The Story Behind A Charming Street Art Enigma: The Spray Paints Series

beauty photo by gail worley
Beauty (All Photos By Gail)

While most of the street art that I discover on my adventures is clearly tagged, sometimes that tag is hard to decipher, and I need some assistance identifying the artist. By connecting with artists on Instagram, I’ve learned that they all seem to know and support each other, which is cool and very helpful.  If I don’t know the artist behind a work that I want to put on the blog, and the first person I ask doesn’t know, then they know someone who does. This is how I ended up connecting with the creator of an unsigned series of works that I’ve been seeing on the streets, and documenting, since around Christmastime last year. Each of the paste-ups in this very distinctive series features one to three still life images accompanied by a one-word title, and the artist’s signature conspicuously absent. If you live in the east village or downtown, there’s no way you haven’t seen them. All I can say is that they speak to me.

love photo by gail worley

While the artist of what he affectionately calls “The Spray Paints” wishes to remain anonymous, because the power of an enigma is strong and undeniable, he was willing to be identified as male. I asked him a few questions about the series. These are his answers.

“The photographic still lifes are a project that I have been building on continuously since attending art school. I started in 2014 while attending the Savannah College of Art and Design. Most of the posters that are going up on the streets now are re-interpreted from my initial experimentation with still life photography. Speaking about the posters, I began getting up with Politics about a year and a half ago.

politics photo by gail worley

Politics is the most popular piece by far: three toy dinosaurs in tri-color red, white and blue on a light blue background. To me, personally, this is a piece that speaks to my frustrations with ideas and decisions made by those in power. The dinosaurs are looking behind themselves, trying to catch a glimpse of some halcyon past, unable to return or progress to something better for the world. I chose the Brontosaurus because of the small head and lumbering nature of its size. I’ve always seen this dinosaur as slow moving, like the levers of government.

politics 2 photo by gail worley

As a bonus, the stacked figures make a swooshing wave that is visually striking. Using red, white and blue wasn’t immediately because of America. I originally chose the colors, because they are the most widely-used flag colors on Earth, in an attempt to create something that has mass appeal, like an advertising campaign. Since then I’ve tried to take ownership of them as a lampoon of the state of American politics.

narrative photo by gail worley

Series Title  . . . I’ve  called these pieces The Spray Paints as a tongue-in-cheek reference to part of the process where I paint the objects. Spray paint is the material foundation of street art / graffiti and I want to pay homage to the roots, but in my own way. I find satisfaction in warping the use of aerosol paint by including it indirectly in my artwork that goes up on the streets.

hygiene photo by gail worley

Inspiration . . . The compositions are an inspired way of poking fun at the establishment; taking complex themes and distilling them into pop art-inspired visual idioms I’m hoping to provoke. Again, it’s taking the roots / techniques / language of advertising and subverting it. I think it’s cool  that I’m not selling anything, if people are buying into it. Pasting-up the posters in the streets is a personal response to the gatekeeping I perceive in the art world. Coffee shops, Galleries, Art Buyers, etc.; for a long time I thought there was a stamp of approval needed to get artwork seen. Now I can give it away, get it seen and not ask permission.

drugs photo by gail worley

Not signing the work . . . People love a mystery but I’m not too hard to find. A little research and there I am. Seriously though, I don’t put my name on the work for a few reasons. As far back as ancient Turkey we see  “Halvdan was here” as a mark of ‘my name matters.’ Fast forward to graffiti as we know it, which was developed and spread throughout NYC by “TAKI 183” with the name becoming the foundation of graffiti and street art work, in my opinion. I think it is a simple but powerful act to omit my name on these artworks. It rejects what is a very traditional aspect of graffiti. It’s also a response to the ego I have as an artist using the streets. I’m literally shoving these posters into peoples faces in a very ‘look at me I’m important way.’ Not using my name on them directly helps me personally deal with that aspect of art. Finally, anonymity is a great security blanket.

death photo by gail worley

How many pieces are in the series . . . I like to think about the artwork overall as an umbrella. The individual pieces in the series that are on the streets are like the ribs and stand on their own. As of today, not including private commissions, there are sixty-ish pieces in the Spray Paints series. I’m persistently adding new work, though. In addition to the stand-alone pieces, there are several portfolios of images that form panels around a single theme containing 12-15 images each. Theoretically, there is no end to the number of themes and I’m constantly at work creating new pieces that express my point of view.

The Images below have been added since this story was first published. Enjoy!

potential photo by gail worley
Potential: Spotted June 12, 2021, East Village.

environmental photo by gail worley
Enviromental (sic): Spotted June 19, 2021 in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

I am not sure if the misspelling of ‘Environmental’ is intentional. (Update from the artist: It wasn’t)

bureaucracy photo by gail worley
Bureaucracy: Spotted June 28, 2021 on 10th Street in the East Village.

violence by tim hutto photo by gail wortley
Violence: Spotted on July 11, 2021 in Williamsburg, BK.

spray paints series outburst photo by gail worley
Outburst: Spotted on August 1, 2021 on Third Avenue at 36th Street.

The Three Images Immediately Below Were Added on September 11th, 2021 after being Spotted in Freeman Alley, LES, NYC.

neighborhood photo by gail worley

spray photo by gail worley

sponsor by tim hutto photo by gail worley

ascent photo by gail worley
Ascent: Spotted  on January 23rd, 2022 on 7th Street in the East Village.

collaboration spray paints series photo by gail worley
Collab: (Collaboration with QuestionMarksOfficial Spotted  on January 24th, 2022 on Avenue A in the East Village.

traffic photo by gail worley
Traffic: Spotted  on January 29th, 2022 on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village.

conspiracy photo by gail worley

Conspiracy: Spotted on February 12th, 2022 in Freeman Alley, LES.

skyline photo by gail worley

Skyline: Spotted on February 22nd, 2022 on Columbus Ave. Near 70th Street.

after spay paints series photo by gail worley

After: Spotted on March 13th, In Freeman Alley.

fold by tim hutto photo by gail worley

Fold: Spotted on April  2nd, 2022 on the Corner of Houston and Clinton Streets.

domestic photo by gail wortley

Domestic: Spotted on May 5th, 2022 in Freeman Alley.

katsup photo by gail worley

Katsup: Spotted on May 5th, 2022 on Allen Street.


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