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From Reddit Comments to IRL Conversation: Halsi meets a Redditor

In late 2021, a post in the Orlando subreddit asked, “What does this symbol represent?” and featured a picture of local artist Halsi’s ‘Everyone’ figure. An interesting discourse unfolded in the comments: some commentors knew who Halsi was and linked his Instagram, a few simply mentioned that they’d also seen the work around the city, one user said it was a penguin, another said they represented "chonky airplane people."

Other redditors were more critical of Halsi’s art and offered their (brief) thoughts, which, of course, were academically objective.

“Seems fairly lame”, wrote one user. Another said, "I get unreasonably annoyed when I see these." A second user responded to the lame comment, writing: “Agreed. I accept that I'm not an ‘art guy’ already, and this isn't gonna change my mind.”

Since the internet probably isn’t the ideal place to get someone’s thoughts, we reached out to a few Redditors for a friendly and non-antagonistic face-to-face interview. One of them, TheOneTrueChuck (the one who claimed he wasn’t an ‘art guy’) agreed to a sit-down conversational interview with Halsi. We met TheOneTrueChuck, and his wife, at Lazy Moon near downtown Orlando and talked about art, mass reproduction, scammers, and meaning.

The point of the interview wasn’t to confront a critical redditor or try to change anyone’s mind—instead it was an attempt at reaching a mutual understanding. The interview was functionally a conversation, and conversations are about recognizing what someone else is saying (and in that process, revealing themselves).

Halsi meeting with TheOneTrueChuck was an exercise in connection between flesh-and-blood people that only knew each other through a screen as faceless internet pixels.

Q: To start, what do both of you think art is? What distinguishes art from something like a McDonald’s logo?

Chuck: Well, I think you could argue that both of them are. Look at the art deco movement: Mad Men was basically an entire show about people making art to sell you crap. In fact, I have a friend who's got a master’s degree in art that is in charge of marketing. I already know what would happen if I said she didn’t make art—she would get mad. They're both art. I think there’s probably a functionality issue. Like for McDonald's, the whole point is they want you to spend money. Whereas you know like in [Halsi’s] case you're saying, “Hey, I'm putting this out and I want to see what people think of it.” They're both art, but advertising has more of a monetary focus.

Halsi: I agree. They are an organization that is trying to sell as much product as they can, and that's the goal of starting a business. But for me it's more personal. I'm just creating something. I'm trying to put my own craftsmanship and I'm trying to add value to something that didn't have value before and at the same time, have people question certain things. I have a message with certain parts of my art that I'm trying to convey—so I definitely see the difference. I see the similarity as well. My art looks like a logo. It looks like it might be a brand, or it’s trying to promote something other than myself, so I see both sides.

Q: (TheOneTrueChuck’s wife): Sorry if I could just jump in. What about in cases where artists want to jump the shark? Like Thomas Kinkade, he has an entire line of puzzles and tote bags and all that. The idea and the purity of the art that was there in the beginning has been so commercialized. Does that take away something from the purity or the idea in your opinion, Halsi?

H: Yeah, I guess it takes away the individuality of it and the exclusivity of it. It becomes something that is more of a brand. Maybe that's a part of its lifespan though. Maybe it starts as something like this and develops and then it ends with being a brand and being less individual and more where you're just trying to monetize. When you're putting it on so many things it gets out of your control. At that point it becomes more about how many people can you sell this to compared to what the quality is.

Q (TheOneTrueChuck’s wife): How important is exclusivity?

H: I’m at this point where I want to make individual paintings. The symbol all around is just to promote my painting. Selling individual paintings, one of one paintings. Eventually, I could see it becoming more of a brand where I'm selling T shirts, I don't know about puzzles. And I definitely want it to be a positive message. And I want to retain control over that message. I don't want it to be in Walmart. Nowadays there's Andy Warhol mugs and there's Andy Warhol tees. And it's basically either the artist’s family or their management have the rights of their items and they're continuing to sell them after their death and capitalize on it. I don't like the idea of that.

Q: You mentioned art as an investment or a way to deliberately evade taxation. How do you both feel about art as a transactive kind of investment like that?

C: I don't like the scammy side of it because, for example, I collect baseball cards and sports memorabilia and the thing that really drives me nuts is there are plenty of people that don't like sports who are buying the cards as an investment. They're driving up the cost and people don't care about it being a valuable card, they want the card because it's their favorite player when they were a kid. Or it's not a graphic card and they want it because it means something personal to them or has some sentimental value. And the problem is they can't get it, or they can't get it affordably because a handful of people are like, “Oh, this is we're going to pump the value up on this.” And it's all just to improve their portfolios and eventually causes overproduction in other areas, which crashes the market entirely. And then everyone is screwed because now no one's buying the cards. Now the companies are making less and going out of business.

