These days, Harif Guzman is a well-respected NYC artist who has had exhibitions all over featuring his photography, mixed-media, and video work. His stuff is big, bold, and often humorous, which is no surprise when you consider the rough-and-tumble street art culture Harif came out of. See, before he became all famous, Harif—sometimes called “Hacula”—was just another skater kid and art brat. Taji Ameen recently hung out with Harif and talked about growing up in New York City, crashing on his friends’ floors, and making it big.
When did you first come to New York?
I moved here in 1980, when I was five. My mom always lived out in New Jersey, so I was back and fourth from then after. I then moved around for a while in between California and Miami, until settling back in New York for the last 11 years.
What was New York like, back in the 80s?
It was just a lot more raw. I remember my dad carrying me around Lafayette Street. I remember a lot of crazy rockers and break dancers roaming the streets back then. Downtown was way more abandoned. By the time I was leaving the house on my own, I wasn’t allowed to go to certain neighborhoods, but I still went. [laughs] I was a young kid and it was hard to avoid getting punked or robbed all the time. My dad was creeped out by New York and thought it would be safer for me to spend more time in New Jersey with my mom. Out in Jersey, I ran into Teddy Powell, Fred Gall and Quim Cardona. We would all unite and take the PATH train to skate the city a bunch.
After all that, how did you end up in Miami and on the West Coast?
Back in ‘88, I thought it would be cool to go skate California type skate spots, but it was kind of a wasteland with mad gangs. If you had a skate rock lifestyle and wore skate rags, they would say, “Why do you want to be a white boy? Why aren’t you down for Latin Disciples, Zulu Nation, or Legion?” I still skated and had a good time, but it was segregated down there. After that, my friend Mike Cox and a bunch of dudes moved out to San Clemente, California. They would send me boxes to get me to skate, but it was super hard because I was broke and having to work all the time. Around ‘93, I joined them in Cali and started skating a bunch again. I went back to New Jersey to chill with my mom, but she had sold the house. There was nowhere to go, so Quim ended up just dropping me off in the East Village at ABC skate shop.
ABC was the spot!
Yeah, I didn’t even have nowhere to go and Adrian let me crash on his floor and then I lived out of the skate shop for a while. That’s where me and Harold [Hunter] became pretty tight. He let me crash on his floor, just like he did for everyone. He was the one that basically showed me how to live in New York and always cheered me up if I was bummed out. That was the summer right be for 9/11 happened and New York completely changed.
Were you doing street art back then?
Yeah, I would just write my name wherever because I had nowhere to live. That was when the street artists did most of their work, when they were homeless. You’re always just walking around, so you’re always on the street. Eventually, it took off with a bunch of companies and I ended up getting my own spots to live. One was in the projects, but that got too sketchy. Eli Reed and everyone would come up and the cops began to hate on us. I eventually got out of there when I heard of a loft opening up.
I remember you had a skate ramp in one of your lofts.
Yeah, the top floor opened up and I knew I had to get it. I somehow managed to fandangle that and moved there. I had to learn business in order to survive there. I started a photo studio there so I could afford to continue to pay rent. Magazines and my friends would rent it out for shoots. I would also do parties there. After that, I went through a few phases and moved some more, but here I am now in the new studio.
How have you progressed your work into different mediums than just graffiti?
Well I learned a lot of the trade from seeing such a wide variety of people shoot photos and being around so many different people. Girls and people partying have always been around me so I have shot them at every opportunity. I learned to take my art much more seriously and put down a ten-year plan of what I wanted. I also did a lot of video projects, I would just film my friends having fun for projects like Compost. I learned how to edit magazines through the issue of Frank 151 I curated. I also put a vinyl out of my friends’ music. At the same time I was doing things just because I wanted to do them, I was able to learn the business aspect of it.
What are your plans for now?
I have been working with a bunch of art consultants and doing shows. I still love to travel, but have been keeping it mainly in New York. I try and work with all kinds of different people to collaborate on projects of all different worlds. All in all though, I am focused on my fine art right now. This past year has been all about painting and mixing it up with photography as well. It’s been going real good. I’m psyched.