Staten Island Graffiti Website 'Robots Will Kill' Celebrates 13 Years
STATEN ISLAND — Before Flickr, Instagram and Facebook, a Staten Island-based website gave graffiti artists a way to anonymously upload photos of their work.
This month that website, Robots Will Kill, celebrated 13 years since it was put on the web — a milestone it marked with a redesign and new features.
"Thirteen was always our magic number with Robots," said Kevin Mahoney, a founding member of the site.
"If we had 13 visitors a day, that was our threshold for if we made it. Obviously the numbers have gotten bigger, but as long as we have more than 13 visitors a day we're still making some kind of impact."
This month the group unveiled a yearlong redesign of the site and added new profiles of several artists, not just graffiti writers, on the main page with a slideshow of their work.
With the rise of easier methods for artists to share their work since the site launched in 2001, the group wanted a way to highlight artists' work that they admire while still keeping the tens of thousands of user-submitted images of graffiti and art available.
"We want to just get people interested in art again," said Chris "RWK" Chillemi. "There is so much art out there now and there are so many street artists, it's kind of gotten to the point where it's almost like an overflow. They're not paying as much attention as you hope."
The website already has several short profiles on artists, and Mahoney said they plan to do more in-depth profiles and videos of some and expand them to not just people in visual arts, but musicians and bands too.
The group developed the idea for the website in 2000 when Chillemi, who did some gallery showings but was mainly known for graffiti and stickers as "ChrisRWK," was having trouble getting an audience for his work.
Chillemi asked Mahoney to develop a site so people could view it.
Mahoney created a way for people to submit their images and tag other artists on the wall.
"When we first started the website there wasn't a lot of places that offered online galleries for artists," Chillemi said. "People loved it because it kind of dumbed it down, you didn't have to have some degree in computer science."
While things started slowly with only 13 visitors, the numbers kept increasing and eventually the site was flooded with picture uploads.
The site would rack in 500 images daily that had to be approved and visitors would spend hours on the site checking out murals. They would get emails and letters from people all over the world.
"You could paint something on Staten Island, upload it and someone in China and Australia could see it," Chillemi said. "We were able to really disperse people's information and images all over the world, so it's not just the kid who walked down the block and saw a mural."
Eventually, Robots Will Kill expanded its membership to artists as far away as Germany and sold T-shirts and stickers to maintain the site.
The group has turned down several offers over the years of people interested in investing in it.
Chillemi said the site was never about trying to make money, just about sharing art.
"In the past 13 years we've seen so many outlets and so many things come and go and to kind of just have something that's stable is nice," he said.
"Unfortunately, we're not going to go anywhere. I think we're all pretty much too stubborn to do anything else."