Working class, one man army of artistry: Peter Grzymkowski of GRZNYC mirrors New York City’s motto of “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” with his nonstop work ethic – meticulously piecing together his own distinct brand of bad-ass. Lex Pistols takes WTP through a behind the scenes tour, and a Q&A with Peter, the Art Director of his own “Working Class Artist” Brand GRZNYC.
GRZNYC is more than a brand, it is a campaign. Its a work ethic . . . a state of mind. Its a 24hr way of life for 26yr old Peter Grzymkowski, who’s last name in his Polish ancestry translates into “Thunder-Bearer.”
“Bags like these under your eyes are earned my friend,” says the young visionary as he takes off a rockin’ pair of Keith Richards style aviator shades, to reveal the proof of a ’round the clock lifestyle.
Usually, when you think of a “’round the clock lifestyle,” you might picture Hollywood Rock Stars partying day and night. That’s true, and yet its false. In New York, having a “’round the clock lifestyle” is the only way you’ll ever get anything done, and much of it is raw struggle for what you love. Pursuing a dream in this city while still covering your bills, is almost like being on tour all year round. Its not just for Rock Stars anymore. This is easily the most demanding city on planet Earth, and we salute anyone who tirelessly build their skyscraper here.
I observe Peter multi-task as Iron Maiden, Guns n’ Roses, and STP in the background set the tone for a Rock n’ Roll photo-shoot with Southern pin-up darling, Alabama Deer.
Peter’s sleepless lifestyle is a testament of the dedication that goes into spinning the wheels of a machine that is your own personal vehicle on the path to success. He does everything short of the photography itself, and the make-up styling. He scouts the models (even instructs their poses based on themed research), hires the make-up artists, finds photography studios, rents any extra equipment, plus wardrobe and props as needed: all for the final result you see below.
He conducts an orchestra of creative expression inside the photography studio of a Williamsburg waterfront hi-rise, so towering, that it almost condescends New York’s East River from where we stand. Growing up in New York city shapes you into something that sets you apart from anyone else from everywhere else in the world. You learn to adapt to the environments, mirror them, covet them, and project them back into the universe as a visual chronology of an urban timeline unlike any other. You’ll begin to eat different, see different, talk different, and even walk different from being here; this will display itself in anything created in NYC. The self-taught, self-financed, self-motivated musician, artist, and every day nine to five’er is a physical embodiment of the idea that anything can be done in New York if you want it that bad, and you believe its in you.
I managed to snap some photos of some “behind-the-scenes” action, and sat down after his photo-shoot to get into his head a bit. Check out the Q&A chat below:
Lex: How long has “GRZNYC” been alive, and how did it start? I naturally believed GRZ is some kind of abbreviation of your last name, but explain that if you’d like.
Peter: I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a little kid. My dad, a Polish immigrant, worked as a freelance textile designer in the heart of the fashion district 31 years. He used to take me to work with him sometimes, where I would sit and doodle among the other graphic designers while he worked – to this day, I’m convinced that’s where my drawing abilities came from. As I got older I started experimenting with various concepts and mediums, including guitar, plus accessory and apparel design. Looking back now I can confidently say that the day my first t-shirt designs arrived, was the day GRZNYC was born. Coincidentally, my last name in Polish happens to mean “Thunder-Bearer, or “Thunder-Bringer.”
Lex: That’s legendary! I always had this idea that I would legally change my name every three years to something awesome, like Lord Black-Sword Overlordian or some shit . . . something sinister – or something casually cool, like Johnny Fuck-Off or something. . . . The last name DEFINITELY has to be something that implied “I RADIATE AWESOME 24hrs A DAY,” like yourself, for example. Names are everything. I mean, look at the band Motorhead for instance, or METALLICA. I mean, with names like that, you really can’t sound like Justin Gerber [Beiber]. You really have to stand behind those names, and you brother, also bring the thunder in your own way just like Lemmy and Hetfield do.
