Every winter I have the privilege of making a pilgrimage to norcal where this spot lays in the cut. The homie Pride sharpens up his scissor-style letters while I grind through a grey-scale study. I’m digging the pink pixels that drift off of his piece like a de-frag file. The vato is studying video-game design in Silicon Valley, and the hours upon hours of relentless gaming are beginning to imprint his artistic vision…
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!
Every year I return to my hometown of Gloucester, MA to re-paint a wall in the cut downtown. It’s tucked-in behind Prince Insurance on Washington St., visible from the west end of Middle St. looking left as you approach the Joan of Arc statue. In this year’s production I chose to make a statement about the unprecedented wealth-gap in twenty-first century America. My piece flosses on the left in royal-purple robes protected by a green force-field of flying cash-money and coin. The affluence of Boston’s suburbs is reflected in its style, stature, and vibrant color accented by a crisp, clean white outline. My name is beset by a stark orphan-girl in a greasy collar and greyscale, the mono-chromatic scheme of her bust broken only by the brilliance of her green eyes.
The windfall of green-backs that flies from my letters gives way to dingy news-print and beggars’ placards–this orphaned child’s currency. It’s rarely discussed, in our scenic little fishing town, that the homeless population has increased in Massachusetts by 40% since 2007, even as the national average was in decline. This in part due to the fact that the cost of living here in Mass is among the highest in the country; the cost of housing continues to increase now that the market has come back, and there is no relief in sight… Fifteen percent (over half a million) of our children here in the Bay state live in poverty; of the over seventeen-thousand homeless people here, thirty-eight percent are children.
I mean to draw some attention to these issues with my art; I was hopeful after seeing the social progress in health-care that was pioneered here in Mass become a national standard in recent years, that we might meet our impoverished with compassion and begin to reconcile the fleeced and downtrodden working class with the bloated one-percenters who have usurped their livelihood. Bernie Sanders was good enough to bring the plight of the working poor to the forefront of our national discussion before he was eliminated from the 2017 presidential race. However, a few days after I completed this mural, the nation chose a born-billionaire with the moral compass of a wolverine as its new emperor. He has not yet been sworn-in, but has already surrounded himself with a cabinet of other billionaires who will begin to dismantle our vital social programs (that protect the poor from the insatiable predation of corporate interest) so that tax-rates for the wealthiest handful of Americans (his friends) can be driven even lower. One can only expect that the rift between haves and have-nots will widen, and the numbers of our homeless and impoverished will inch further toward some kind of tipping-point.
Photos by Katherine Richmond of http://www.katherinerichmondphotography.com
“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
First things first: I’m so very grateful to have been well-received and taken care of by my Californian friends and business associates. Santa Cruz County is a kind and peaceful place; in the mild indian summer here I have found the space and opportunity to express my creative vision. The focal point of my vision currently is the rendering of large-scale portraiture in low-pressure aerosol paint using greyscale and monochromatic palates. Knowing that most of you will likely experience these pieces on small monitor (or even smartphone-sized) screens, I have tried to express the scale of the work by standing-in some of these frames. However, the experience of sharing a room with portraiture of this scale is quite different from remote digital viewing. In person, one can approach the wall and enjoy each microcosmic moment of the piece: the texture of smoothly diffused colors, the multi-shaded iris of an eye, the recklessness of floor-length drips… Afterward, one can step back again to watch all of these moments combine into something greater than the sum of its parts.
One of my favorite markets to work with is the bar and nightclub industry. Recently, I’d been seeking the proper venue to bring my greyscale illustrations into a nightclub setting. The opportunity arose when my good friend Dr. Pride introduced me to Bobby Card of Capitola. This March, Bobby opened an exclusive speakeasy on Coral St. in Santa Cruz. A follow-up to his former after-hours joint “Shades of Green”, this club is dubbed “The Greenhouse Studio”. It features large-scale pieces by veteran Santa Cruz muralists Taylor Reinhold, Casey Landaker, and myself. Bobby’s vision for the Greenhouse Studio is a retro-prohibition-era art club that blends modern EDM and Burlesque with 1920’s Jazz music and Flapper-Girl/Pinstriped-Gangster fashion themes. My contribution to the ambiance covers a 10’x30′ space behind the marble-topped bar, depicting three seductive elements of cabaret culture in the form of three playing-card Queens.
