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Street Art Goes High Brow: Faile Teams Up With NYC Ballet

The streets meet high art as FAILE takes over New York City Ballet for an exhibition of monumental proportions.

Under the moniker FAILE, street artists Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller, have been adding their colorful urban interventions to their Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods of Brooklyn for over a decade. In that time, they have also made their way into galleries and museums, celebrated for their original take on collage, appropriation and pop culture imagery.

This year, they’ve announced another, more unexpected avenue to exhibit their work by partnering with the New York City Ballet for their inaugural “Art Series.” Les Ballets De Faile, FAILE's monumental installation for the ballet, opens today and will be on view during two nights of performances this year, and free and open to the public February 10-17. GOOD caught up with the Patricks to find out more and the project, which has consumed them for the last five months, and about being among the few artists—along with Andy Warhol and Keith Haring—who have exhibited with NYCB.

GOOD: Did you ever think when you were starting your art practice you would somehow be involved in ballet?

Patrick McNeil: No. It hadn’t crossed my mind. But that’s not to say that we’ve ever ruled out ballet as a subject matter. Ballet has been a continuing theme through our history.

GOOD: What will we see in the exhibition?

McNeil: There are two floors that we will be presenting work on. One is the ground floor with a suite of about 11 paintings. And on the promenade floor we constructed a 40 foot high, 8 foot by 8 foot “Tower of Faile.” Everything is constructed with wood blocks. They’re these wood type-modular paintings that we’ve been exploring the last two years, and they’ll be shown in the tower and the paintings.

Patrick Miller: A big part of our work is transforming space and looking at ways to maximize the impact of these things. So the tower was an idea that we have thought for a while to do on a large scale. There are not too many spaces that have 40-foot-tall ceilings. For us, that was kind of an 'ah ha' moment. It just felt like it was so deliberate for us to have the ability to do that artwork.

McNeil: The building blocks are essentially the DNA of the entire exhibition. We’re also doing an art take-away for the two performance nights, where each audience member will walk away with a 2 inch by 2 inch wood block that’s been hand painted and printed on all six sides. For us, we were really more interested in making something that was comprehensive and diving in a little deeper—making something that people would really remember. The takeaway really means something. It’s a way [that] people could find a connection between our work and the bits and pieces of the ballet.

GOOD: Do you like the ballet?

McNeil: What’s been great for us about this project is it’s given us certainly a much broader appreciation of the ballet. Before you go, you have your idea of what it is: tutus and pinks, and going out on a date, but you get in there and realize the history behind it and the style of dance. Getting a chance to go see more ballet you realize the broadness of different programs and music. And to have backstage access has been amazing. You see them onstage when you’re in the audience and it’s amazing, but backstage you see them coming off and they’re flat on the floor exhausted. You see how much they put into it; how physically demanding it all is.

Miller: It’s like seeing a professional athlete on a night they’re on fire. You can see a performance where ballerinas are just so spot on, it’s electric and then you see other times that someone takes a little stumble, so it’s not like this perfect thing. As an artist, there’s something really amazing about seeing that level of commitment and pushing.

GOOD: As you’re more and more in galleries and museums, and established spaces like this, do you feel like it’s still important to be making work out on the streets?

Miller: Yeah, it definitely is. In the last five years really it’s been a constant evolution from wheat pasting, to stenciling, to murals, and then larger installations like the prayer wheels. And then also things like the temple and the deluxe flux arcade, where you’re doing things that pop up out of nowhere and take people unexpectedly. You do something enough that [people] completely buy into it. With the temple, people were looking in their guidebooks trying to figure out why this historical monument wasn’t listed. And then they get inside and realize this is not the traditional architecture with gargoyles. All of a sudden they’re completely immersed in our language; you have them captivated for a moment. That’s what’s always been great about street artists—someone can walk by and see an image on the street and just for that tiny moment they can be caught up in it and their guard is down. I think doing larger and ambitious projects is a nice way to evolve the medium and keep pushing it forward.

GOOD: Your studio was based in Williamsburg for a long time, how did you see street art in that area evolve over the last decade?

Miller: There are so many more people that have become active in it, which has been good and bad. I think it got really saturated there for a while, but there are so many young people that have come up and are doing amazing things. It’s been nice, I guess, helping to shape how Williamsburg really became an epicenter for street art. It was fun to be a part of that dialogue and continues to be. It’s also fun to be so globally recognized. But I hate seeing street art get totally trapped in it’s own little cage of being one thing, when there’s so many artists doing work on the street, so it’s nice to see that changing over time and expanding as more people play with it.

GOOD: Knowing what you know now at this point in your career, is there something you would tell people just getting started out?

Miller: I think just getting out there is the important thing. You’ve just got to start, even if it’s something where you start putting work up and exploring that—the important thing is to just go. That’s what street art presented for us. It didn’t need someone to say: you can do this, you can put it in this gallery, or you can be a part of this or that, or you’re good enough. Street art offers that ability to just do and be and have a voice, and I think that’s the most important thing.

GOOD: Yeah, anyone can do it.

McNeil: Yes, but not everyone can do it great. (laughs)


Images courtesy of FAILE

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