SUR FRESH, RAPPER, ART DIRECTOR, ART SOCIALITE

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SUR FRESH

Hometown: New York, NY
Years lived in the city: All his life
Occupation: Rapper, Art Socialite, Art Director
Company: Self
 

I go to galleries and I want to show people that while nightlife in New York is wonderful and the food here is good and of course, there are Broadway shows, but it’s the museums and galleries that people don’t really get a chance to experience.
— Fresh
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I first followed Sur Fresh (Instagram: @Sur_Fresh) on Instagram when I was searching for cool backdrops for photo shoots in the city. He is popular in the art museum scene and frequently visits all of the latest and newest art exhibits in the city. Later, when 52 Stories launched I realized that it would be cool to meet Fresh in person and interview him about his love of art in the city. What I didn't realize is that Fresh also dabbles in music and video and has been around in NYC for quite some time, getting his start in the fashion group Retro Kids who found fame in their historic sense of style. 

We met up in Times Square for an interview and got to chat more about why he loves art so much, how he knows about every gallery before they are announced, and what he hopes to pursue and achieve in the upcoming year. 

STEPHANIE
Hey! Thanks for meeting me! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what in particular got you into the art scene?

FRESH
Yeah, no problem! So I go by the name of Sur Fresh. I'm a recording artist, musician, and Art Director. I just got into Art Directing seven months ago actually through Instagram. Someone was really interested in the way I take pictures and asked me if I was interested in a job. 

I’m from Long Island, New York. When I turned seventeen I used to have half days in school. When I was a senior, I used to come straight to the city and just liked to linger around after school and try to figure out the city, so now I know it like the back of my hand. I call this place home and  I'm a big art fanatic, which you know.

STEPHANIE
Yes, how did you get into art?

My favorite artist of all time is Basquiat. That’s who inspires me in a lot of ways. Just, you know, him being from Brooklyn and, like, homeless at one point, running into Andy Warhol. His life is changed from there and people actually believed in what he had. That’s a good representation of myself as far as people believing in what I had. In the beginning, it’s always rough, but finding your direction and just never giving up on your dream is one of the big things that I love.
— Fresh

FRESH
I’ve been into it since my sophomore year in high school. I really fell in love with art. My favorite artist of all time is Basquiat. That’s who inspires me in a lot of ways. Just, you know, him being from Brooklyn and, like, homeless at one point, running into Andy Warhol. His life is changed from there and people actually believed in what he had. That's a good representation of myself as far as people believing in what I had. In the beginning, it’s always rough, but finding your direction and just never giving up on your dream is one of the big things that I love.

STEPHANIE
I was reading this book about people’s beginnings in New York and one of the chapters was by this guy who became a director of an art museum in NYC. On one of his first days on the job, he was shadowing his boss and this one unknown guy walks in and says “you’re going to pick my painting.” That guy was Basquiat. Just the sheer amount of confidence he had in his abilities is incredible.

FRESH
That is amazing.

STEPHANIE
Yeah, it’s crazy the amount of confidence he had when he was still unknown. But going back to you, I think it’s really cool that you promote art and try to make it seem fresh and trendy. Because I think art in most places other than New York is still considered old, boring, traditional and outdated. The way you take pictures on Instagram to make it seem hip is pretty inspiring for the art industry.

FRESH
I appreciate that. That’s my whole thing. I go to galleries and I want to show people that while nightlife in New York is wonderful and the food here is good and of course, there are Broadway shows, but those are so packed all the time, it’s the museums and galleries that people don’t really get a chance to experience. So what I do with my pictures is I just want to show people how dope it is to be in galleries and how you can turn art into something new by adding yourself to the picture.

STEPHANIE
What would you say is your favorite museum in New York, since I feel like you’ve been to all of them?

FRESH
I know the Whitney Museum has probably seen me the most times.

STEPHANIE
Why is that?

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FRESH
Well, number one is that it’s free on Fridays from 7:00 to 10:00 pm. It’s also the atmosphere. All museums are clean but there’s something about the Whitney being on the West side. There's this window that you can look out and see from here to Jersey. You see the whole skyline. And there’s this staircase where sometimes I’ll just sit there and reflect on my day and memories. I make every day count because life is short, so why not enjoy it?

STEPHANIE
Having lived here all your life, what keeps New York interesting for you?

FRESH
It's still like an adrenaline rush for me because New York to me is small but big in a lot of ways. It’s small in that I know my way around, but it’s huge there’s so much compacted in such a tiny area. There’s so much to do where you experience different atmospheres by visiting different parts of the city. And there’s actually a lot of things you can do where you don’t have to spend a lot of money.

In regards to culture, Midtown is not like Downtown and Uptown is not like the Westside or the East. It’s amazing how much of a change it is.

