Story and images by Rayana Chumthong for Fuse
Hailing from the tiny volcanic island of Montserrat, nestled in the heart of the Caribbean, Gazoo burst onto the NYC street art scene after a demoralizing tenure in the music industry. Gazoo is well known for his sidewalk graffiti tag “To The Moon^,” his signature Arrow paintings, and tape works installations. He spent his early years studying technical drawing and architecture, and was born with a knack for illustration. Gazoo’s notable style and creativity, expressed through a variety of media, is known to invoke uplifting feelings of positivity. I caught up with Gazoo in his studio to be inspired by the incredible story of his transformation from music industry hustler to street art extraordinaire.
I have a personal connection with your work because I see it every day on my street in the East Village of Manhattan. Last year, my girl Courtney took a picture of your “To The Moon^” tag and sent it to me on my birthday. A few weeks later, she excitedly broke the news that she'd met the artist behind the tag. Can you elaborate on the message behind “To The Moon^”?
It’s all about motivation. Taking what you’re doing to the next level. The way I write it on the sidewalk with the arrow, it’s basically like you’re on your way to the next level, or you’re on the way to something great. You’re going the right way.
Every time I pass by your tag on the street, it carries this infectious energy. It makes me smile, it lifts my spirits up.
Yes, that’s what it’s really all about. It started when I was doing some stuff in music. I was working with this musician who was a reggae artist. He was like, “Yo, let’s start a company named To the Moon!” I was already working with a management company doing stuff with French Montana, Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean. I was tired of doing the music management stuff. I was doing it for over six years. It was cool, I did so much with it, but I was tired. My mother kept getting on me—"Man, you’re an artist! You need to do your artwork! What are you doing? You can do your own music and you can do your own art!”
So your mother pushed you?
Yeah, she pushed me. She kicked me out of her house and I decided to go back to Montserrat in the Caribbean. There was a crazy volcanic eruption in the '90s and it wiped out the whole town. When I was there, I was like I need to represent this island and I need people to know about me and where I’m from. I needed to connect back to this place so I was like, "You know I should just do my art stuff. I just need to do my art."
Do you think you would’ve come to this realization had you not gone back home?
No, because it was the first time I went back since I'd left.
How many years ago?
It was at least 15 years ago. It was mad, long overdue. I just took the management company card and stayed there for a couple of weeks. It was kind of sad, too. I had to get rid of the whole music thing. I was in it deep. If I were still in music, I would’ve been in A&R and had some good acts going with it. I just had to stop it, so even now I can’t go into a music studio.
What are the feelings that returning to a studio evoke for you?
It’s sadness. This thing drained me and I can’t be drained by it anymore.
That’s wild you had to stop music completely in order to pursue your art. What happened when you returned to NYC from Montserrat?
My other trade is carpentry, so this older guy that I knew from the studio hired me to do construction while living at his estate in Connecticut. He went into my room looking for something and noticed my jar of sand. I had brought back some black sand from my trip that was from the volcanic island. He said it was the best sand he’s ever seen in his life and told me I should do art with this sand. I’m like, “I never heard nobody do nothing like that!” He said, “Go in the warehouse! There’s a bunch of textiles, arts and crafts in there. Find something and try it. Don’t even do no work today. Go in the warehouse and work on something using this sand.”
Wow, so what did your first piece look like?
My first piece was on some greeting card because he used to own a greeting card company. It was of a stick figure dude chasing a stick figure girl made with the black sand. He definitely pushed me. I came back from Montserrat and lived with this dude for three months. He knew what I was going through because he knew me from the studio. He had this huge estate, nothing but fields and nature. It was during the winter so there was always snow everywhere. It was kind of like a retreat, like I went through rehab.
Were you overcome with fear when you made the decision to stop music altogether?
It wasn’t fear. I knew I was talented, I straight up knew I was talented. It was something that my family was telling me as a kid. I was drawing, winning art competitions and doing music. I just knew that I’m going to have to put my all into this and I’m going to do this shit, y’know what I’m saying? I wasn’t scared. I was motivated and inspired more than anything. I was ready and liberated.
Essentially, “To The Moon^” has always been your life mantra.
It’s definitely what it is. After I left Connecticut, I would also be the hype man for DJ artists for house music festivals like Winter Music Conference. I was really good at it. It was natural, too. I would say, “To the moon!” to the crowd and they would go insane and throw their hands up in the air.
What inspired you to start writing it in on the sidewalk?
While I’m out doing art stuff I met some dudes from Denmark. They knew me from the whole “To the Moon^” because they were graffiti writers. They were like, “Dude, you need to write “To The Moon^” in the street.” I said, “No, my approach is with the sand stuff. I’m all about the sand and the fine arts of this.” And they were like, “Dude, no, you have to write this in the street! People will love it!” I said “No, man I don’t wanna get caught!" because they were getting caught left and right. "I don’t even know if I want to get into that."
I used to write it on doors and then shortly after, my homeboys from Denmark said, “You need to write it on the sidewalk because everyone writes it on the wall and you have all this real estate on the sidewalk.” I had a can on me that night when I saw them and I wrote it there on the sidewalk. Another day I was in the West Village and I had just gotten out of a car with my friend, I said, “Yeah, I’m just gonna write it on the sidewalk here but into this weird door.”
A few days later people were sending me pictures of this dude, Terry Richardson, who posted it on his blog. I posted the pic on my Instagram that some dude named Terry Richardson took this and I don’t know who this is but thank you very much, this is a cool picture. Everyone was like, “Yeah, this is Terry Richardson, the man! Celebrity photographer dude!”
I want other people to hear your story and be inspired to follow their creative calling. How did you encourage yourself to let go of what was comfortable but unfulfilling, and pursue the unknown?
It’s something that I ask myself. I definitely appreciate the fact that I got to work in the music game because I’ve worked with some real, super people. A bunch of people I’ve worked with, they’re on right now, y’know what I’m saying? I’m watching their videos and their numbers are in my phone. I was able to work with some real, super dope people and they taught me how to grind and just be focused and continue to create.
I remember working with French Montana in the studio, out of all of his Coke Boys crew he’s the first one to show up and the last to leave, especially when he’s doing Ramadan! He put me on to doing Ramadan too! I said, “French, if you is doing Ramadan, I’m doing Ramadan, too," 'cause they was nobody else getting more drunk than him.
I’m super happy I was able to be surrounded by people like that. They definitely helped me. 'Cause even now, people are like, “Dude, you stay busy, you stay on it!” and I’m like, “Yeah, dude, what else should I be doing? I came out of the School of Super Fucking On It! People who are on it.”
Story and images by Rayana Chumthong for Fuse