Considering David “Star City” White’s electric good vibes, it’s hard to imagine the dude used to walk out the door with a gun on his waist. The father and artist is no stranger to a struggle far realer than most of us will ever know. He grew up in East New York watching his father move crack in the Eighties boom. Though he followed briefly in his father’s footsteps, Star City was inspired to paint for the first time on his own son’s birthday. After that he turned his full attention to artistic production. He has been chasing that dream since.
His first show, titled “My Red Is Not Your Red” engaged with our new social media filtered lives and the communication blocks it entails. With broad slashes of paint and wild colors, Mr Star City brings tangibly visceral and positive vibes to his canvases. He is, in many ways, the embodiment of a New York character: he hustled hard and chased his dream to success across the city’s changing landscape.
CONVICTS was lucky enough to catch up with Star City at his studio in Bushwick. There we got the word on the wild days of his youth, the beauty born from struggle, and the fresh opportunities this new version of New York City affords.
Hey, I’m David “Star City” White, we are in my studio in Bushwick right now. Let’s get started.
Let’s take it from the beginning. Where are you from?
I’m from Brooklyn, NY, I grew up in East New York, Brownsville, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. When I was nine years old my mom and I moved to Bed-Stuy. I lived on Vernon-Lewis and Marcus Garvey. The reservations. It wasn’t really a project but it’s surrounded by projects, so we had the same attitude as the project kids. I’m a Brooklyn kid, born and raised, man. Kings County Hospital, it doesn’t get more Brooklyn than that, baby.
Are you still close with your mom?
Oh yeah, my mother is like my best friend. When I got into beef in my neighborhood and I had to leave the neighborhood in a rush, I called my mother from the payphone like, “Ma, I got guns in the house you got to move the guns.” My mother really went into my room and found the guns and took it to my neighbor’s house before the police came there to even look for me. My mom is a ride or die. If your mom don’t move guns for you, I don’t what type of moms you got.
My mom is probably the strongest person I ever met in my life she believed in everything that she stood by. Whenever she said “you ain’t going outside” she really meant that. Whenever she said “I need you to focus on this,” she stood by you until you actually did whatever she asked you to do. My mom is the strongest woman I will ever come across. If I could marry my mom I would, how about that, Jack?
What about your dad?
My father was a well known drug dealer in East New York. He was the moneymaker in the family, he took care of everybody. Whenever my father got locked up or put away, my uncle would take his place. During that time it was hard for women to get jobs so my mom used to be like a housewife, as far as taking care of us. My uncle used to come at one, two, three o’clock in the morning, knock lightly and if I was awake I would open the door but if I wasn’t awake, he would slip an envelope under the door full of cash because my mom was still trying to keep up with the bills on her own.
Was it tough for you to handle that situation?
It wasn’t even hard. Coming up, it wasn’t hard seeing violence and all that: it was part of the lifestyle that we lived. In my house, my father had six brothers so they would fight. I would see them fight, they would threaten each other, they be like, “Yo, meet me at the park with your gun, get your gun.” Cause they be drunk talking shit, you know? They were alpha males, that was the problem. It was a house full of alpha males. Men would go outside and be really strong on the streets. They would have fist fights in front of me as a little kid. I would see lines of crack heads, I would be in the house and my father would come in with a duffle bag, a bag full of money and be like “Yo count the ones,” talking to me and my brother. We would sit there for hours counting dollars, stacking them up in a row for my dad, you know? My father man, I don’t know how to explain that, he did everything. My father opened up a thrift store, he opened up an auto shop; my father could do almost anything, he could build anything. He’s great with his hands, my dad. Bought me my first bike from a crack-head. I remember that day I see them riding by and said, “I like that bike!” It had pegs on it and that’s when the wheels used to have the rims on it. I was like, “Oh, that bike is so good!” My pop was like “Yo, man come here! What you selling that bike for?” The crackhead was like, “I ain’t selling this bike!” My pop said, “take fifty, give my son a bike, I’ll get you next time.” He gave me the bike and that was my first bike. I’ve seen him hustle a crack head for a bike, which was my first bike.
What year was this?
