And they are usually cool and hospitable!
PKM: How/when did you come across Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and the “Rat Fink” stylings?
Sek Fink: I was introduced to Rat Fink by a roommate in Pennsylvania around 1998. We were thumbing through some custom car mags at the house and I was like, “What is this?!” Then he explained it was Rat Fink and he drives muscle cars.
PKM: When did you start using the “Sek Fink” tag?
Sek Fink: I was about to do a mural on a transmission shop wall and the owner says “Do whatever you want! Just make sure you put a car on it!” At first I thought “Fuck! That’s lame! I don’t wanna just slap some car on the wall!” Then I figured if I do a Rat Fink-style character inside of a car it would be more interesting. So I merged Rat Fink with the graff-style character that I had been doing for years! Since 1995, I had been writing ‘Sek107,’ so I combined the two names: SekFink!
PKM: So my introduction to Ed Roth and that wild Rat Fink stuff was via the punk rock world — the kind of re-appropriation of old Sixties images and new ones influenced by that style that started to pop up in punk show fliers and album artwork in the mid-80s. And there were the 1990s screenprint rock poster artists like Coop and Frank Kozik, among many others, who expanded on that bug-eyed monster imagery. So I found it so interesting coming across your pieces while putzing around NYC. I will assume your initial art influence didn’t come from that punk world, but I could be wrong…
So much graffiti art has as its base the classic looks of subway art from the late-70s; so I think your look back to those early ’60s monster images — and the way you work them into classic graffiti styles — is really cool and interesting, I know it’s kind of annoying for artists to sit there and explain their stuff, but what do you think is the connection between the two eras? Or do you think there is a connection?
Sek Fink: After I finished that wall I realized that the custom car/hotrod culture and wild style writing culture are pretty similar in that they are both American rebel cultures, and also highly creative! So I ran with Sek Fink as a caricature of graffiti culture as a whole. That’s why the character is seen with different hairstyles or as different objects because Sek Fink doesn’t represent any one person. But it is a mascot for graff culture!
The monster aspect works because there are people who see graffiti as this hideous monstrosity! A scourge that plagues urban landscapes! But those who appreciate it see great execution of the details.
PKM: What are some other influences on your art?
Sek Fink: I think the biggest influence on my characters has to be the graffiti from Eric B & Rakim’s “I Aint No Joke” video! Also the Graflix column in The Source magazine in the ‘90s, by Dave Chino! And certainly Mode2!!!
PKM: Can you tell me about your process?
Sek Fink: Most of the stuff I do is based on a sketch that I freestyle on the wall at the location! I usually start with the eyes and work outward. If it’s a commission I’ll sketch it on paper, get approval, then lay out a grid on the wall using a level for accuracy.
PKM: What music do you listen to while you create?
Sek Fink: I don’t listen to anything but the sounds around me when I paint.
PKM: Got any good stories of getting caught and having to take off and leave paints, or anything like that?
Sek Fink: We lost a bunch of Krylon running from a freight train conductor in 1999. I had throw-ups on Google maps during its early stages. A junkie showed me and my partner her vagina, for no reason, when we were painting at Jay Leno’s mechanic’s garage in Pittsburgh.
PKM: Aside from the street art, what other work do you do?
Sek Fink: Portraits, abstract color fielding, sculptures sometimes, leather craft, etc.
PKM: I see you have loads of t-shirt designs. Do you do all that production yourself, or have you been approached by other designers, etc…?
Sek Fink: My t-shirts are all handled by me and printed in the USA…I’ve designed clothing and graphics for many other companies since 2005. Everything from denim to hats!
PKM: NYC obviously has a huge history of graffiti art. Of course, we all know how The City changes all the time – recent heated debates about gentrification, etc. So what do you think of the graffiti scene here today? Who are some other street artists you’d like to give a shout out to? What are the best neighborhoods to work in?
Sek Fink: I think graffiti itself is being gentrified! In some cases, tags and throws are being replaced with murals that the community can’t relate to. I wanna shout out any street artist who understands and respects graff culture as the foundation of street arts success! I can’t decide what the best neighborhood to work in is because they’ve all been good to me when I’ve painted there! I feel like Bushwick has been most receptive to the Sek Fink character, though.