Word got around on Water St. in Santa Cruz that my pal P-Ride and I were skulking down at Hot Rod Alley, painting burners behind Montgomery’s Barber Shop, and haunting Ramona’s chairs for a fresh cut. Sooner or Later hometown tattoo-sensation Ally Lee took notice of the new pieces, probably as she was pulling her chopped, high-gloss-black ’66 Chevelle into the shared parking-lot between the barber shop and her studio. Ally expressed some interest in a large-scale mural on the side of her shop to replace the dated piece of art that had languished there for years, its colors fading out in the strong afternoon sunshine that bakes and cracks the stucco finish.
Ramona, the owner of Montgomery’s, arranged a meeting of the minds at the barber-shop, where she pulled-up fashionably late in her lowered ’55 Cherry-red Chevy. Ally and Pride weren’t far behind; the four of us retired to the shop to discuss concept and timeline. Ramona and Ally have a shared love for Bay Area classic-car culture and a shared respect for graffiti-writers. We decided that a mural in the space should incorporate the heritage and iconography of hot-rods with the kinetic energy and vibrancy of calligraphic letters. Spray-painted depictions of the pair’s vintage rides would be represented on the sprawling wall that lines the alley…
When it came time to crush, my man went left and I went right. Pride arcs the letters of “Montgomery’s” artfully over the wall’s only window. His piece skillfully drops hooked-serifs at each end, and boasts a smooth, cosmic fill-in of soft-blue synapses and orange hexagonal honey-combs. This floater seems to stand upon its serifs, balancing in a galaxy of bright-green mist and clustered orbs. Homie keeps his three-dee like he keeps his haircut, combed-back to the center and slick as motor-oil.
I was stoked to paint the name-banner of the shop for InkMaster Ally Lee, who became nationally recognized on Spike TV’s reality-series about tattooists (season 3). A practitioner of photo-realism and a style-master in her own rite, Ally creates vivid, painterly tattoos. Check out her awesome work on Instagram @hotrodalleytattoo All things told, I put over forty hours into this monstrous, four hundred square-foot mural and, as per usual, I picked the hottest weeks of the year to paint it! The entire mural was painted freehand from photographic reference with low-pressure aerosol paint–no stencils, no projectors, no tricks, no worries. The chrome of Ramona’s Chevy was among my favorite details to paint, the reflection of the horizon stripes its center in black, while Belton’s transparent paints were applied as a top-coat to achieve highlights, shadows, and the reflection of a cloudless blue California sky. Similarly, the word “Alley” is set in a “Silverchrome” base-coat and then tweaked by transparent layers that lend a lacquered-shine to the already burnished under-painting.
The summer of 2018 marks my sixteenth year of painting in public. I love hearing comments from the peanut-gallery during the process, stopping to chat with passerby, and catching sideways smirks on the faces of women as they saunter to yoga-class next door. During the final day of painting, photographer Tarmo Hannula of Watsonville’s paper, the Register-Pajaronian (register-pajaronian.com), stopped by and took a couple of great shots while we talked about being east-coast expatriates in northern California. The culture of gratitude and patronage of the arts is strong is Santa Cruz; I was encouraged by all the folks who stopped to say “Thank you” while I was painting, and I owe a debt of gratitude to “Dennis”, the dude who shook all my cans for me while I was sweating bullets on a ladder in the midday heat; thanks buddy.
Copyright Skribblefish.com 2018
The central coast of California is one of the most dramatically beautiful places I’ve ever been. The majestic, often purple-tinged Santa Cruz mountains drop off in cliffsides and ravines to the mighty Pacific. I took a moment of respite and reverie from painting this Spring, so that I could focus again on photography and capturing some of the pastel-painted vistas that take the sky over Westcliff nearly every night. A small series of twilight coastal silhouettes came into focus over the course of six weeks. I presented them in amber tones that brought the natural reds and oranges to the forefront of the color-composition, and then hemmed them in with heavy vignette. I spent some time memorizing my favorite of the series, I thought it’d make a killer fill-in to celebrate summer solstice.
