Punk Rock Poet: Android Oi

I first met Android Oi during a blitz of art shows. It was January, during one of the first weeks of the season. We said hello on Tuesday, and by Friday we had known each other for years. He left a strong impression: one of a sharp dresser, and an artistic blend of punk and poetry. We smoked cigarettes while talking about conformity, artistic purpose, and Albert Camus’s The Rebel. 

Later, I got the chance to mic an interview with him at a bar in the heart of Alphabet city. I stepped in, and surveyed the scene. The Talking Heads howled from the Jukebox. Leather seats were ripped and taped over. The air thick with stale beer. Stickers and paste ups, everywhere. Good dive vibes. 

Android Oi was sitting with My Life in Yellow at the bar. We chatted over some beers and kicked back a shot. Yellow wrote some slaps, while Android and I moved to a booth.

Oi, Oi, Oi!

"Android is something created by man and told what to do. … Android is the program of how you are made… to do certain things. You are expected to do certain things: with family, friends, socially, everything. The Oi... is a rebellion.”

Oi! The punk rock anthem. Fists up, the scream of “No! I’m not gonna be that way!” This contrast between conformity and rejection influences much of Android’s outlook and his art.

Android began drawing as a kid, learning by imitation. He would copy comics, Batman, Spiderman, even Garfield. Later, as a teenager he took up the spray can, tagging up Yonkers with burners, and throws under the name ‘Nope.’ As he matured, he moved to stencils, and with the shift took on the name Android Oi. He joked about being in the game so long that “Android Oi had a MySpace.” 

One of the pivotal moments in his street art career came when he was cutting up tracers. He and a friend were making the stencils, when his friend’s girlfriend saw what they were doing.

Android Oi - Desire.jpg

“She was like, ‘You ever hear of Banksy?’ And I was like, ‘Who?’ ” She introduced him to the work of the infamous artist, the icon of rebellion. It was then, Android knew his artistic purpose.

Android attended SVA, where he majored in illustration. Several of his professors recommended he pursue fine art, but he rejected the idea.  

"I’m not a fine artist. On the streets, maybe you could consider me a folk artist, that is fine, but me personally, I consider myself an illustrator. I’m always trying to tell you a story."

Android has since moved on to wheat-pastes, as he continues to refine his style. In 2015, he began his contemporary work on canvases. The pieces he creates now are composed of intricate layers. Android begins by painting the base, then pasting printed photoshop images on top, and layered once more with paint. Hidden within the body of the canvas are bits of poetry, often riddled in anagrams, and coded metaphors. 

“My style is a mesh of things together. It is a mash-up.” He explained. "I love bodies... the human form. Especially woman. Women are the most beautiful creations in this world.”

Best known by his iconic image of a vacant-eyed android mistress surrounded by a rose, he chose the piece to represent himself after getting feedback from his peers, mostly women. Influenced by H. R. Giger, much of Android’s imagery focuses on physical sensuality. He renders feminine figurines, often in semi-tragic form, constructed via cropped body parts. 

Android elaborated on his process; the reason for 'why women' is due to their complexity and intricacy. He admires woman who are comfortable with their bodies. While some are pulled from stock images, many of the anatomical parts that Android incorporates into his art come from friends who pose for him. Having the model’s consent is very important to Android.

“I don’t want to be scummy!” He said laughing.

I asked what usually came first during his creative process - painting or poetry? To Android, the question is about what emotions he is feeling at that moment.

“It goes along with how I’m feeling at the time. I could be happy, I could be sad, I could be suicidal. It is how I feel.” He continued, “I’m a very emotional man… some say I have a bleeding heart.”

Android smiled. "Behind every painting, there is a story. I’m trying to tell you who I am.”

The Bleeding Heart Rebel

Born in Manhattan and raised in Yonkers, Android comes from an Irish-American family. He has an older sister and a younger brother. Android joked that he suffered from “middle child syndrome.” Shy and quiet, Android is a lifelong introvert.