This is like ’89 or ’88, something like that. The crack was flowing like a cool breeze. It was still going through my neighborhood. Walking past people like it was a Supreme camp out, you know? People waiting in cars, parked up the block. Thinking about it now, I don’t know where the fuck the police was at because you can’t have that going on now, you know? Back then, it was so weird to see people lined up like they were buying sneakers but they were buying crack. Cars lined up as though they were going through a car wash but they were doing crack. I don’t know how they were letting that happen but it was happening. I seen it with my own eyes as a kid.
You ended up hustling as well?
Well yeah, I started selling crack. Shit. Even when I got older and the crack game died down. It wasn’t lines like my father was hustling but it was still lurking crack-heads. As of today, it’s slower. People are on other drugs now, it’s a different thing. My brother was the one who came in the crib with the 8-ball first. He came in the crib with 8-ball, a pack of twelve slaps, which is like the pack you put the little rock of crack in. My brother started bagging up and was like, “yo, I’m a hustler.” And I was like, “So, I’m gonna hustle too just give me half. I’ll stand on this side of the building you stand on this side.” We started hustling like that. I started making a little bit of money, never made enough money to buy a car. I bought sneakers, basically. 8-balls only get you $250 back then maybe $360 if you fucked the pack up. I was fucking up mad packs, to tell you the truth. I was playing video games, sitting there all day, not even selling crack. I was so weak, I was in the game room most of the fucking day.
It’s crazy man, because people assume when you’re selling drugs you’ve got a ton of cash.
No, when you selling drugs you spend a lot of hours working. You might as well work at a McDonald’s because most of the time you’re risking your life to run from police, get robbed by some other gangster, or just get your pack stolen by a crackhead or something. Most of the hours you spending out there, you are not really making as much money as you could be at a job. Might as well work at a fucking job. It’s quicker when it comes, but it’s slow to come. Unless you got like a crack house and I didn’t have a crack house. My mother wouldn’t have that shit at all.
Is the attitude you learned back then still with you?
You always got like this defensive mechanism in your brain that something could happen, you know? Of course that never goes away. It’s something that was embedded in our blood. It has nothing even to do with the times that we living in now or times we were living in then. I’m from an African American lineage, you know? In this lineage, we have this defensive thing — we’ve been chased down and we’ve been hunted. We’ve been fucking dragged, hung, raped, it’s data in our blood. My mother could never tell me nothing about slavery and I would still have the same defensive mechanism as my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather had. I’m from a lineage of people who have been fucking destroyed, pit against each other, you know?
I hear you man, switching gears some, let’s talk about your art. How did that upbringing influence your creativity?
Going through all that stuff as a kid allowed me as an adult to be more aware of the energy I put out there. That’s why most of my posts on Instagram are about inspiration. They are not like me telling you: “Get on with your day, get on with your life, you can make it, stay positive.” That’s all me reminding myself. Most of the posts I put up are like memo notes to myself, it’s for the people, obviously, but I’m thinking it for myself. Then I’m putting it out there for others, sharing my thoughts with them, sharing my emotions with them. I don’t mind being vulnerable right now ’cause I can fucking fight. When you can defend yourself you can be any type of man you want to be in life because no one can fucking just punk me. I’m not a sucker, I actually like making love, I actually like showing love, and I actually like being a brother for all the brothers I have. I have thousands of brothers and I got ten real brothers in my life. I was always taught share, share, share. All my friends are like my brothers and I got heaps of friends and they fucking love me. I know that for sure, without a doubt.
Tell me what makes a New Yorker and tell me what makes a person from Bed-Stuy?
Being a born and bred New Yorker, you have to have hustle cause New York will fucking chew you the fuck up and spit you right back where you came from. Luckily, I’m from here so there’s no spitting me no mother-fucking where. Your skin has to be tough as a fucking dinosaur like a tyrannosaurus rex or some shit. People here are so competitive, there’s so much hustle, there are so many people doing the same thing you do, so you have to be ten steps ahead of somebody. Even in art, I’m late getting at it but I know my work ethic. When I’m not in the studio painting on canvas I’m on the street refurbishing things. And if I’m not painting on refurbished things I’m fucking keeping my name out there, hustling. When you are from New York, you get on these streets and go get yours. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in New York who are not from New York, but the natives — we got this, we’ll be there, baby. To the end.