Peter: Its totally a true story, (laughs) and I don’t use it enough!
Lex: Its good to be humble though. You speak through your work. It has as much volume as the music that sets the tone. Speaking of which, How much does music inspire your art direction? Does it at all? I mean, during the photo-shoot I was ecstatic to hear all of my favorite records by complete coincidence. It totally made me forget I had only 1 hour of sleep myself the night before.
Peter: Music is an unending source of inspiration for me, so of course it has a lot to do with the process. It keeps me inspired.
Lex: I agree, and it also keeps you AWAKE in the city that never sleeps! Many people move to New York with trust fund money, and try to pass themselves off as artists, but they don’t have the true passion for it and dedication, and yet still expect the recognition. I recognize your “round the clock” hours and “accept no substitute” attitude. I’m part of that lifestyle myself. How would you personally describe GRZNYC as a definition of the “working class artist?”
Peter: GRZNYC is very much a ‘working class’ artists brand. Some of the most honest artwork ever executed comes from the working class. For some people art is luxury; a collectors hobby. For the rest of us, it’s our life. Becoming an artist was never a conscious decision for me. I was born with a gift, one my parents and I have been nurturing since I was a baby and as far as I’m concerned that’s my calling in this life. Its the only consistent source of joy I have and its been there for me through thick and thin. GRZNYC was initially just an outlet for my creative ideas, but it slowly started evolving into its own brand professionally. I designed some custom GRZ guitars, incorporating elements of collage and splash painting, and eventually got around to photographing them in a studio with one of my favorite photographers, William Hill. All my collage work is also done by hand, unlike a lot of modern collages which are done digitally.
Lex: I concur.. . . Art definitely keeps me from becoming either a serial killer, or some sort of criminal mastermind . . . which I probably would have been – like Frank Abignale or something, or the guy from SAW. Only Kidding. . .Maybe. Staring at girls also does a good job in keeping me tranquil, happy and peaceful. With that said, your “New American Pinup” concept features some real napalm bombshell babes! That one girl Alabama Deer, WOW! For a rather petite girl, that girl had more curves than a Stingray Corvette! The camera captured her flawlessly! You nailed that photo concept. Explain the concept of the “New American Pinup” in your own words if you’d like, and the direction you’re looking to go with that.
Also, How are those guitars done? It looks like the text / graphic collage is UNDER a clear coat of some sort, and then screwed back onto the guitar. Can you explain that?
Peter: The collage images, when applied onto the guitar, are coated with polycrilic. Pretty handy tool, actually. I’d invest in some if I were you. The “New American Pin-Up” concept . . . Well, I loved the way our photos came out, [of the guitars, with William Hill] so I started planning more shoots revolving around the pin-up style. My collection as of right now is fairly modest, but I plan to keep this an open-ended series. So far I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with alt models Jesse Lee Denning [shown below], Serena Magnetta and Alabama Deer [2nd photo below].
Lex: Please do keep it VERY open ended, like MANY more in the future! I took some photographs myself, and viewing through my own lens, I feel the ideas are kick ass, brother. I love the direction, the execution, and the mood of the setting. Up and down the scale, you really hit all the notes. Again, I saw a lot go down that people don’t get to see: photo studio set up, makeup, wardrobe etc. I’d like to have them see how much of it is your vision and responsibility, so kindly explain your particular contribution exactly to the process.
Peter: I steer the production of each project from beginning to end, meticulously overseeing every element until its exactly where I want it (casting, wardrobe, make up, lighting etc). Once I find a model, a photographer, and a MUA [make-up artist], I spend time researching wardrobe, poses, and lighting. After a few meetings with the photographer, we’re able to put together a solid shot-list for the day of the shoot – this helps keep things organized and on schedule while we’re in the studio.
While on set, it’s my responsibility to keep the model comfortable while we get the shots we need. The human body has an uncanny way of betraying emotion, so if your model is nervous it will show in the photos. In a studio setting, especially if you’re working with a new model, laughter is the most versatile tool.
