From his ‘clones’ to subvertising piece, LA-based street artist Thrashbird isn’t afraid to tackle different mediums to comment on the world as he sees it.
With his recent project “Valley of Secret Values” near completion, we speak to him about his artwork, his methods and his latest project.
When and why did you first start creating street art?
I started as a hobbyist street artist after high school, maybe 15-17 years ago. My fascination with it was really beginning to take hold at that time. I would put up hand painted postal stickers here and there outside. I would also spray the occasional stencil outside, always in a very low key place.
I was still timid and didn’t want to get into trouble. It wasn’t until years later that it became the primary focus of my attention. I was drawn to street art in the beginning in large part by the raw rebellious and activist nature of it. It seemed to give all those a voice who were willing to partake.
I wanted to be part of something that to me had the power to get people to think about the world around them.
Why do you paint?
Painting is freedom for me, it’s where I can go and be limitless. I have zero boundaries with painting. The act of creation in paint is the purest thing I have in my life.
Tell us about how the creation of your ‘clone’, how it came about and the meaning behind them?
Pre-iPhones and Android’s, around the time that Blackberry Smart Phones were the dominant hand accessory to carry, I noticed a growing trend among my friends: people seemed more engaged by the life within their phones than by the real world that surrounded them.
Suddenly, everywhere I went I started to notice that people were glued to their technology, staring down at their phones even when walking, ignoring their surroundings and “plugged in” but also isolated from the actual world.
With the introduction of the iPhone and the subsequent explosion in the numbers of people who carried smart phones, I realised that this epidemic of technological subsumption was only going to get worse. This realisation terrified me but also inspired me to examine it through my art.
The design for the clone is an adaptation of a photograph of me looking down at my phone, contorting my body in an exaggerated, hunched over fashion. I converted the photograph into a silhouette stencil image that has become emblematic of my practice and message.
The clone wears a huge hoodie with the hood up, obscuring his face, serving as a metaphor for our tendency to use technology to numb our connections to the world. His body is in a blackened silhouette; however, the details of his phone and hands are more intricate to punctuate the message.
The visual simplicity of the design coupled with the accessibility of the message imbues the work with its power.
Some of your pieces are subvertising, what made you go down this route?
I’ve always questioned things, I’ve never been one to take things at face value. I choose the path of subversion to speak about the injustices in the world that I see. One of my goals as a street artist working in the activist realm is to try and get people to question the status quo and create a space for intelligent dialogue.
Tell us your thoughts behind one of your recent projects “Thrashbird’s Valley of Secret Values”series.
“Thrashbird’s Valley of Secret Values” is a project that I’ve been planning for 3 years. Around that time I started painting at abandoned locations all around the Western United States. At many of these locations I would find broken decaying concrete and wood structures that had very unique and interesting shapes. The idea came to me to use the shapes of these structures. In a way letting the shape determine what I would paint on them, integrating the piece into the environment.
I describe it in a simple way, I look at the feature and think about what it looks like, the same way you do when you look at the clouds and find things in them. For me this fulfils my sense of wonder and imagination in a tangible way that traditional muralism and street art can’t.
I came across these giant concrete monoliths at Lime, Oregon 3 years ago. As I was walking among them I was studying there crumbling shapes, I saw the Louis Vuitton print handbag in my mind. That’s when the seed for the entire project was planted. Overtime the concept took full form in my mind.
With my work I want to create wondrous things to look at, I also want to speak on issues important to me. That’s what is at the heart of this installation. As the viewer walks the grounds or peers through a screen and takes in all the giant crumbling bags, I’m hoping that they are transported to a place where imagination meets critical thinking.
I only want to plant seeds, I’m not trying to tell them what to think. Whatever they go away with I only hope that inspires thought. For me personally it’s a metaphor for identity and the quest to find our place in this world.
You use a varied amount of techniques, styles and medium to create your work, why is that?
As I grow as an artist different techniques and styles have become more interesting to me. I am always trying to progress and stay nimble as a mechanical artist. Each different style that I use has its voice and certain things I do will come across more defined in those different voices. The concepts generally run parallel to the style or technique used.
Who and/or what influences your work?
I take on influences at every moment of everyday, except maybe when I’m sleeping. Lol. It’s difficult to pin down what exactly influences me. Overall I would say that human behavior and the struggle for identity in this world are a couple driving influences on my work.
Johnny Cash is also a major influence as well. Lol.
How do you choose the subject matter of your pieces?
I choose it by how I am affected by that subject matter, typically the more it weighs on my mind the more it will come out in my work.
What are your thoughts on street art entering the art gallery?
I’m absolutely fine with it. That being said I don’t think an artist should get involved in street art if the major reason is to get into galleries. I’m a bit of a purist in that sense. Do it because you can’t not do it. Street art I mean.
Do you have any projects coming up?
I’ll be completely wrapping up “Thrashbird’s Valley” here in a few weeks. After that. We will begin planning a gallery show around it. I’m not entirely sure what all that will entail, but it will definitely include Large-scale photographic prints of all 17 of the designer bags I’ve painted out there.
Many thanks to Thrashbird for taking time to speak to us!