Art History’s Best Mustaches: An Interview With Elusive NYC Street Artist the Moustache Man

By way of marking the end of Movember — the month-long, facial hair-centric male cancer awareness campaign — and our chronicle of art history’s best mustaches, we caught up with Patrick Waldo (aka street artist “Moustache Man“) to chat over vegan sandwiches about his days of drawing mustaches on subway billboards, his one-man show chronicling the experience at the Upright Citizens Brigade, his personal facial hair persuasion, and his upcoming solo exhibition.

We don’t have to talk exclusively about mustaches.

OK, good.

But, if you have a favorite art historical mustache that you want to mention, that would be good.

Have you already covered Duchamp’s “LHOOQ”?

Yes, that’s one of the final artworks in the series.

OK, well, I have this great piece by NohJColey, and it has a very furry mustache on it. I didn’t get it because it has a mustache, but it’s a really cool piece. So if there’s one mustache-related piece I like, it’s probably that. It’s a portrait. It’s not too crazy. I got it from Pandemic Gallery actually. It’s got a very prominent mustache. And the figure is wearing a real shirt that’s been burned. It’s all very intricate. It’s from a Pandemic show that had Poster Boy in it, Cash4, NohJColey, UFO, and a bunch of random street artists. It was probably six or eight months ago. It’s a new-ish acquisition.

Do you collect a lot of street art?

I used to. There was a period of time when I was buying up a lot of stuff. And now I’m so focused on selling my own work that I don’t want to spend any more money like I did when I had a nice steady job. I’m giving tours now, private walking tours, and it’s a good gig, but it’s not steady. I’ve got some cool pieces. I’ve got a piece by Specter. He hasn’t done a lot in the streets lately, but he used to do these really beautiful, intricate, hand-painted paste-ups. And he also did a lot of really random sculptural stuff. He did this one thing under the BQE that was a pile of shopping carts. So I have this big Specter piece on my mantle. That’s like my prized possession. I have a big Faile print that I got from their website. I have the NohJColey, and I have a Quel Beast original. They’re all super-affordable compared to what a lot of people pay for art.

Do your parents collect street art too?

I recently convinced my dad to buy a Swoon. So he’s got a Swoon. It’s huge. It’s ten feet long and seven feet tall. It’s massive. It was in the New York Times, when they did that story on Bushwick Open Studios, and they showed a picture of two girls standing in front of this piece. It’s called “Thalassa.” He bought it at Kesting/Ray. My dad collects Impressionist pieces, all this old stuff. Since I started getting into the street art world he’s slowly been learning some of the names from me, and I’ll tell him every now and then about certain things. Like, “Here’s this Banksy print that he originally sold for $800 and now everybody’s selling it online for $5,000.” And he sees the dollar signs. And he knows that there are certain street artists — the Jeffrey Deitch ones — who are kind of a safe bunch. Swoon’s in that group.

So he was up here recently and we went up to the Upper East Side and he was looking at paintings and I was like, “You know, instead of blowing money on something up here that’s gonna maybe go up $1,000 over the course of ten years, why don’t you take that money and put it to a big, a huge original from somebody who we can kind of afford now and whose price will probably go up a crazy amount.” I’ve been trying to sell him on Keith Haring for a long time. He was trying to buy one of Haring’s subway chalk drawings. And there were certain ones that are kind of in his price range that he found online, but that he wasn’t able to authenticate. All the ones that you can authenticate and that are in galleries are like $400,000 and $500,000. The cheapest ones in galleries are $100,000. So he decided that was too much and I said, “Let’s buy somebody who’s not at that Keith Haring level, and hope that they get there.”

So I convinced him to buy the Swoon, and he’s a member of this museum in Norfolk, where I’m from, the Chrysler Museum. It’s a really good museum. It’s going to be closed for a while for major renovations, so don’t go in the next year, but you should go. He’s recently been put on the board there. Before he even made the purchase I told him it was a great deal on a great piece by a great artist, and that he should get it. And we both emailed his sort of advisers at the Chrysler. And I was thinking they’d be tentative, but the head of contemporary art at the Chrysler studied 1980s street art in New York for her doctorate, so she was totally on board. She put Swoon up in the Brooklyn Museum when she worked there, and came to the Chrysler from there, so she loves Swoon. So she was like, “Yes, get it, this is great.” And now they want to display it at the Chrysler. I think they’re going to display it for three years or something, which is great because otherwise it was going to end up hanging in my dad’s office, which is no fun. And it’s great for a bunch of people to be able to see it. Now my dad trusts my advice. So I’m hoping to move him more in that direction.

Do you have favorite spots in New York that you check regularly for street art?

Well, Bushwick Five Points has become really great. There’s a new something there every day. A lot of really great artists have put stuff up there, and it’s becoming one of the best destinations for street art. A lot of really good work. The Candy Factory in Soho, on Wooster Street right above Canal. That used to be my favorite spot, because there always used to be something cool there. A lot of the popular spots are near galleries or groups of galleries, and people are just trying to be seen — like the Candy Factory is right across from the old Deitch Projects space — and it’s all a little obvious. So I guess I respond more to the spots that are more totally out of the blue, when you know that they’re just doing it for fun; I like that. But Bushwick Five Points is getting so big, it’s taken over so many blocks, and the pieces are huge, they’re taking up whole sides of buildings.

