With roots in the Miami street art scene, artist David Ben-David’s Sprayground line launched as nothing more than a blank canvas—an easily-customizable backpack for the artistically-inclined to decorate. When well-known street artists started showing off what they’d done with their backpacks, David collaborated with them, selling printed-on versions to an ever-increasing client base. Today, Sprayground offers ten different designs (with more on the way)—including their ever-popular “Hello, My Name Is” design, and it seems like there’s only up to go from here.
First question—not really an interview question, but what kind of name is David Ben-David?
That’s my real name! My parents were hippies. [laughs] Seriously though, my father is from Israel and my mom is from New York.
What does Sprayground stand for, and how do your bags differ from everything else available on the market?
Our bags are unique because of their conceptual designs, a quality that we’ve been consistently keeping up with as you can see. To give you an idea, I wanted to do what Skullcandy did with the headphone industry, transforming something seemingly uninteresting visually into a conceptually compelling object. Why not create a bag that can match your shoes and shirt?
Why don’t you tell me about your personal background in the street art scene?
I grew up skating and surfing in Miami. I always used to doodle, you know, just like every young kid. When I first started to design, it was on the back of skateboards.
What was your art like?
Good question. I was always inspired by street art, and while I did a bit of graffiti I like to call myself a street designer. As a teenager, I used to design some of my friends’ boards until eventually I learned how to shape my own boards. And that’s how, I got into product design…I went to SVA where I majored in graphic & product design. I preferred the later, where I got to create wacky 3D stuff. [laughs]
Come on, give me some examples!
I created life-size chairs made of sponges and tables made of paper towels… I also turned a guitar into a toilet seat and created a surfboard that comes apart so you can travel. Once, our assignment was to render an item useless. For mine I took a skateboard, took out the wood deck and made it into a rubber.
Back to Sprayground. What inspired you to create this project?
I was initially very interested in mixing the worlds of design, skating, and graffiti — this helped me come up with the concept of selling a white bag with markers and marketing it to graffiti artists. The project did very well, and then some buyers suggested that we duplicate the bag. We did this at a time where customization was in, and brands like Threadless were big. Which led me to the “Hello My Name Is…” bags, which are very popular in the street art world. But also, just anyone is buying it because it has to do with a concept anybody can relate to: identity. I think that the main game-changer we introduced were this graffiti utility bag called the GUB, which stands for Graffiti Utility Backpack. The first one held eight graffiti cans that are covered by a faux fur lining. Recently, I came up with the ballistic, extra, going-to-war one [that can hold sixteen cans].
Have you found celebrity customers?
Meres, who runs Five Points, the graffiti mecca of New York City is a big supporter, as well as [popular graffiti artist] Sue, who is known for his 3D art. COPE—He actually designed one of our bags and is a frequent customer.
Isn’t it awesome to imagine all of those people running around with your GUB?
It’s true! Let me tell you, graffiti artists usually carry a duffel or shopping bag for their cans; some guys just throw it in a shopping bag—so this has your own custom-cushion velour slot to hold your can and keep it warm when you’re doing your non-illegal things.
Not at all.
No, we don’t promote illegal graffiti.
No, not at all! It’s for house painters on the go.
[laughs] Yeah, it’s for transport—just transportation.
Do you think that movies like Exit Through the Gift Shop and the glorification of certain graffiti artists have helped the industry?
Street art is “in” now, which definitely helps things. But graffiti is a very niche-y product, and not everyone will buy a bag with crazy graffiti on it. Unfortunately, there is a negative connotation associated with graffiti, and my goal is to show it in a clean, cool way, as with the “Hello My Name Is” and the upcoming “Junk Mail” designs. It’s kind of like, you know, John Lennon. He wore, like, a New York City shirt. Now people wear a picture of John Lennon. So it’s kind of like, I want those cool people to wear this.
This is a perfect lead to my next question: what is your own personal moral take on graffiti?
It’s a great concept! It is obviously wrong to do it on someone’s property, but I do like the graffiti artists that represent something more than just a name. To give you an example, this lady back in the day used to tag up with a safety pin on the glass and metal of subways: “Pray.” She was actually putting out a message, whereas it’s a vanity project for lots of people. It’s a really cool mechanism that they use to create, just a spray can.
Tell me about Sprayground’s new collection.
The first collection was very graffiti-oriented. We had an old-school bag which is in the Spring collection, and the new project is the Subway bag. The backpack actually looks like a train. I’m seeing a lot of great press and growth on my new designs, especially with the Ninja bag, the Money bag, and the “Sorry We’re Closed” and “Come in We’re Open” bag.
What can our readers do to contribute to your success?
Swap your black bags for a colorful one that will match your wardrobe!