H: They're hoarding something that they don't care about. It’s just money to them. There's no other value.

C: Exactly. If you want to invest, there are stocks for that. There are plenty of things where they are made to be bought and sold as a commodity. I kind of feel like if you're gonna own art, you should at least like it. Not as a solid investment. When I worked at an antique shop, I actually sold a Picasso. One of the random sketches he did back in the day. Some of the stuff he was doing when he was getting really old where he would just like Doodle. Yeah, we had one of our shop. I don't know why.

Q: You are talking about the investors that are just exploiting art as a transaction while being dismissive of the aesthetic value of the art or the idea. Instead of that, what do you want someone to get from what you do, Halsi? What you want someone to derive from it?

H: I don't know. I don't want to force people to have to get something specific from it. I want all the aspects of it. I want the hate and the love because that's reality. That's real life.

Q (From TheOneTrueChuck): How would you feel, in a weird hypothetical universe, where suddenly the proud boys adopted your figure and it’s the new Pepe the Frog or some other figure of hate? How would you react to that?

H: I would definitely go on whatever platform I have and voice my opinion and denounce it. There's the opposite as well—where some cause that I actually support uses it. Adopting it as a symbol of freedom or a symbol of equality. I would appreciate that if it happened the other way. It's like raising a kid. And then your kid turns out to be like a serial killer. You did everything right but somewhere down the line something went wrong.

C: I've done some amateur writing a little bit, you know. And I've had people take some, not insane interpretations, but people have read into things that I've had characters saying in the books and I’ve had to go: “No, no, no, back it down you're reading into something that isn't there.” At some point you would end up having to do that if people really decided to misinterpret it on a grand scale.

Q: You write fiction, TheOneTrueChuck? Have you published work?

C: This is the part I don't tell my wives’ mom about: I have written erotic fiction. I’ve been commissioned to do custom stuff and I've even published some stuff. Nothing for any significant amount of money or anything. I've also done free stuff that's out there.

Q: That's cool. Did you have fun writing the personalized erotica?

C: There was a line for me. People were willing to pay a lot when you go niche and make it more custom for them. There were times when I'm like, “man I need a beer after this.” Like this is dirty. But generally speaking, yes, I had fun. I enjoy writing. That's my creative outlet, writing. There have been points though where it gets really dirty and you go: “the customer is always right, and they prepaid”.

I would like to write more; I just haven't really come up with the like the idea to get a full novel out. I go through periods of writer's block. There was a point years ago I was mixing electronic music and because I got over-critical on myself, I deleted an entire album. I’m my own worst critic. Even if someone is paying me, I’m still putting a piece of myself into it.

Q (From Halsi): So—you are an ‘art guy’, TheOneTrueChuck?

C: Yeah, I am, I just don't necessarily get [street art]. I mean, I don't understand where the difference lies between when you’re doing something on the side of the building and people calling it amazing and me doing something on the side of a building and being told that is it graffiti and having to pay $200 to clean it up or going to jail.

Q: What did you think when you first like saw the ‘Everyone’ icon, TheOneTrueChuck? Did it resemble something to you or make you think about anything?

C: I mean, it was obviously a dude. But that's basically all. I was just trying to figure out what the point of it was. I did a little basic research after you contacted me. I don't see your stuff and say, “That's the point, he is trying to say this.” But that’s the way I am with a lot of street art, except for like Banksy. So, in the comment it wasn’t me showing any contempt or being dismissive of it. It was just, I didn't get it.

Q: What does ‘Everyone’ represent to you, Halsi?

H: I do sometimes put my concept out to people, but I like the idea of it being a discussion with different point of views. But to me personally it's about doing away with judgment. It’s a human figure, you see that it's a human, so that's where you start. You treat somebody as a human. You don't know what gender or race or economic status. You don't know anything about them except that they're a human. You start from there. I don't know if you've seen my other art but there are more details on the inside. That's the important stuff when you get to know somebody. All the important stuff that you figure out about somebody is on the inside. And a lot of pain is stuff on the outside as well, but it never changes the form. That's more environmental. It’s about treating everybody with respect. If they have bad stuff then all the bad stuff comes up on the inside and then you can judge them for that instead of judging them for something that they don't necessarily have control over.

Editor’s Note: This Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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