After setting off the alarm while trying to access the rooftop of the renowned Hotel Chelsea, I knew I was in for an interesting evening. I didn’t know whether to check out the spectacular view, or run and never turn back. Luckily, a tall bohemian fellow yelled up from the floor below. It was Sam Bassett. He had been running a bit late to our meeting, as like most artists he needed a caffeine fix. Fair enough.
At first glance, one could easily categorize Sam as an aimless California skater, who may utter phrases like, “gnarly” or “totally dude.” Well, I was totally right about one thing, he was a skater. But, beneath the long blonde hair and skater façade was a real humanitarian, with an old soul. Oh, he did refer to a lot of people as “cats” though.
Sam’s cozy rooftop studio displayed some of his work, but he only pointed out his father’s iron sculptures. It’s obvious how proud Sam is of his father’s work. Though, he admits it wasn’t until adulthood that he could truly relate to his father. Gathering what I’ve ascertained from Sam, the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.
Sam had been up on an all night artistic binge (or as he calls them, “Super-Efforts”) in his hometown of Clinton, New Jersey. He’s been creating a bit of a stir with his guerrilla approach to street art via tape. Take what you want from his tape sculptures, but the man truly has a vision. Even if one gets nothing out of what he’s creating, its remarkable how he is able to make precise geometric shapes, sometimes seventy feet wide and five stories high, in the wee hours of the night. In fact, he is risking his life for his work. Sam admits that a fall from some of the heights he reaches would result in instant death. How many artists do you know who will literally commit their life to their work?
We sat down to view video footage of one his latest works on the side of a Lower East Side building (the north west corner of Houston and Bowery), at least four stories high. Our discussions began with his tape sculptures, but veered off into his other work along the way. Here is just a brief sampling of our conversation.
Frank: First of all, how did you get up there?
Sam: I’m hanging on a rope, attached to a device my father invented called the “roof rider.” Which is like this leveraged pole that acts as a counterweight, which a whole crew has to operate. Depending on whether you want to go up or down, there’s a control, which allows you to do so. It’s super sexy, super incredible.
F: So, you’re like Batman and your dad is…
S: (laughs) The cat that helps him out? Yea.
F: How do you keep the shapes so straight? Do you draw them out beforehand?
S: No. I’ve done it so many times. You know, I’ve done it alone, at night, in all types of different places.
F: In general, how did this all start? Did you want to start out small? Or you knew you wanted to do this all over the city?
S: It started in the Hotel Chelsea. I started from the tenth floor, the top of the hotel. There have been all types of management issues. Not too many people understand the true artist’s spirit or how to protect people and make people feel comfortable. So, they would rip it down. The beauty of the tape sculpture is the non permanence and the quickness of being able to make a geometric form of a certain size – even if it’s five feet. This is like seventy feet. I mean these are like steel lines that come out of nothing. You know, you don’t have to forge it. The process is instantaneous.
F: I take it your dad has a big influence behind the tape sculptures?
S: Yes, very much.
F: Not to be insulting, but would you say that in a sense this is a way of marketing yourself as an artist?
S: It may have happened that way. But, that wasn’t my intention. It’s surprising when you do something like this, that there isn’t more of a reaction when you have thousands of portraits and seven feature films. One would think that would be the thing. But you reverse yourself. You kill your ego. Not everyone would agree that the tape sculptures are relevant, or a “next level” thing.