Yeah, It's Personal: A Six-Pack with Winston Tseng
I first became aware of Winston Tseng’s work through graphics he created for enjoi skateboards. I watched (via social media) his practice shift from commercial work to personal—he began designing and installing large posters in public spaces throughout NYC. Curious about this deviation in practice, I hit him up for a quick six-pack of questions and answers to see what spurred the change and what led him into the streets.
Michael Sieben: How long have you been interested in street art? Installing work in public spaces is obviously much different than making art in the comfort of your own home.
Winston Tseng: I started putting up posters a few years ago, but didn’t really think of them as street art or ever imagine they’d be seen that way. Before that, I had a general interest in it—I think just because it’s such a big part of visual culture today and since there's a lot of overlap and similarities with skate art. As far as installing them in public, the main motivation is just wanting to create tangible work. I still do everything on the computer so I can obsessively undo/redo, but it’s not finished until it’s printed and posted. Plus, the act of putting them up in public is pretty fun.
Have you ever been hassled by the cops or concerned citizens while installing your posters?
No cops, luckily, but I do get confronted by random people. Usually it’s because the person doesn’t see the parody and takes the poster at face value, like it’s pro-opioids or pro-police or something. Most of the time, though, I’ve found New Yorkers don’t notice or don’t really care what I’m doing.
Has your work always addressed political or societal concerns or was there a particular impetus for this shift?
I’ve always been most interested in conveying ideas around societal concerns, and ideally politics would just be a small part that falls under that umbrella. Of course, ever since 2016, it’s felt like every societal concern is tied to a political one and, as a whole, we’ve become much more politically engaged, so I hope my work is a natural reflection of that. Another reason is just that I’ve shifted to doing less commercial work and more personal work. Making these posters has been a really nice outlet for ideas and messages that aren’t exactly pleasant or going to help brands sell their products.
Some of these posters are for sure kicking the MAGA/GOP hornet’s nest. Have you been harassed online because of your artwork?
Yeah, definitely—pretty regularly at this point. I get random threats on social media about every month or so. From what I can tell it mostly stems from the "Keep NYC Trash Free" posters I did a couple years ago, which got quite a reaction from the MAGA folks. They doxxed me and started harassing any company or organization they thought I was connected to. I ended up having to take down a lot of information I had online and deleting accounts or making them private. I guess they succeeded in their goal, so, mission accomplished, MAGA.
What’s the craziest comment or DM you’ve received because of your work?
Crazy in a good way was when Jerry Saltz shared one of my posters and called it “great art.” Unfortunately, he got a lot of backlash and ended up apologizing and basically retracting his statement, but I’ll still take it. Crazy in a bad way was when I was being doxxed, I received an anonymous email from a “Trump supporter” that said my home address and other info was all over some alt-right chat forums. The person didn’t say what was being discussed, but said they didn’t agree with it and wanted to be helpful so I could take down that info. It was a nice gesture in an otherwise crazy experience.
What do you hope to achieve with your artwork? Is there a goal?
It has always been to reflect what’s happening, especially societal concerns and ugly truths. I’m not necessarily trying to change anyone’s mind, and I realize I’m not proposing solutions either. Whether it’s a literal depiction or conveying a popular sentiment, the goal is to capture the times we’re in, and hopefully there’s some lasting value in that.
This article was originally published in our Spring 2021 Quarterly edition