The first subject of this mural is the right-most section, the Queen of Diamonds. She was painted from rough to finish in six hours in a single evening. I don’t employ grids or projections in my work; I study a photographic reference and enlarge the image with my mind. This Queen came into focus most easily of the three– bearing a dead-on perspective and a high-contrast composition, she represents the vice of vain material wealth. She clutches at thick strands of pearls around her neck and sports a Diamond engagement ring on her left hand– a symbol of a love affair with the age itself. She was a pleasure to paint; her expression is of youthful affection and naiveté; of the exuberant sweetness that directly preceded the Great Depression. The silk that covers the left hand and the feathers of the headdress are my favorite moments in this portrait, as well as the balance in the arch of her glossed lips.
My second effort, the Queen of Spades, was painted the very next morning in a comparable amount of time. She is the centerpiece– most treacherous of the set, under a suit that represents alternative and extreme lifestyles in popular culture (think Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”). She is ominously seductive, sipping at the illicit poison of the era from an embossed cocktail glass. The glass itself is the most difficult technical detail of the entire mural– painted in translucent Magic-White with Shock-White highlights. Capturing the shape of a transparent object with a spray-can was an entertaining challenge made possible by a cool hand and Montana gasket-technology. The Queen of spades looks like a gal that you might want to reconsider crossing, a whiskey baron’s daughter or some such; sizing you up with a glance as she drains her glass. “If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man. You win some, lose some; it’s all the same to me.”
The third and final piece of this installation is the Queen of Hearts. She was painted after two days’ rest in three sessions, which is to say she gave me the most trouble. A lit cigarette rests in her gloved hand and flapper-girl-style beads dangle from her brow and ear– these were the most challenging details of her outfit. The Queen of second-highest suit represents the oldest profession’s presence in the room: the vice of sexuality as it is seen accompanying other vices. She leans into the mural from a dark, smokey corner of the room, her glassy eyes catching flashbulb bursts. The rounded curve of her right shoulder traverses the corner of the room, streaked by gloss-red drips that reach the concrete floor. Her expression is gentle yet savvy; she might be the concierge of the room as she introduces the viewer to the other two Queens. “Some say Diamonds mean money for this art, but that’s not the shape of my heart.”
“The Greenhouse Studio” of Santa Cruz opened with an all-night Prohibition Party on March 26th, 2016 to a classy, pin-stripe-and-feather-clad crowd. The evening featured the live, anachronistic musical stylings of Post Street Rhythm Peddlers– a local outfit that integrates sultry female lead vocals and blazing brass solos with a solid side-show backing band. Second set belonged to Dark Rose Cabaret– a sexy collision between conventional stripping and political performance art. They gave Bobby a run for his money with a lapdance onstage… DJ Little John headlined the bill, spinning beats deep into the a.m. Meanwhile, the newly re-finished steel-and-marble bar was tended all night by a couple of local Flapper-girls in Red, accenting the lips of the three Queens relaxing behind them. Bobby Card now proudly owns the showcase piece of my 2016 winter residency in Santa Cruz, California, which as I write this has come to a close. If you’re in the area, I encourage you to pay him a visit at 360 Coral St. to see this piece in person. Next week I’ll be traveling to Portland, OR, and then back to Massachusetts for the Spring season. I’m currently booking projects for the Spring/Summer; please refer to the contact link at the top of the page if you too are interested owning a custom mural for your home or business. Cheers,
copyright 2016 skribblefish.com
How do we reconcile the duality of our own awareness? What kinds of psychological gymnastics are required to balance the waking life against the dreaming one? How can we convince internal enemies to break bread together within ourselves?: The yearning for stability vs. the thrill of spontaneity, the drive to create vs. the need to consume, the longing for connection vs. the sense of self-preservation, etc… I’ve been re-weighing these balances while focusing on greyscale portraiture here in Santa Cruz, California.
