INTERVIEW : GAIA
Gaia is an artist prolific beyond his years, currently presenting murals at Basel that he’s been working on all year in Miami, including Wynwood Walls and The Bakehouse Art Complex. He took a break on his birthday (libra power) to paint an homage to Koreatown (just right up the street from Ace NYC) in room 901 — the Tigerbunny.
Originally from NYC, he’s based in Baltimore where he shares a big studio with fellow artists, dreams big, throws it back and makes human-animal hybrids in his spare time. We caught up with him amidst the joyful mayhem.
You were featured a few years ago in The New York Times, in an article about street artists in New York. In it, the author briefly mentions the irony (he calls it an oxymoron) of seeing work by street artists in galleries and museums. We’ve all seen Beautiful Losers — obviously related. Is the Tiger Bunny a caged Tiger Bunny now that it’s in a hotel room? Can a gallery wall offer more legitimacy to art than a subway wall?
I personally view my own practice as situational, as an extension of the studio, not an opposition to the gallery or institutional worlds. Working on the street gives the artist a the opportunity to produce material and subject matter that has a social dynamic that extends beyond how artwork in a gallery setting functions. The audience is broader, and the pieces serve to bring attention to the environment in which they are located. Art is no longer confined to a rarefied space, and has the potential to effect peoples lives in the everyday.
Is the Tiger Rabbit confined? Of course it is, the only people who can see the image are the clients of Ace Hotel, people who have enough money to see them. But I think the work still has the potential to bring attention back into the outside world surrounding Ace. The piece is very basically about little Korea, since the tiger rabbit was a hybrid that I used in my visit to Seoul, and speaks not only to the order of the Chinese calendar, but also Korean postcolonial identity. But the setting for the piece is the block of little korea just a short walk north of the hotel; once again, whether the piece is outside or inside, I strive to make work that is sensitive to place and situation.
Tell me more about what it means to you to mix human and animal parts. It seems easy to relate it to ancient myth —- but it’s almost a new kind of mythology.
Hybridizing animal and man devices allows me to convey a message with nuance and openness. The animal as a metaphor gives the passerby a place of entrance. Working with the mythology of the past, when pertinent to the culture surrounding the piece of course, to address contemporary issues is a way of bringing historical perspective.
Since we sanctioned you wheatpasting on our walls, did it take the fun out of it?
No! I had a wonderful time, and a piece doesn’t have to an adrenaline rush to be fun.
How long did it take for you to put it up and what is the fuel —- music, food and otherwise —- that kept you going?
Hot 97 FM kept me going all day long. I hadn’t spent that much time in New York in a while so it was nice to be back home for a minute. Regardless of whether Young Money has an utter stranglehold on the airwaves, it was great to hear the same Drake over and over and over while painting. That and the taxi spot across the street with the amazing food. Seems a though a lot of people coming out of the hotel totally oversee that place in the fervor that grips the coffee shop downstairs in the morning. Which is super unfortunate because the place is bangin and cheap.
Now that you know how fun it is to wheatpaste in a hotel, would you ever come back and do it without being asked to?
Hahaha, no I wouldn’t. Unless the circumstances just really made sense.
What did you do on your birthday?
Had a whole bunch of some of the most important people in my life over, they brought their friends, we all got down, and I was even able to calm security after midnight. Got to spend the night with a gorgeous girl that I’m totally in love with and then at five in the morning, in a drunken, tired, stupor, took her to Jamaica Queens on the E train to see her on her way to JFK. Returned and recuperated.
A big thank you for you guys giving me the opportunity to do this, letting me rage a little in the room, and giving me a comfortable place to sleep for two nights. Also appreciate security being so chill.
Chill security makes the world go ‘round.