How’s the UCB show going?

It’s been going well. The next one is Friday December 7. It’s at the most twice a month. I’m going into the fifth month. It’s fun. It’s not a dramatic show, it’s more of a storytelling show, I just tell the story.

Have you seen any good shows lately?

I haven’t really been to a lot of shows recently. There was a period when I was going so much. I loved “Discovering Columbus.” I went during the day a couple of months ago, and I went again a couple weekends ago, and it’s so different at night. It’s a really cool installation. At night it seems more like an apartment. During the day it seems kind of more like a tourist attraction. But when you go up there at night the Eighth Avenue traffic coming north and Broadway traffic going up the other side, it feels like you’re in some luxury Central Park West condo or something like that. It’s super cool.

Columbus is standing in the middle and there’s this table, like a coffee table, that’s installed around him. It looks like it was custom made. It covers up a hole in the floor that is a little bit bigger than the statue. So there’s some room around the statue because it sits over, like, 11 subway lines, including the 1 train, which is the oldest line in the city, and so all the subway lines and the wind make the statue sway. Because it’s up like 60 feet on this tiny little pedestal and sways very slightly, so they had to carve out extra room so it could sway, and that table covers up that gap. It looks very purposeful, like a normal coffee table. I love the idea of that. I did Uptown tours and Downtown tours on the double-decker buses for Gray Line, and I always talked about that statue on the tours, so to be able to see it up close is amazing. Once the installation is gone nobody from the general public will ever have the chance to see that statue from that close again. It’s so weird to be able to be that close. It’s not a great statue; it was made so that people could see it from far away, but it’s not super-detailed.

Other than that, the best thing I saw was a few months ago when I went to Marfa. And I think “Prada Marfa” was the most amazing art experience I’ve ever had. It was the longest time I’ve ever spent with a piece of art — we were there for about two hours just parked in front. We got there just as the sun was going down, and we got to watch the sky get darker, and it was full of pinks and purples, and the moon was almost full and huge. And it’s right by train tracks, so these trains would go by with really great graffiti, really good wildstyle stuff — for the Texas desert, I was surprised. And when it got pitch black we turned the headlights on as trains went by so we could see the graffiti on the trains. It was the coolest experience. And “Prada Marfa” lights up at night. That’s the only thing it does, and we got to see that.

So are you going to move to Marfa?

I’m not going to move to Marfa. There’s aren’t a lot of vegan options in Marfa. Once the one place with one vegan item on their menu closes, the only option is fries and a salad from Dairy Queen — without dressing because it’s ranch dressing. I bet there will be some vegan options soon; there were a lot of tourists.

Most of the images you moustached were of women; was that a conscious decision?

No, it wasn’t actually, and I did guys too. There were two articles that came out before I was arrested — one was on NPR and the other was the local CBS channel — and the CBS thing was about how I had it out for women because all of the ads they saw were of women. Clearly they had just gone to one station and just seen the posters at that one station and assumed that. I mustached dudes everywhere. I think it works either way. The whole idea was to subvert the seriousness and the sexiness of the advertisements. I think for most people who liked the mustaches it probably worked better on images of women. When I sell pieces, I’ve put a few pieces of men up for sale, but nobody buys them, nobody wants them. Somebody even said he didn’t want one with an image of a guy because that’s not what the message was, and I said, “Wait a minute, do you want to talk about what the message was?”

Have you ever had a mustache?

I have. I had a beard all throughout college and the first few years of living in New York. For most of the time I’ve been in New York I had a huge beard. I shaved it off a couple years ago and I’ve never gone back. If I could grow a nice, firm, thick mustache I would, maybe, but mine is like a crustache. It comes in like a 12-year-old’s. It’s not very thick, or strong, or coarse. It’s kind of gross. It doesn’t work. You need a thick, dark, Tom Selleck mustache. I grew out my mustache so I could take a picture for my show and say, “This is why I don’t have a mustache in real life.” I grew a mustache for that picture, and while I was growing it out all my friends were like, what are you doing?!” I’d say, “It’s for the show,” and they said, “Don’t! Stop!” I kinda liked it, but I knew that nobody else around me did.

But I really don’t like the mustache meme. I have a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor; I’m not a fan of whimsy, and the mustache meme just strikes me as silly. It’s a joke. But I wonder if that’s part of why the moustache graffiti took off. Probably half the people who put Moustache Man images up on Flickr also own little mustache sticks that they hold to their upper lips and find hilarious. I’m sure it helped.

If you could moustache any artwork from art history, what would it be?

I saw this huge Warhol piece at his Met exhibit that was just a bunch of lips. It would take forever, but that would be my dream piece to moustache. So many upper lips!

The Moustache Man’s next performance at UCB is on December 7. His first solo exhibition at Krause Gallery is scheduled for February 2013. Follow him on Twitter @MoustacheManNYC for updates.

— Benjamin Sutton

(All images courtesy the artist.)