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Brooklyn Artist Creates 'Urban Robots' for City Streets

By Camille Bautista | December 2, 2014 1:34pm

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Like a crafty, modern-day Robin Hood, the artist known as RAE takes from the streets to give back to the city.

As a child, RAE used soil from chunks of grass to draw “dirt tags” graffiti on building walls.

Found items and everyday materials became the tools of his artistic career, as he utilized broken toys, rusted drain pipes, and discarded plastics and metals to create his pop-up installations throughout New York City. 

“Truth is, I never know where I am going to be or what I’m in the middle of doing when I spot something on the street I want to use in one of my pieces,” RAE said in an email.

“It’s kind of like having to really go to the bathroom.  You have no choice in the matter.  When I see something that appeals to me I have to find a way to get it back to my studio.”

RAE, a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident, grew up in Brooklyn’s Flatlands and Mill Basin, eyeing his first pair of Air Jordans at Kings Plaza and buying Slick Rick records at Nobody Beats the Wiz.

His work, dubbed "urban folk art," draws influence from everyday Brooklyn life and materials found in the borough, he said. He’s missed meetings, cut up his legs, and stopped his car in the middle lane of the Belt Parkway to retrieve objects.

“You don’t even want to know the stuff I’ve brought on to the subway,” RAE added.

His work — some legal, some placed illegally — includes pop-art abstract paintings that draw from graffiti style with thick, black lines and hard edges, while his three-dimensional urban robots and character installations are inspired by people he’s met over the years.

In 2012, RAE stealthily installed a metal piece called “Subway Skaters” in a Spring Street subway entrance. The next year, he debuted a show in a vacant East Village bodega.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of putting something in a specific neighborhood,” he said.

“Other times it’s more about noticing a void.  Missing tiles, a pole with a street sign missing, tree tops that could use trunks. Whatever. Sometimes I just see a spot and it calls me.  I don’t know how it got my number but I still answer.”

The Brooklyn artist doesn’t just stay local. RAE has painted murals in Chicago, Cleveland, showcased his first solo exhibition in London, and posted works in Berlin.

He also traveled to Ethiopia where he raised money to furnish a wing in a new community library, working with children to turn trash into sculptures.

“I’m always interested in adding a charitable connection to the sale of my work,” RAE said.

Last week, he helped buy nearly 200 Thanksgiving meals for individuals in need through auctioning a $200 piece for Bed-Stuy’s Campaign Against Hunger

“I see the need everyday. Even if it’s freezing out, every Friday people wait on church lines for a bag of potatoes,” he said. “If I can help in a small way using my art as the vehicle isn’t that the point?”