Artist Interviews 2021

Charmene Rina Khadivi (Rawraffe)  
By Julia Annabel Siedenburg

Charmene Rina Khadivi (Rawraffe) is a NYC-based street artist, muralist and creative director. She is a beautiful woman as well as an extremely talented artist. Her quotes are strong, on point and talk to the heart and soul. Her words not only cover walls though. They also decorate some really cool clothing articles and accessories, which can be bought in her shop bangbangco. When I found out about her art (and her international roots) I knew I had to hear her story. And now here we are!

Your beautiful statement art is a mix between quotes, drawings and your own thoughts/sayings, correct? What is your process?

I have a loooong list of quotes I write down as they come to me or I’m inspired by in a notebook with post-it notes or in notes app on my phone. My apartment has post-it notes everywhere! Most of my quotes come from advice I give to friends or get from friends and I’ll think - oooh, lemme wrote that down. Whenever I’m feeling creative, I’ll scroll through to pick something that resonates with me in that moment and I’ll draw it out. I usually draw it in a tiny sketchbook and then I'll take a pic, pull it onto my laptop, rasterize it - and scale it up to 100x it's size to print for a larger piece

What materials do you use?

Lately, I use rolls of butcher paper or very thin printer paper and acrylic paint for my Wheatpaste work. I also paint on canvases and sometimes use vellum for a layered effect.

What is one of your most loved and special pieces you did and why?

My favorite piece right now is Home (a place to stay, a place to go). Back in February of 2020, my boyfriend was on a 3 month trip out west and that quote came to him in a dream. I drew it up the same day he told me and a month later, as we all found out, those words took on a much deeper meaning. It’s my most poignant quarantine piece. I also worked on a large commissioned piece the first few months of the lockdown in NYC and that helped me tremendously. Just having something to paint and make progress on was a great motivator on those scarier days and nights.

Tell as a bit about your background? How did you get where you are today? How did you find your way to street art?

I’m Iranian and Italian and both of my parents were/are very interesting, intense, and creative people. I grew up constantly encouraged to draw and to make things. Some of my earliest memories are painting or crafting with my mom at the kitchen table. Fast forward to college and I initially wanted to study psychology with the intention to work with children. I took an art history class my freshman year and something struck me while studying Pollock and other impressionist artists - that art could be anything and that anyone could be an artist. I decided to switch my major and wanted to transfer to an art school. Unfortunately, my father didn’t want me to pursue a creative path to the tune of whatever college tuition would’ve been and in my stubbornness, I opted to join the US Army as a way to pay for school. A year after basic and specialized training - I finally landed in NYC, and studied graphic design at St. John’s University. I got into advertising and marketing but stayed very busy creating work for myself and for friends. About 10 years ago, I left my job and moved across the country in hopes of becoming a full time artist. Didn’t quite work out as I hoped and when I couldn’t find my footing in the gallery scene, I opted to turn the streets into my canvas. That’s how I began wheatpasting. The connections I’ve made with people is never know otherwise has been absolutely worth the risk (as most of the street art I do isn’t quite legal).

Which are some of the artist that have always inspired you or that you recently discovered that motivate you?

My favorite artist is Espo (Stephen Powers). He’s a very prolific artist whose work leans heavily on lettering and I first came across his work on the side of a building in Philadelphia, where he is from originally. The first time I met him was at an even at the Brooklyn Museum when he had a collection on display there. I literally cried! (My friend took photos - see below hahah) He has a shop in Brooklyn where he sells prints and originals and before the pandemic, he’d host a print giveaway every other month or so. I tried to go to as many of those as possible and met a lot of great people at those events. His career arch is inspiring and his work is so consistent and witty and fun.

Being a female street artist is still not as common as male artists. And the competition is big in NYC. What are some of the difficulties you run into and what where some of the obstacles you had to overcome?

Ooof! Lots of rules I had to learn along the way. When I first started, I’d paste up on any wall and didn’t realize that I was offending graff writers in the process. I had friends in that scene warn me to be careful. One night, I took a fellow Brooklyn artist, someone I met through Instagram, out to paste for her first time. As we were putting up a piece in Greenpoint, a guy came up to us yelling an told us to gtfo of Brooklyn. I tried to talk to him calmly, but he wasn’t having it. He threatened us with violence, but ultimately he left after grabbing my art and tearing it up. (See pics below of that piece and that night) After that, I started to try to find out as much as I could about the graffiti scene and what to do and not to do. Now I try to paste up only on blank walls, but that has its challenges as well.

You also print your art on shirts, jackets and other things. When did you start doing this and will you be expanding it further?

Yes! I launched Bang Bang Company back in 2012 and I’m always on the lookout for new ways to create. It started with upcycled antique/vintage paintings and mid century globes and I moved onto personalizing and customizing vintage denim jackets with quotes and flourishes a few years later. This past fall, I designed my first bandana and started screenprinting clothing I’d hand dyed using a process involving lots of ice and powder pigments. Recently, I’ve added hand painted cowboy boots and wallets to the mix. It’s important to me to keep learning how to work with new mediums and not to limit myself to paper or canvas. I am very into making clothes and adding flowers and embroidery to dresses. Next up - I want to start working on wedding dresses. I have an insane collection of vintage dresses that I have grown over the past decade.

What does the future hold for you? What is next?

I hope to eventually move into making more commissioned murals and will continue wheatpasting as well. This past year has thrown me, and I think all of us, for a loop and instead of having rigid plans for the future, I’m just getting comfortable going with the flow. As long as I’m painting and growing and learning, I’ll be happy

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