Lex: Yeah dude, I see that. It explains why I usually leave all of the model business to my partner Rik. I know myself, and I’d probably unleash a fury of Project Runway on the models, something like: “OK we need MORE batting of the lashes!!! Those legs ARE NOT crossed perfectly over one another!!! MORE FEROCITY!”. . . and so on (laughs). Where do you find those picture perfect character models anyway? How do you go about the selection – the girl has to fit the particular theme, right?
Peter: I’m pretty active in terms of social media so I find a lot of my models online, either on Model Mayhem or Facebook. I like working with ‘big picture’ people; people who dream big and have the skills and determination to make things happen. We live in a celebrity culture that values fame and status over hard work and patience, and I refuse to cater to that mentality. Humble yourself, stay confident and produce the best product you can – fame and wealth will follow.
Lex: Bravo dude, BRAVO. Well said. That goes back to what I mentioned earlier about the “poser” artists who don’t want to dedicate, and still expect the recognition.
Ah . . . social media . . . I still haven’t gotten a firm grasp of that culture yet. My partner Rik says its the most useful free resource available to us for artist and models. Damn . . . I really need to get with the times then . . . I’m still in the caveman world of general in-person stalking, and occasional kidnapping. Only kidding . . . about the kidnapping . . . kinda (laughs subtly). We kidnapped the lead singer of Filter once. Well, not really kidnapped, I just plucked him out of his merchandise booth and made him hang with us ’cause we love Filter and we think that dude [Richard Patrick] is awesome. He still has my favourite leather wristband. That was a strange night, I probably traumatized him with my odd behaviour. (Sorry Richard, we love you though for sure!!!)
Speaking of celebrities, in what capacity (if any) would you like to work with a famous girl, model, or musician that would compliment a particular concept?
Peter: There’s a couple different models I’m looking forward to shooting with, the lovely Leah Jung being next on my list. Oddly enough I’m more drawn to tattoos than I am piercings, so I tend to be kind of picky with who I choose to shoot. Finding ‘attainable beauty’ is my number one priority though. We’re bombarded with pencil thin, airbrushed bodies everywhere we look, and I prefer glorifying something more realistic – something beautiful yet attainable.
Lex: Bro, you SERIOUSLY have THE best taste in all the girls you pick. I can’t wait to see what’s next. It was great to see the professionalism in your art direction . . . done like a real BOSS!
The diversity in the photo shoot styles are very consistent with the diversity in your own life, from what I see.
You mentioned earlier, on set, that you’re self taught, and your “professional” background has nothing to do with art. What has it been like then, on the road to where you are now, as far as your “working class” grind?
Peter: I’ve done everything man – I’ve bussed tables on Queens Blvd, worked in factories in Woodside, done construction in Ridgewood… I was never very fond of academia, or authority figures in general, but even in grammar school I was making money after class, writing English papers for cash. I didn’t really get an allowance, so I made money my own way.
Looking back now, even at an early age I understood that if you want something you have to go out and earn it – and to this day, my work ethic has been serving me well.
Lex: All so familiar . . . Authority figures. . . . (laughing) All my life I’ve heard people try and give me direction, for advice I’ve never asked, in shit they’ve never experienced themselves . . . (laughs) . . . Trips me out to hear a story that I can totally relate to. You’re one of us man, for sure.
What about the framed drawings for sale on your website, how is that done? Is that illustrator and photoshop?
Peter: My drawings are all done by hand, colored by hand, and then edited in Photoshop. I can’t afford Illustrator, (laughs).
Walk The Plank is honored to have been present to document part of the creative process of the GRZNYC catalogue. Thanks Peter, and we hope to see more work from you in the future.
In addition to his artwork, and 9-5 side gigs, Peter is also involved in various musical projects, separate from GRZNYC. Check up on his Facebook, and his website GRZNYC.com for more updates.
Photography on site for this interview provided by Bart Stadnicki.
Behind the scenes photo documentation provided by Lex Pistols.