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Citizen X, "Failure in an Option" (2012),  Los Angeles  


On a sultry day in NYC I sat down with the founder of CITIZEN X art group, Terrence Sanders, at Café Reggio to discuss his opinions and views on the street artist WRDSMTH. Mr. Sanders has recently made public his accusations that WRDSMTH has not been entirely truthful regarding his street art campaign. But are the works that go under the WRDSMTH moniker inspired sentiments, or are they acts of theft? I sat down with Sanders to get his take on the matter. 

Clayton Campbell: You’ve been known for your work as Citizen X for many years. When did it first come to your attention that there was an artist calling himself WRDSMTH?

Terrence Sanders: I received a text from a colleague in Miami asking me if WRDSMTH is a member of CITIZEN X. I responded "no," and then Googled his name. WTF! I was sickened that this so-called "artist," a/k/a poseur, had stolen our entire street campaign, process and practice!

CC: Well, what happened? You were creating your work out in the open using the street as your canvas, so to speak, and Citizen X had already been written about and published. When did WRDSMTH begin showing his work?

TS: CITIZEN X launched in LA in 2011-2012 with happenings, street performances, murals, mailers, stencils, t-shirts, and video projections in complete anonymity. WRDSMTH surfaced about a year or 2 later in 2013-2014. Unlike WRDSMTH we never placed our name or Instagram address on any of our work. We let the work speak for itself.

After a very meaningful campaign in 2013, we decided to take a 2-3 year hiatus to concentrate on our personal art careers. In that 2-to-3-year span this amoral con artist/former advertising copy editor decided he would reinvent himself stealing our concept and sweat equity without our permission!

CC: So you are convinced he stole your ideas and the ideas of other artists? Is this a case of Exit Through the Giftshop again, in your mind? A wannabe artist marketing themselves on the backs of what others artists have been doing?

TS: WRDSMTH is not an artist, he's an imitation! He's an ad man who made a career out of gimmicks: one-liners with no substance, struggle and or conviction. A dumbed downed, watered-down version of the "real" men and women who are the true visionaries, like Banksy, JR, Jenny Holzer, Keith Haring, Guerrilla Girls, Barbara Kruger, Swoon, Cost & Revs, Basquiat, and Shepard Fairey to name a few.

WRDSMTH, "If You Fear Failure You're Already Considering It An Option" (2014), Los Angeles 

CC: You mention, though, a number of artists who have had very successful careers  in fact are art stars with gallery representation, and who have made significant money. In your case, you've been pretty underground. So your intention as Citizen X was more of a social intervention, and not for market recognition. Do you feel he has prostituted what you were doing in some fashion by literally capitalizing on it? What would you say to WRDSMTH if he were standing here?

TS: "How dare you disrespect our collective contributions to society and the art community with your unethical charade."  WRDSMTH was under the impression that street art has no rules and that he could borrow and steal whatever he wanted with no consequences! This is the farthest misconception from the truth.

I grew up on the Lower East Side of NYC in the 80's and witnessed first hand the birth of graffiti, break dancing and hip-hop; but there was an invisible line you didn't cross. You never stole from another artist. Period. What that artist created was his copyright, his genius. If you did steal, you were ridiculed by the community — not to mention you and your work were no longer safe.

CC: Have you ever met this guy? I personally don’t know him and haven’t followed his work. I assume it’s a man, right?

TS: Yes, I believe he’s a man-child. I contacted the infamous WRDSMTH via facebook informing him that he has been found out, that we know he purposely and intentionally stole our work. And what does he have to say in his defense? To date, no response from the coward; but what did I expect from someone who is playing make believe artist. To make matters even more infuriating, he's picking up mainstream traction and taking credit for our movement! Gallerists, bloggers and journalists do your JOB and dig deeper...go beneath the surface and the obvious. If you're not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

CC: So what do you want to have happen? You are telling everyone he’s a fraud, but you aren’t the first person to do street art. His work does look a hell of a lot like yours and a few others, and his wording is awfully simililar. Do you want an apology, or recognition that your work is the authentic source, and his is plagiarized?

TS: You've been warned to cease and desist! You are a fame junkie only in it for the celebrity. Your cliché sentiments, selfies, posturing, merchandising, adding a typewriter to disguise your thievery and, above all, thinking you're clever and above reproach will be your means to an end. WRDSMTH crossed the line!

The artist's job is to redefine the medium. If he or she can do that, then they have made a valid contribution to the landscape of contemporary art. WRDSMTH should give up being a "street artist" and start writing Hallmark cards in my opinion. It would be a better fit and he’ll make more money.

CC: Thank you my friend. I'll see you back in LA.

TS: No thank you for listening and allowing me to vent. I’m not naïve. I know artists steal; but not from me. I’m not a good victim. WRDSMITH makes me ashamed to be an artist. WM

Clayton Campbell

Co-Executive Director of the 18th Street Arts Center, 1995-2010. Among many accomplishments during his tenure he created the international artist in residence program and public programming, organizing over 400 Artist Residency projects, commissioned 50 exhibitions by artists of all disciplines, organized an extensive speakers and public events program; worked with numerous artists and small arts organizations by assisting them with grants funding and strategic planning to accomplish ambitious arts programming and research; stressed diversity of practice and community with the guest curator program he established for the Center; achieved notable success receiving grants and private support for 18th Street.

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