Hey kids… so I kind of wrote a lot yesterday, eh? And this here post is even longer, twice as long in fact. My dear friend who knows of these things says the average blog post should be 250 words… no more, no less. This interview clocks in at more than 5 times that! So I’m going to take a bit of a breather… take the weekend off, give you folks a chance to catch up. Plus I’m going to see bluegrass! Have a great weekend and I’ll see ya’ll next week…
P.S. – all photos (except last) courtesy of Mark Bode
First Mark, let me thank you for bringing your artwork to West Oakland! When we met briefly a few weeks ago while you were working on the Nymphs mural. I hope it’s ok that I call it this… does it have a real name?
I refer to it as the Forest Fairy mural. It was inspired by my friends who are amazing artists from Brazil who call themselves Os Gêmeos, which means “The Twins” in Portuguese. They are simply amazing artists and they visited me recently for the first time.
You mentioned that you had been part of a similar mural project in the mission district of San Francisco. Can you talk a bit about that?
I was a part of The Lilac Street Project between 24th and 25th and Mission. It’s an alley way behind Mission street where the tagging and activities there had become seedy and out of control. So a group of artists and a very savvy couple by the names of Randolph Bose and Lisa Brewer spearheaded the transformation with mural work. And it worked like a charm.
As the artists completed the murals, more and more tourists came through to photograph them, transforming the alley into a tourist attraction which actively stopped the tagging and caused the seedy activity to move elsewhere. Amazing! The owners of the property were very happy for their decision and it was a positive thing for the neighborhood. Overall there were around a dozen local and international artists that contributed to the cause. The artists were taken care of with grant money from the efforts of Randolph and Lisa.
Did your experience with the Mission project influence you in wanting to do something in West Oakland? Why West Oakland?
Of course! I went to The Arts School at Peralta High School on Peralta Street around 1977. Now one of my art school teachers Kathryn Porter owns property in the area, and at a recent high school reunion at that location I told Kathryn I would love to do some mural work in the spot where my friends and I first started doing art. And she agreed.
More times than not people TALK, but don’t do the WALK. I followed up and did the walk, maybe partially because of my teacher and partially because I met my life long friends there and felt I owed something to the neighborhood. Thus the Peralta Street Project was born… we will see if the city of Oakland agrees.
What I love about these murals is their juxtaposition to the immediate neighborhood that can, at times, feel very bleak. There are boarded up houses nearby, industrial warehouses, the nearby recycling plant that draws many disadvantaged locals pushing their shopping carts full of bottles and cans. It can be a little depresssing. But these murals are beautiful, and very serene I think. The asian woman with her hair and the ribbons behind her flowing in the wind, and the nymphs with their delicate wings, bathing in the mystical pools. Can you talk about why you chose these images specifically?
I only know that I have images that make me feel a certain way that I want to paint. I don’t have a political agenda and I don’t want to preach to the people who live in the area. Just positive imagery. And what I want to paint is my motivation, I have infinite images I want to paint… I’m not sure what spurs it. I want to keep going but I can’t fund the work on inspiration alone as I have a living to make and must move on…
Are the characters from some of your comics?
No , this is from another place. Comics are tedious and small. Sometimes I have an urge to go big with imagery and use my whole body to convey an image I might have. I must go big before I am too old to do so.
And what does the lettering behind the asian woman say?
It’s Japanese… it says DREAM and LOVE. Maybe not in that order, but it doesn’t matter. Alot of street artists make their pieces hard to decipher and it becomes a code between individuals.. I feel if we start utilizing each other’s languages in the same pieces it may be that we can relate and communicate to each other through that other language, much like music and how it is a universal code.
I asked another muralist about the distinction between graffiti “art” and a lot of the tags I see that don’t seem to require any real skill. Do you see this distinction?
Tagging can be a form of urban art or a territorial thing… in most cases it is an eye sore and is much need of a face lift. If I tag for instance I always put an image with my tag, maybe a beautiful woman or a character that says this is who I am, and I made this spot interesting. Not all will agree. I think taggers should use their flow in a positive way and show they can beautify and not destruct or destroy public property, even if it’s mundane and sterile at times.
In fact, I noticed you had to come back and clean up a couple of these tags on one of your murals. Is it difficult to see your work altered? Or is that just part of the whole street art thing?
It can make you angry if taggers go over such wonderful things and start a war of mind and thought, “Why did they do this? Why can’t they see the positive thing we are doing for the very same neighborhood they live in?” Well, I know in most cases that a true street artist will have respect for what the artist has done and won’t deface it. Sometimes there is a situation where a young person feels empowered by the act. For me, I love doing the piece and I just get to work on it more if I have to touch it up. I was, in an off-handed way, glad to return to the piece. But that attitude is rare… I don’t make beef, I just wonder “why deface a positive to the hood?”
Are there any “rules” about altering other artists’ works?
If it is a spot that is permanent then yes we have a rule. Like Peralta, I am trying to make a more colorful place for people to live in. If someone has a different vision, we should work with them. But if they are defacing our work there is a social or economic problem that is deeper than the imagery. Maybe they need a hug!!!
It seems one of the great things about street art is that you have exposure to a much broader audience than people who would typically know of your work (comic book fans, graf artists, etc.) What do you hope the random passerby takes away from his/her experience of these paintings?
It already happened while the piece was being created… I teared up when a homeless person looked up and said “I love her” and smiled. That is worth every moment, and I heard that multiple times during the creation of the Maki piece. People love her and it makes them feel a good feeling as they do their daily grind, whatever that may be. Ill do it again in a second if I can..
What are your plans for future murals in the neighborhood? You mentioned working with the folks at Custom Alloy Recycling. Any movement there?
We will see what happens there… they seem receptive. I hope the art will prevail and we can cheer up West Oakland and the bay area with ART!
And lastly, if folks want to get involved and help out with your next mural, is that possible? If so, how should they contact you?
Thanks for your time Mark. And thanks for bringing your positive energy to West Oakland.