Craig Costello’s name isn’t on the cover of his Rizzoli book, but his defining marks are all there. First, there’s the name of his ink-centric company, Krink, stamped at the top, which he founded using a portmanteau of his graffiti tag — “KR” — and ink, his tool of choice. And in the center, a mailbox covered in silver paint drips, which has become a signature of both his art and brand.
“There’s a blurred line between Craig Costello and Krink. Krink is a company,” says Costello from his home. “It’s like graffiti, right? The name is what’s forward, I’m a little more in the background.”
His Brooklyn studio — where they produce the ink that fills many Krink products — is currently closed, and shipping for the online shop is halted. One project that’s been able to proceed mostly as planned is his book, “Krink: Graffiti, Art and Invention,” out April 7.
The book paints a complete picture of Krink’s origin story. Costello, born in Queens, started tagging as a teenager in New York City; he innovated his own style of ink and applicators in the Nineties for the purpose of writing on various surfaces in the streets of San Francisco, where he went to school for photography. Back in New York, Krink was shaped into a brand in the late Nineties/early Aughts with the encouragement of Lower East Side boutique Alife, the first to sell his products. Krink ink has been embraced by artists — from graffiti taggers during its pre-marketed days to Shantell Martin and Tom Sachs, who each penned an ode to the tools for the book — and commercially as an aspirational item to have, no matter the usage, through slick marketing and affiliation with streetwear brands.
Costello is most comfortable behind the scenes, and his editor helped parse all the photos and documents. “I’m more hidden, and [the book’s editor, Tony] was like, ‘I want to see you, I want to see pictures of you, and I want to see who you are as a person,'” says Costello.
The book is filled with photographs documenting his early days as a graffiti writer, young iterations of his proprietary ink and written contributions from friends from different stages of Krink. There are short written pieces from Rob Cristofaro of Alife, who recognized Krink’s brand potential; agnès b., an early supporter and collaborator, and artist Barry McGee, who Costello wrote graffiti with in San Francisco. There’s also a long-form interview with Ryan McGinness, who visited Costello’s studio while he was working on the book. The pair started talking about the composition of interviews — what factors make them interesting, or not — and a few weeks later Costello proposed that McGinness interview him for the book. Like many beats of his career, he credits the organic nature of the decision.
“Ryan and I met at Alife,” says Costello, describing the interview as a “full circle” moment. “He was new to New York, I’d just moved back, Krink was just beginning. And we’ve known each other ever since.”
Unlike the ephemeral quality of graffiti, physical printed books have lasting power. Because of that, Costello is able to tell a cohesive narrative of his journey, from getting arrested for tagging in the street to refining his own ink and modes of application, to mainstream company collaborating with large businesses. “A book contains all the information around an image or story,” he says.
Such as an arrest report. “‘Found with a marker. Fresh paint on a mailbox,'” recalls Costello of his cited crimes. Back in the late Eighties and early Nineties, he was arrested for reasons that he’s now celebrated. For many artists who started in the street and went on to collaborate with large global brands, the youthful arrests in the name of creativity are easier to laugh off and forgive. But what if that success had never come? What if those arrests had deterred them? Drips on mailboxes were once reason for arrest, now they’re shown as art sculptures and sold in miniature form as collectible Kidrobot figurines.
Eventually, he began to move away from his tag “KR” and use his defining aesthetic — long, silver drips of ink — to serve as his letterless signature. “There were people who, as the audience expanded, were interested in that because it wasn’t graffiti — or they didn’t read it as graffiti,” he says.
While Krink started as a tool for graffiti, it’s since grown into a global brand with prominent collaborations. On the Krink product side, they’ve made markers with brands including Marc Jacobs’ Bookmarc, Saint Laurent, agnès b., Moncler, Colette, and Nike; they’ve also lent the brand’s signature drips to a Coach tote bag, Absolut bottle, Nike’s Air Force 1 sneaker, Levi’s denim, Mr. Moncler figurines, and a plate for Colette and Sant Ambroeus. One of their earliest brand collaborations was a one-of-a-kind hand-painted Mini Cooper S, commissioned by the British brand.
Many of the products he’s done have built-in enthusiasm: Air Force 1 artist collaborations are always accompanied by hype, as are the limited-edition MediCom bear toys. While lending Krink to various products has increased the company’s visibility, it’s also lent an air of coolness to otherwise benign objects — laptop cases aren’t usually cause for excitement. The appeal for the brand is broad, and Costello notes he’s enjoyed learning how to work with new product mediums, whether it’s ski goggles or a Modernica chair. But there’s a limit to how much newness the brand can introduce.
“The problem that can be difficult is people want what they know, they don’t want the new,” he says.
Designating between Krink the brand and Craig Costello the artist has helped guide his decisions around collaborations. He’s been able to push the envelope more as Craig Costello, although his fine art work shares a similar drippy DNA as Krink. In the past year he’s made wall works for the flagship agnès b. boutique in Tokyo, and site-specific work for Lazinc gallery in London, known for its work with artists like JR, Banksy and Invader. Costello’s most recent solo exhibition, of black-and-white abstract canvases, was shown at Eighteen Gallery in Copenhagen earlier this year.
“It’s definitely not for everyone — even for myself. Sometimes I feel a little edgy about it,” he says of recent works, describing them as “super raw and gestural.” “From some people I’ve gotten a great reaction,” he adds. “But there are a whole bunch of other people who don’t know what to think. They’re like, what about the Krink Mini? And you’re just like, that was 15 years ago. Not everyone wants to keep making the same thing over and over again.”
Krink’s story — and by virtue, Costello’s — is inspirational, aspirational and accessible. You can buy into the brand vibe for less than $10, the cost of a paint marker. But who knows where that one marker could take you?
“I come from roots that I was doing something that was basically illegal,” says Costello, pointing out the similarly dicey early days of skateboarding and snowboarding, before they were accepted by the mainstream and marketed to become big business.
“I mean, they used to not allow snowboarders on certain mountains, skateboarders they chased away all the time,” he adds. “Look where we are with fashion now, and where some people come from: somebody who’s just out there making their own way, I’m super into that. We need that.”
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