STEPHANIE
Yeah, every part is its own little universe.

FRESH
And I hang out everywhere, but I'm a Downtown person. I just feel like it's just more upbeat and you can be yourself there.

STEPHANIE
What was your first memory in NYC?

FRESH
I remember when I was about maybe 10 and it’s definitely freezing cold by the way right now (note: it was pretty cold that day) but I remember standing for New Year's Eve with my mom and my dad in the middle of Times Square watching the ball drop and my memory was “never again” and I never did it again.

STEPHANIE
Do people actually wear diapers to that like the rumors say?

FRESH
You see people bring huge Mickey D’s cups just in case…

STEPHANIE
Oh god. So back to your favorite part…

FRESH
Favorite part to hang out in is Downtown. The favorite area for art galleries is Chelsea.

STEPHANIE
Chelsea is so tiny but there are hundreds of art galleries there. It’s crazy. How do you navigate through all that data out there on which galleries to attend?

I went to every gallery in Chelsea, I kid you not and wrote down my email address and told them “I want to know about every show before anyone else knows.
— Fresh

FRESH
I went to every gallery in Chelsea, I kid you not and wrote down my email address and told them “I want to know about every show before anyone else knows.” And they hit me up two weeks in advance. Just through email. That’s my advice - leave your email address and put yourself out there. Now I’m at the point where they invite me to suit-and-tie events that have nothing to do with the galleries.

STEPHANIE
Well, you are like walking art with your fashion. How did you develop your sense of fashion? Because I feel like fashion doesn’t come overnight. It’s a work in progress. Note: Sur Fresh stands above 6 feet tall with a crown-like hair style which only makes him seem taller.

FRESH
A couple years ago I had a group by the name of Retro Kids and we were ahead in the sense that we were behind time. We were the first people in NYC to have high tops in 2007. We were also featured in the New York Times.

STEPHANIE
Oh.

FRESH
Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff people don’t know about me that I don’t put out there cause I feel like it’s the past, but that's how I got my fashion sense. I used to model a lot a couple of years ago but I stopped because I wanted to focus on music. I want to direct videos and moves so I’m focused on that now.

But my line was “I wear what you fear.” I feel like everyone should be themselves. Not everybody’s going to like you, but as long as you’re being yourself, nobody can take that away from you.

STEPHANIE
I feel like your style is very sophisticated with a touch of edge.

FRESH
I  appreciate that and I'm glad you mentioned that because that's how I am now. Before I used to jump out the window with fashion. I'd have on purple pants, a red shirt - but it was me at the time. As I got older I cleaned it up a little bit.

STEPHANIE
How did the hair come about?

FRESH
One day I thought to myself, “all right, how can I stand out and make myself different?” No lie, I was watching the Basquiat movie and I thought, ok, this is my favorite artist, but I don't want to bite off his style because I don't like doing that. And I didn’t want dreads because once I get dreads it’s over. I gotta cut my hair when I don’t want them anymore.

So I was twisting my hair while watching the movie and then I looked in the mirror and envisioned this crown. I feel like every man is a king and so when I twisted my hair up, I saw my own crown. Not to sound conceited, but I just look at myself as a king and it motivates me to stay on top of my A-game and do good for myself, you know?

STEPHANIE
Yeah, and when you are living your best life you are then in a better position to help others. I definitely thought "crown" the minute I saw your hair.

FRESH
Exactly.

STEPHANIE
So how did you get into music?

I want to give people good quality music. I want the world to know my story. It’s cool to have the cars, the women, jewelry, the houses. If you got it, you got it. But that’s just not the first thing I look for in music. I really love music at its core. Like my favorite artists are Jay-Z, Kanye, Biggie, Andre 3000, Lauryn Hill...just the essence of being very poetic with it.
— Fresh

FRESH
I’ve been making music since 2008, but I've been off and on with it honestly, but I've gotten more serious with it in the last three years. At the beginning of this summer or late spring, I'm gonna drop a project called Good Vibes Only. I'm excited about it. I've been working almost two years on it.

I want to give people good quality music. I want the world to know my story. It's cool to have the cars, the women, jewelry, the houses. If you got it, you got it. But that’s just not the first thing I look for in music. I really love music at its core. Like my favorite artists are Jay-Z, Kanye, Biggie, Andre 3000, Lauryn Hill...just the essence of being very poetic with it. I ride the train, take ubers and cabs...that’s the sh*t I want to talk about. I don’t drive a lambo. I want to make music about the things that everyone can connect to.

STEPHANIE
I think music is, at its core, about connecting with humans, with each other.

FRESH
Yes, at the core of music, it’s about the connection.

