AHDM4U is a peaceful nation, but we will admit there are currents in the world of professional street art we find … less than inspirational. An art form too often geared around splashing one’s artistic trope on ever-bigger and bigger walls in whatever neighborhood possible, there are moments when street art’s goal of communicating a message to the world around us fades and sputters into self importance. People are going to see this on their walk to the grocery store, you know? Nice to have some relevance.
But then there’s Gaia. We first met Gaia when he was a young pup living in a completely wacky warehouse full of young artists called the Annex. I mean, he’s still doing exactly that, nominally — but also spending vast amounts of time on the road, landing in places as disparate as Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Rome to create his layered murals that explore the history of their surroundings through Gaia’s research and interviews with current residents.
He is the street artist scholar and even though he’s already famous he’s our Baltimore Emerging Artist Issue representative. We’re stoked to present him to AHDM4U. Here’s our interview:
AHDM4U :: We first got to know your work when you were doing portraits of the old white guys responsible for “neighborhood change” in current economically depressed areas. The amount of research you put into making your walls site-specific is really amazing. What kind of works have you been up to recently?
GAIA :: Throughout the year I have collaborated with members of the Hmong community in Sheboygan to inform a couple of walls I produced for the Kohler Arts Center, focused on the shifting economies in northeastern cities such as Cleveland and Rochester for Arts Collinwood and Wall Therapy respectively, conducted similar explorations into the changing industrial landscape of Montreal and the conversion of manufacturing spaces into loft living and the boom of the construction industry while also tapping into Quebecois nationalism in a different part of town, and investigated post-colonial imagery in Johannesburg and Capetown to name a couple of projects.
I believe that as street art replaces community art within so many cities, it is up to participating artists to generate their subject matter from the site in which they are asked to work, rather than perpetuating their personal “style”. Sensitivity to the parallel narratives that have defined an environment whilst not groveling to the separatism of identity politics is of utmost importance in a street art scene suffused with “cool” stuff.
AHDM4U :: You travel the world doing murals. Can you talk about the events that bring you to Rome, South Africa, Miami, etc? Who pays for these things to go up?
G :: Street art and mural conferences put on throughout the world are organized by a wide range of different individuals and organizations, whether they be small productions pulled together on shoestring budgets or wealthy developers. And the motives behind such occasions are just as wide-ranging. I have personally painted pieces for an occupied squat and then painted a massive wall under the guise of a reinvestment project the next week. Ultimately the point is that murals produced by street artists beyond the rubric of community art tend to bring a lot of attention. This can either entail revising a neighborhood for some future investment, reimagining a space beyond a market function, or simply bringing something strange and different.
AHDM4U :: Who are your favorite artists who do street art right now?
G :: I appreciate artists who try to balance the realm of the spiritual and economic reality through beautiful form. Those who tap into the depths of art history in order to bring a new and exciting breath into the practice of painting, especially to tell narratives written from below. Those who are able to exceed the realm of “fresh” and cartoon; where you can tell something is at stake. Swoon, El Decertor, LNY, ZBIOK, Escif and Nanook do this for me.
AHDM4U :: Your favorite artists who don’t do street art?
AHDM4U :: Name some fave books you’ve read in 2013.
G :: I only read parts of books, and mostly just read parts of essays, studies, and random wikipedia entries that are pertinent to my research… or not.
10 Canonical Buildings, Peter Eisenman
Mating, Norman Rush
The Great U Turn, Edward Goldsmith
Pivotal Decade, Judith Stein
Decolonizing Methodologies, Linda Smith
AHDM4U :: Where are you RIGHT NOW
G :: In Detroit working on a big commission organized by Library Street Collective for a Dan Gilbert parking lot.