If you have ridden the subway over the past year and paid even an iota of attention to your surroundings, chances are you have seen the word “moustache” on an ad, as it appears in the above photo. Moustaches (or mustaches if you fancy), along with blacked-out teeth and phalluses are some of the most common markings found on subway ads, but there is something that stands out about these. They are big, bold, and written in a distinct cursive.
These ‘staches first appeared on Subway Art Blog in June of last year, and have since become ubiquitous in the city—especially in the subway. After months of following this work and attempting to find out more about it, I finally stumbled upon an enlightening interview conducted by E.A. Hanks. Miss Hanks was kind enough to put me in touch with her friend, the elusive Moustache Man.
Fortunately he was extremely willing and accommodating; we exchanged e-mails, discussed his art and even met up so I could watch him work (he is indeed the real deal). The following is my e-mail interview with the trickster behind the moustaches.
Moustache Man: To raise awareness for the tens of people in the world who are born with the horrible, unsightly condition where your moustache grows into the word moustache. It’s unfortunate, it’s embarrassing, but most importantly, it’s 100% treatable. Remember that, young moustached boys and girls! There is hope!
SAB: Tell me about your first one.
MM: My initial plan was to write “moustache” on some posters and glue fuzzy moustaches on others. I went to some online party site and ordered a bunch of fuzzy moustaches. I stuck a few of them up with super glue, but after a few days most of them had been ripped off, leaving this ugly residue that made everything look worse. The “moustache” posters, on the other hand, were untouched. So I abandoned the fuzzy moustaches and stuck to writing the word.
SAB: Was that your first time doing graffiti of any sort?
MM: I had just started doing stuff above ground about a month earlier. So I was (and still am) very new to “the game.”
SAB: How long ago was that?
MM: That was April last year.
SAB: For a while some of my readers and I had a theory that you were a female, but now I know you actually gave yourself the name Moustache Man. I know you’ve been dubbed with other names by various media outlets. Which is your favorite? Do you want to make one official right now?
MM: I think you’re the one who called me Moustache Madcap—that’s a good one. I like Moustache Bandit, too. Some people just refer to me as “Moustache.” I don’t quite get that one. One guy on twitter gave me the name “NYU Douchebag.” Maybe that one will stick. Officially I’m just Moustache Man.
Moustache Man’s work stands out from impostors. This one didn’t even bother using an O!
SAB: Your markings on subway ads stand out from the usual stuff. What tools do you use? Have you changed them over time? Have you experimented at all in this department?
MM: For most of my moustaches I experiment with the technique of Pointillism (Seurat, Rest in Peace). I use separate dots of a range of colors intended to fuse in the eye as black. If you look closely you’ll see raw sienna, alizarin red, ultra-marine blue, vermilion (a personal favorite), viridian green, and when I’m feeling really wild I’ll throw in a little yellow ochre.
The other moustaches are just made with markers.
Hopefully you’re seeing the Pointillism ones because those are way cooler.
SAB: What is your process like? How many stations do you hit in a week?
MM: It varies. Some weeks I’ll only do a couple of stations, other weeks I’ll do 5 or 10. It’s tough keeping up with the advertisers- there are just so many movies and TV shows always coming out (did you know this, America?). I’ve already ‘stached several of the same celebrities in different projects. Sucks for people getting lots of roles, like poor Kevin James. On the other hand, good for Scott Baio!
SAB: How long does it take you to write one tag? Do you do this at a specific time of day? Do you ever go out and ride the subway for the sole purpose of tagging?
MM: I don’t rush the ‘staches. I want them to look somewhat decent, so they usually take about 6 seconds each, which sounds quick but is actually kind of lengthy when people are looking and trains are pulling into the station. I don’t have a specific time of day. Late night is usually good if there aren’t too many people on the platform, but sometimes rush hour is just as safe when I’ve got lots of people blocking me. I’ve yet to ride the train for the sole purpose of doing moustaches, but every now and then I’ll let a few trains pass so I can finish doing the station, or I’ll get off at stations along my way home and pick up the next train.
SAB: What are the motives behind your moustache movement? Is it purely for fun, laughs and thrills, or are you making a statement too (taking back public space, etc.)?
MM: At it’s simplest level, it’s a quick joke meant to give commuters something to smile about while they’re waiting for the subway, coming off from a long day at work, or getting stabbed on the D train. And that’s certainly how it started. But for me it’s evolved into part of this broader movement of subverting advertisements. Especially in New York, where we’re bombarded with ads everywhere we go, it feels more and more like we’re part of a one-sided conversation. We’re getting these ridiculous images and dumb catchphrases shoved down our throats (“Good Afternoont!”), why shouldn’t we be able to talk back? So many ads are so laughably stupid that a cartoonish moustache just seems to fit. On another level, it’s a return to hand-written form in a technology driven age where we type so much that some of us have actually forgotten how to write cursive.