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STEPHANIE
Music is to get people through the hard days and inspire them. Make them grateful that they’re alive. I think music is incredible because it’s universal. You can play something with so much emotion in multiple languages and people can feel that emotion without understanding the words. I used to write songs when I played the piano so I get that creative process and emotional attachment.

FRESH
That’s dope. You play the piano?

STEPHANIE
Yeah, I played for fourteen years.

FRESH
Man, I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to play the piano or play basketball and I chose basketball.

STEPHANIE
It takes a lot of discipline to learn, especially when you’re like 5 years old, but I really fell in love when I started writing my own songs. The process it takes to produce a piece of work and then put it out there because it's a reflection of your journey.

So on your Instagram, you call yourself an ‘art goon’. Can you explain the meaning behind that?

FRESH
Yeah, so I wanted to take this word with a negative connotation and put a positive spin on it. I’m a ‘goon’ because I’m everywhere, at all of these galleries being silly.

STEPHANIE
You’re like a little character that pops up all the time.

FRESH
I just want to be everywhere promoting art. I want the art to blend into my music, too. In my tracks, I have this “artsy” sound, which confuses people at first because they don’t know what an “artsy” sound sounds like. But there’s a lot of piano and violin in my music, kind of like the type of music you’d imagine you would hear in an art museum. There may be an orchestra in the opening, just things like that. I did my research as far as the hip-hop game and no rapper out there has ever combined art galleries with hip-hop. And my obsession with art has been three years in the making. I told myself “I'm gonna go serious with art and I'm gonna go serious with music.”

STEPHANIE
I’m excited to hear your music when it gets released! You will have to let me know. 

Switching topics to you as an individual now - how do you think you’ve changed as a person over the course of these last few years?

FRESH
I feel like I’m a lot calmer and now I'm able to accept myself for who I am. I realized I have fun hanging out by myself more than with a group of people. Like I'm a people person and I do enjoy hanging out with people, but it just always goes back to “you know what? I think I’m going to hang out with myself today.”

STEPHANIE
What would you say keeps you grounded? Or the things that bring you back to what’s meaningful in life?

FRESH
My family. My dad passed on December 2nd. It’ll actually be two months ago. Today’s the second [of February]. But that motivated me to just go extremely hard for what I want. He was a man who always hustled and went for it. I was sad about his passing but then the other part of me was like “I got to level up. This is an eye-opener.” And yeah, it just makes me go stronger but as far as like keeping me grounded - family.

Besides that, even just being outside on a nice day. The atmosphere…meditating...

STEPHANIE
I don’t know how I learned to meditate, but I just have become really good at it over the years.

FRESH
You meditate? I can tell. I feel like you’ve got great energy. There’s just something about you -you have good vibes. You’re not just here to do this interview because you have to, you really have an interest in what you do and the people you ask.

STEPHANIE
Thanks! I really do have an interest. I’m not sure why...the interest is just within me.

FRESH
You have a great personality and I just met you today but I think it’s dope.

STEPHANIE
Thank you. Likewise!

FRESH
I appreciate that. So make sure you keep that up and don’t let nobody ruin your day. You’ve got thirty seconds to get mad…

STEPHANIE
... and then move on.

FRESH
Yup. Thirty seconds to a minute.

STEPHANIE
Cause life’s too short. I’ve had a few friends pass away and they’ve taught me that there’s no point in being upset over things you can’t change. You just have to focus on what you want and on the good.

FRESH
That is the truth.

STEPHANIE
I just have a few more questions. Who is someone that inspires you?

FRESH
Definitely my father, but outside of the family, Basquiat, Jay-Z, Will Smith.

STEPHANIE
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

FRESH
As soon as I wake up, I brush my teeth then take a shower every day. Get dressed and check my phone.

STEPHANIE
So you don’t check your phone immediately?

FRESH
No way. See that's the problem with social media. I hate to say this but social media is good but at the same time really ridiculous.

STEPHANIE
It’s very addicting.

FRESH
That's the biggest drug in the world. Not marijuana, not cocaine. People don't want to say that that is the biggest but it's the biggest drug in the world.

STEPHANIE
Did you know that companies are facing an ethical problem now where they’ve come to realize that their technology is a little too addicting? I think Apple just declared their new mission is to get fewer children addicted to using their products. Little things like making the notification icon red can make your brain think “danger” and you instinctively want to get rid of it by opening the app which Apple intentionally planned.

FRESH
I’m also paranoid now because we’re on our phones all day, but what if one day our phones blow up in our face? It sounds crazy, but you never know! The iPhone is never really off. Ever.

STEPHANIE
Oh no. Let's not think too deeply about this, before we freak ourselves out. 

Last question and this is a bit grim. You're 100 and laying on your deathbed. What life do you want to have lived?

FRESH
I want to have created a legacy. I want people to have known that I was authentic and was me. 

FRESH can be found here.