Talk some more about that. You don’t seem to have any resentment about the hardness of this life?
That is tough. Growing up with a mother on welfare, two sons, one daughter; it was tough, it wasn’t an easy thing. My mom had to jump from job to job trying to figure shit out. When ever my father was locked up, it was hard for us. When my father was home we had nintendo’s we had every game, we had every cartridge. We had joy, we had every pair of jeans, we had everything we wanted. So, when my father got into jail, we were backed to nothing and waiting for an envelope from my uncle, you know? Life always had this up and down. Struggle gives you beauty, there’s something in it, there’s something in struggling that calls you to have some type of tenacity to get through it. You never look at your past days and be like, “Aw, fuck man I fucking hate those days.” No, I love those days, those days made this guy, those days made me think quicker. Those days made me be in situations where I didn’t have things and I still figured out a way.
Can you talk a bit about the gentrification, the changes you’ve seen in the city?
The positive thing about gentrification is you become introduced to different parts of life. You also get to see different mentalities, which allows you to either adapt to them or shun them. I’d rather adapt. When I meet someone, I find out where they are from. I find out about their family, their past and what made them. In the old New York, we didn’t really give a fuck about nobody. Still to this day I don’t think we gave a fuck about nobody. We was more closed in, we wasn’t exploring as we are now.
What was that transition like?
Williamsburg became like cool. Bringing the hipsters with the gangsters. Bringing the, the newcomers to New York together with the natives. We all started partying together. I ended up at parties with niggas, everybody wearing tight jeans, fucking looking crazy. I was like “what the fuck is going on here? I still got knives in my pocket.” But that introduced me to the new New York. If you be stuck in your hood, in your neighborhood, you never know all this other shit is going on around you. Yeah the new New York allows more opportunities and a better way of living man. I can say that much. The new New York allowed me to travel to London, allowed me to travel to Paris to Berlin, this is all from the new New York. I like the new New York. It allowed me to be an artist without being ashamed.
Right on. Let’s talk some more about your art. What is it you’re trying to express on the canvas?
My works of art don’t really connect with my past at all. My works of art connect with my future, because that’s where I’m always looking towards. So whether my works are dark or light or full of colors, or just stoney, it doesn’t matter. My works of art is like me painting out expressions. When I paint I don’t even sketch. I paint on the floor. I get on my knees, and I start painting out of no types or sense of awareness. I just go. My art doesn’t come from my past, or being abused, or going through something, no. I went through all of that shit without painting. Its me now, trying to portray something that people can connect with on their own senses. I won’t even give you a definition of what I fucking think. You look at this shit you figure it out yourself. That’s the point of it, you know?
Talk about your show “My Red is Not Your Red”.
Well I locked in my first show in the Lower East Side called “My Red is Not Your Red”. It was a play on colors, a play on corners and perspective. Every painting came with a poem on the side of it. Every painting was named after a color, so it’d be like ‘my red is not your red’. And it would be a red painting. This is mad weird but I’m going to try to explain it. So the painting be red, it was a corner, all it had was characters I created called digital curators. I made these characters based on us as humans curating our internet for the people that are watching or following to see your perspective on what’s beautiful and what’s good to you.
Talk some more about those ‘digital curators.’
The digital curators is like how we post on Instagram and say ‘Oh I really love this.’ The digital curators is all of us. We are now curators because we are actually curating our Instagram and our Facebook. Anything that we express, we are curating for someone else to see and someone else to either agree with or disagree with. To like or not like. So that was the point of that show. The show was about perspective. The plays on why my color, what I might like is not what you might like. That’s why my red is not your red. That show was a great show. I brought out over 400 people to that show which was awesome. I never even seen an art show like that in my life. It was a full on block party in the street on Orchard street. It was like every person I loved came. It was like a reunion. My mother came, kids came, my sister came. It was probably one of the greatest days of my life. And I cried that day too.
Right on. Anything else you want to say?
I want to say this: I wanna tell everybody stay beautiful, stay positive, stay golden. This life goes so fucking fast man. Goodness gracious, we only get one quarter. There’s no ‘to be continued’ in this game of life. Success is only is a mental thing. You’re only as successful as you think you are, so always feel successful because you’ll always be comfortable with that. Star City Baby.
Thank you, man. Take it easy.