There are two ways to paint these pieces: from light to dark, or from dark to light. The former fades into existence, advancing from a blinding blank background like a piece of photo-paper dropped into the toner. The latter flickers forward from an endlessly receding void, like a familiar face pronouncing itself as it’s met by candlelight in a dark room. This latest freckle-featured addition to my Greyscale Girls series is painted from dark to light–negative values transforming to positive ones–a pixie-faced beauty beaming from beneath the Bougainvillea.
This collaborative piece resides in Soquel (pronounced “so-KEL”), a serene village to the east of Santa Cruz that remains a cradle of California surf and skate culture. When my partner and I strolled into the spot, our client was stripping old plywood from a backyard bowl to make way for a straight-up homemade half-pipe. Construction is due to be completed by June; the finished atmosphere will showcase both local skateboarding talent and the cutting edge of spray-can culture.
Dr. Pride rides shotgun in this speedy afternoon production, painted in under four hours circa Valentines Day, 2016. The fellow who commissioned this piece is raising a teenage son who dabbles in tagging (the purely signature-oriented side of graffiti); he was stoked to have some pros roll through and show the kid what’s possible. Make no mistake, spray-can art is the largest folk-art movement in modern history; it’s global, and it’s limits as a medium have not yet been touched, even as a new generation comes up on the block.
Two years is too long to be without Californian comfort. I’ve just returned to sunny Santa Cruz County a mere hop and skip ahead of Nor-eastern snowfall. After a couple days of shaking off the jet-lag with Peruvian coffee, farm-stand kiwis, and tamales de pollo, I headed over to the West side to christen a private music studio with ancient rites of hieroglyphic glamour. An extensive selection of prescription-strength Montana paint (Spanish and German) is available over-the-counter at Palace Art on Pacific Ave. in downtown Surf City (they even carry the “Mystic” [German] transparent colors that I’m so fond of.) After selecting a seamless greyscale, I met up with hometown homegrown-scientist Dr. Pride at the spot on Mission St. My subject for the evening was a breathless blonde black-and-white photograph; languishing in her good looks; lips gently parted in subconscious suggestion of speech or sex–a duo-chromatic composition that combines graduated shading with fluid gesture. She’s painted in the “Sin City” style of selective embellishment –Montana Whiteline “Hot Lips” Gloss-finish Red is the only color that compliments the frame. This piece was painted in haste in a single evening on white-primed interior cinder-block. Dr. P-Ride adjusts the adjacent wall with a classy California Thrash Kids chaos-piece that boasts six color-schemes in a single bound. The kind and good doctor has a piecing style so technical that it requires full schematics and an undergrad in urban engineering to decipher. Meanwhile, the prevailing theme in my life, and my art currently, is simplification: painting in a loose, open-ended style that feels like a sketchbook-page spread-out on the bricks, or getting on a cross-country flight with a backpack and a skateboard; just a couple of things left to say and a cool hand to spray them with.
The last sweet breath of Summer breeze brought my friend Tiger on a Delta Red-eye from L.A. Tiger is a mad-laboratory-scientist-turned-graffiti-extraterrestrial from another dimension not unlike our own. Transformed by experimental artworks, he emerged a symbiotic creature of his own creation. This is evidenced by a meticulously clean style that thinly masks the seething tentacles of a Martian beast unknown to our world. Homeboy even brought an auger with him from the lab so that he could tunnel into the subterranean wreckage beneath our city and colonize the place. Tiger is a colorful Casanova, and one of his demands was that I provide leashed female beauty to escort him around the planet. He was satisfied to floss beside the Girl with the Silver Chain, a ghetto visage of spunk sprayed to life by the legendary Pyse117. The West-Coast Wildstyle letters were achieved exclusively with MTN 94, the only flavor of pigment that the Tiger finds palatable, while Pyse’s choice poison is a mixture of Molotow transparent paints spiked by silver Flame Acrylic. In this strange story of reverse-species submission, one could say the Tiger has tamed the Girl.
PYSE drops a portrait of the late, great Elliott Smith in Lexington, KY.