My new friend Ramona runs a great shop over at 1047 Water St. in Santa Cruz. Every time I go over there, the waiting-chairs are all occupied and there are folks killing time in the sunshine by the door, waiting for a cut. The interior of the shop has a unique style, with checkered-linoleum floors and taxidermized deer-heads adorning the walls. The whole place has a classic fifties vibe, from the pearl-handle straight-razors to the hotrods parked out back. The exterior wall deserved a Cadillac-smooth flow coupled with an endless-summer air-brush style of the kind you see on custom rides. This piece was painted freehand in six hours with low-pressure matte-finish aerosols, except for the gloss dark-red Rusto that came in handy when I had some gasket-issues in the Cali heat– no stencils, no tape, no tricks, no projector, no worries!
This December I had the pleasure of meeting south-London’s own Tim Haigh, a restaurateur and chef operating in the Salem area, north of Boston, Massachusetts. Tim and his partner Larry Leibowitz were busy cooking up a hot new urban aesthetic for their second venture in downtown Salem. “Bambolina” Pizzeria is Haigh’s first effort in the area, a popular spot inspired by brick-oven-fired counterparts in BK, NYC. His new project, “Kokeshi” is a Bronx to Bambolina’s Brooklyn–a harder post-industrial edge featuring brushed-steel structures and chrome-burner graffiti-letters.
In early December, Tim and I discussed his vision for Kokeshi’s entryway on the Central St. side–a set of transparent glass exterior doors opening into a long corridor with a host’s station at the end. We settled on a matching set of silver-chrome-and-deep-blue pieces, playfully incorporating the Ramen-noodle dishes that will be Kokeshi’s fare. The color pallet in question is inspired by classic Japanese combinations of bright red, black, yellow, and deep-green. The shimmering texture of Belton’s “Chrome-Effects” paint is beset by a Matte-black background that gives way to a Gloss-blue midnight-sky-scape, splattered stars, and full-moon hanging from the fourteen-foot ceiling.
Come Christmas time, Tim and Larry were developing the dining-area of Kokeshi. They were looking for a showpiece to display upon a massive interior wall that rises up to the dining-room’s eighteen-foot industrial-finish ceilings. The pair had initially envisioned a male Samurai covered in traditional Japanese tattoos for this space, but when I began researching references for their concept, I came upon a photograph of a beautiful woman holding a Katana blade behind her back and wearing a flowing black-and-floral kimono. We all agreed that she would be an elegantly-stated centerpiece for the dining-room and so I set about rendering her in free-hand low-pressure aerosol paint. Although I’m in the habit of using spray-paint exclusively, I employed mixed-media for this piece, using a stiff one-inch sash-brush and flat white paint to achieve the white flower-petals of the kimono and to cut-back against the pink cherry-blossoms…
The cherry-blossom tree was achieved primarily with free-hand Belton Premium “Deep-Black” and “Mad-C Psycho Pink”. I tried to execute this part of the mural in a minimalist style, showing gesture-of-hand in the line-work with very little cut-back or post-facto modification. Semi-transparent paints are employed in the shadow-effect beneath the blossoms and in some of the shading in the woman’s figure. Silver-chrome aerosol paint was applied free-hand to achieve the blade of the Katana; the red Japanese letters and the detail in the sword’s hilt were painted with a half-inch flat-tipped brush. Ninety percent of the time, the painting process was beset by the calculated chaos of pipe-cutting saws, plasma cutters, and HVAC teams running pipes overhead. I strapped-on a set of headphones and a respirator, struggling to keep a steady hand amid a staccato of screaming saw-blades and passing clouds of steel-vapor.
Kokeshi’s ambiance integrates larger-than-life mural work with the custom steel-fabrication of North Shore native metal-worker Scott Lanes who first caught my eye while parking his 1968 Plymouth Satellite outside the restaurant. The car has a bowling-trophy figurine welded-on as a hood-ornament; the man envisioned grand free-standing brushed-steel-and-grating structures that include a cooking station inside a corrugated storage-container. The result is a truly unique dining environment that offers its patrons a transporting experience in the heart of downtown Salem. Kokeshi opens this week (3/7/17) at 41 Lafayette St. If you’d like to learn more about Kokeshi or read an additional interview with yours truly, please check out Creative Salem’s new write-up by Joey Phoenix here:
…Or take a look at this beautifully photographed feature by Rachel Blumenthal in Boston’s chapter of national dining authority Eater:
Regretfully, I can’t be there for the grand opening but I’ll be stopping in for a bowl of delicious big-bowl Ramen when I return from California this May to take on a new season of mural painting on the North Shore! Cheers!