Alive in Albany
It’s Sunday, September 11th, 2011. I’m en route from Jersey to Albany with 250 cans of Montana spray paint, a mountain’s worth of stencils, paste ups, gator board, ladders, drills, brushes, rollers, bucket paint, 2 cups of coffee and a freezer burned bagel. Of course, not all the cans are for me – but the bagel’s totally mine. And with 30 minutes left in the drive, I go for it since I have no idea when I’ll eat next. I’ve only got two days to spend at Living Walls, and there’s a lot of work to do.
I arrive at the Marketplace Gallery. Samson Contompasis, gallery owner and organizer of Living Walls, greets me with a Viking-like bear hug. Sitting in a well-lit corner of the gallery, White Cocoa is drawing a portrait of a fellow artist. Over Under is sitting on the floor next to her. Outside the gallery Broken Crow is chillin on the roof. And Nohj Coley is gathering bucket paint for the day. Paste ups are tacked to the walls ready to be plucked for the street, sleeping bags are strewn across the floor, and art supplies occupy every inch of the room. It looks more like a summer camp for street artists than a gallery right now. And that’s because it’s basecamp for Living Walls. I’m inspired. It’s time to paint.
Over Under/ Broken Crow…extracurricular activities in the Marketplace
241 Central Avenue: Mural 1
The piece I’m doing is on a 40 footlong wall that belongs to an all-faith worship center. The grass smells like piss and it’s evident by the trash scattered about that things happen out here, and I’m not talking about miracles. People immediately flock over to see what’s going on as I roll out a sea of bright yellow paint among a generally gray area.
As the piece takes shape, the curious stares turn to smiles – and people gather to watch and just hang around. I work until dark and get about 3/4 of the way through.
Juan, the caretaker of the center, and who’s been checking in on me throughout the day, generously offers a shower and a floor to crash on. I want to get up early and finish the piece by noon, so I gratefully accept.
The piece is finished by noon.
Me and Juan in front of the completed piece
After a brief stop with Samson and ROA to check out ROA’s wall (which has a dead squirrel at the foot it…wonder what he’ll paint?), I’m off to Rensellaer to paint on a highway buttress. I want to rock this by dark, so I get right to work.
Originally I had a quote for this piece which said, “Now winter comes slowly, pale, meager and old”, but I changed things up last minute. It reads, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time” – a quote by Leo Tolstoy that I believe applies to the world we are living in today. Only our children will turn this planet around and put it back on track through advocating peace and unity. Like growing wise, it’ll happen in time and time only – a natural progression. All we can do is teach them what’s right and let time take its course. No bomb or bullet can compete with that idea.
The piece is completed at dusk.
I make a quick stop back at the gallery, say my goodbyes and head back to Jersey.
Back At Home
Something is unsettling over the next day or two. I know I’m not done – I keep saying to myself I have to go back…for at least one more day. For nothing else, there’s a decaying Cathedral I want to do work in, and I also want to try installing at least one 3-dimensional street piece. Albany, at this moment, is the cultural hub of the art world and a big part of me needs to be there. There are just things I want to do. So I plan on heading back thursday for the day…rain or shine.
Thursday: Day 3 in Albany
Thursday morn. I’m driving. Yep, it’s raining. The whole way up to Albany it’s coming down in sheets. I figure I could do what I need to do in the rain if need be, and I keep going.
I arrive at St. Joe’s Cathedral around 11 am. The place is magnificent. The architecture, the art, all in a perfect state of decay. John Grider of Broken Crow is sitting at an old piano and the haunting melody sounds like an orchestra in the hallowed space. Other artists are reorganizing, painting, preparing – as the rain’s driven everyone indoors. I explore the place and find beautiful details, like names, dating back to the late 1800s, signed in pencil on small wooden doors. Broken bits of gold leafed wings and small pieces of 200 year old iconography. I plan on floating a couple pieces off the wall, above the front alters, in collaboration with the existing works of original church art. Chills rip through my spine upon the thought. I’ve never been a very religious person, but I’ve long taken a great interest in the phenomena of faith and spirituality. Regardless of what I believe or don’t believe, this place is so incredibly beautiful, powerful and humbling. I am privileged, and I take great care to do this right.
The first installation. Photo By Julia Zave
The Second Installation. Photo by Julia Zave
It’s hard for me to describe how I feel after installing these pieces. I can only say I’m very satisfied, and that this is one of the greatest moments for me, personally, as an artist. I tear up the stencils and leave them behind in the Cathedral – it just seems appropriate.
With a couple hours of daylight left, the rain ceases. Just before I head home I want to get one last piece up in the street. I intended on floating one more piece I had painted off of a structure, the way I do in my smaller shadow box pieces orwhat I did in the church, but the gator board the piece is painted on is proving to be fragile and I need to install it in a place that’s a bit more protected. This is all an experiment. Nohj Coley and NDA tell me about a few places place down the road that might work. We head over and find the perfect spot. It goes up in an old doorway with a small handful of screws, and I’m officially done in Albany…
Living Walls was a major highlight for me. I’ve learned and grown because of it, and I’m honored to have had the opportunity. It was a grassroots event, full of good vibes and people, and its heart and soul was in the right place at all times. I think I took more home with me, as a learning experience, than I left back on those walls.
Special Thanks to:
I want to thank Samson for inviting me, being amazingly organized and professional in the thick of it, and for simply being an infectiously happy and genuine dude. He set a great example and benchmark for this community.
Thanks to Juan for the hospitality and conversation. The dude drives his car on vegetable oil…he’s got to be a good seed.
Thanks to my wife for understanding why I do what I do and putting up with my crazy ass whenever I prepare for an event like this. I can be a wreck, yet she somehow holds it together until I pull through.
I also want to thank Stan Sudol of Guerilla Galleries for being an awesome friend and second pair of eyes – whenever I need one. The dude’s always there to help me figure shit out.
Lastly, I want to thank Jerry’s Artist Outlet for once again generously supporting me on this trip. Above being sponsors, they’ve been good to me and my family for quite some time now. As supporters of street art and graffiti in general, they were also official sponsors of the event as a whole. Please help me show love by supporting them back.