Also it’s about war or something.
SAB: When you started, did you ever imagine you would be doing quite so many of these tags?
MM: I had no idea it would go on this long. The same joke played out over and over again. I’m like every MADtv sketch.
SAB: Judging by your last interview, you have a pretty good knowledge of street art. Were you a fan before you filled your first upper lip? Who are your favorite street artists/subway artists?
MM: Yeah, I’m a big fan of street art. I fell hard for the scene when I saw Banksy’s Village Pet Shop a few years ago. Nowadays I mostly follow New York artists, since their work is what I’m seeing all the time. I’m a big fan of hand-painted pieces, so I love people like Specter, Quel Beast, QRST. Elle has been killing it lately. Everything she puts up is so weird and wonderful. But I also get a big thrill out of seeing new stuff from people like Judith Supine, Primo, and Shin Shin. Shin Shin, holy shit. I’m amazed at how much she gets up, even through the winter! She epitomizes what I love about street art. Turning boring, ugly walls into something like this.
Moustache Man does not only target women, as CBS would mislead you to believe.
SAB: In the past you have mentioned a bit about encounters with the police. Can you tell me more about how that went down?
MM: One night I guess I was distracted and did a moustache in front of a cop who was at the other end of my platform. He definitely wasn’t there when I started. And I didn’t realize he was on the platform until after I had just finished one. When I looked over and saw him, I realized he had been looking at me when I was drawing the last moustache. And then he started walking towards me. Quickly. And I’ve been in enough non-graffiti related encounters with the police to know from this guy’s body language, his gait, his pace, that he was heading for me (there were barely any other people on the platform, too). And since I knew he wasn’t coming to ask for an autograph, I started speed walking toward the exit (in my mind running would’ve been too obvious but speed walking toward the exit was perfectly normal). As soon as I got around the corner I gunned it out of the station, got in the first unlocked door I could find, and made my way up to the roof of some random building where I chilled out for a while. Was that part necessary? Maybe not. But it made it feel more adventurous.
I knew it wouldn’t be smart to go back to the same station that night, so after a while I went to catch a different train at another station in the neighborhood. Stupidly, I saw un-‘stached posters and I couldn’t resist so I started doing moustaches there. After a few, I noticed a cop on the opposite platform, but I figured the beams between us had blocked his view of me. So I did a few more moustaches, looked for him again and this time couldn’t find him. I turned and looked down my platform and there he was, heading right for me, walking with that same quickness. We were the only two people on the platform, and he even looked like the same cop from the other station (they all look alike, though, right? YA BURNT, COPS), so this time I went back to my speed walking routine, heard him picking up speed behind me, and then just flat out ran. I got outside and kept running and I just got in a cab, which is something I probably should’ve done after fleeing the first station.
And then I got in the cab and sure enough, THE DRIVER WAS THE COP! Just kidding.
The driver was Scott Baio! I was like, “Hey, Scott Baio, I don’t have much cash on me, do you mind if I CHARLES IN CHARGE it to my credit card?” He didn’t get it because it turns out he wasn’t Scott Baio and he didn’t speak English.
MM: On the platform and on the street people are pretty positive. Most laugh, some give suggestions. Recently this guy saw me drawing on Lady Gaga and he was like “You should draw some cum on her tits.” Good advice like that. I’ve only had a few people give disapproving looks or say something negative. I guess it’s about the same love/hate ratio on the internet. Most mentions I come across are positive, while a few people just really hate it. One guy said Duchamp is spinning in his grave because of them. I liked that one. Don’t know who Duchamp is, but it sounds funny. JUST KIDDING. Duchamp is the guy married to Fergie, right? Wait, when did he die!?!
SAB: You mentioned you have done other art projects. Are they of the same genre as the ‘staches? What media do you work with?
MM: I do stencil stuff out on the streets, nothing like the moustaches. Closer to Banksy or Faile, if Banksy or Faile cut really shitty stencils and had lots of drips and overspray.
SAB: How long do you picture yourself doing this?
MM: For fucking ever.
Thanks to Moustache Man for being such a gracious interviewee and a big thanks to E.A. Hanks for getting me in touch with him. Please check out her blog for more on Moustache Man!
Also visit Bitch Cakes’ Musings of an Irate Commuter for some amusing tales about Moustache Man.
Spot a ‘stache in the wild? Send us your photos.