His family left a deep impression on him. Android was heavily influenced by his “five Irish uncles,” (American, but very proud of their heritage) who inculcated in him their love of music, art, and literature. His mother, too, made a distinctive impact on his aesthetic outlook.

“With my mom, we would drive, and she would say things like ‘oh, look at the fall colors’ and I would notice them, and be like ‘you’re right ma.’"

Android Oi - Distaste for the Smell in Her Clouds.jpg

Following the Irish-American tradition, Android was forced into Catholic school. He hated it. Repressed by the strict conduct, he sought an escape via spray paint. It is then that his artistic rebellion was born. “I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. I wasn’t able to express myself… that is what kept me painting.”

While he does not begrudge his parents for putting him through catholic school, Android has sought to raise his own family differently. He is a single father who loves his son dearly, and wants to raise him with truth and openness. His son, now 9 and turning 10 in March, knows what his father does.

“I’m very honest with my son. I don’t hide anything from him. He knows about my tattoos, the art shows I go to. He is still too young to go to shows with me, but every night I come home to him, and tell him what I do.”

Android does not keep in touch with his son’s mother. He has sole custody, for which he had to go to court to fight for. She had a drug problem. Hard drugs. As she destroyed herself, Android wanted to shield his boy.

“I didn’t want him to see her demise.”

Having a child forced Android to grow up, and accept the responsibilities of being a parent. Before his 2015 re-emergence, Android “took a sabbatical from street art. I didn’t want to risk getting arrested and not being able to see my son.” He spent several years raising his boy, and has tried to find a balance between his identities as an artist and a father.

All artists must struggle with meeting the financial ends to survive, and Android has tried to be creative. He has worked on-and-off as a freelance tattoo artist, designing and inking fellow tat-rats. At first, Android was standoffish about tattoos. Now, 12 years later, he has 17 of them. Some were done by himself (his entire leg), and others have been done by friends. On his forearm, is a tattoo done by his mentor, the man who taught him the craft.

“Each tattoo I have is a memory. Each tattoo I gave, as an artist, is a memory.”

However, even the most successful freelancer faces difficulties. At 18, Android took on a job at a toy company in Westchester, which specializes in toys for children with disabilities and special needs. There, he has worn several hats - illustrator, marketer, salesman. The company has utilized his arts background for promotional materials. While it may not have been his dream job, it paid the bills, and Android enjoyed creating for families in need.

Versatility and Verse

While he does not consider his poetry secondary, Android’s art has primarily been his painting. As of late though, swayed by friends like My Life in Yellow, Android has been exploring his lyrical side. Alongside Yellow, I saw Android perform in the backroom of the Parkside Lounge for Inspired Word

Android chuckled when I asked who his poetic influences were. “You’re gonna think this is funny.” True to his rock-n-roll heart, Android takes inspiration from Jim Morrison and Trent Reznor of The Doors and Nine Inch Nails, respectively. 

“The way they write… captures the spirit. I adore music. If I didn’t have music and art, I’d be dead by now.”

The poetry embedded in his paintings is deliberately enigmatic. Android enjoys hiding messages through anagrams and metaphors, with the hope that one day a dedicated collector will be able to decipher the secret meanings. Much of this again comes from his introversion. Android had difficulties when galleries would ask him to write a thesis on his work. He wanted the art to speak for itself.

“I’m just somebody who has something to say… but I can't openly say it. So I need to put it up there for you.”

As we finished our beers, I asked Android if he wanted to give a closing quote for the interview. He gave three. 

“When it comes to street art, it’s anything you get away with.”

"When it comes to my poetry, I no longer weep, I let my audience do it for me."

"When it comes to spray paint, I blow my nose, and it’s like a rainbow.”

A succinct wrap on the punk-rock poet’s passions. Still, I was curious as to what he sees of himself in the future. In the grand scheme of art, Android has high ambition, but humble aspirations.

"Fame, money, whatever. I’ve got love in my heart, and I just want to be remembered for that love.”

Art, InterviewsT.K. MillsComment