When C.A.V.E. Gallery asked if I would be interested in painting at the Stroke Art Fair in Munich , of course I said yes without missing a beat. Not to worry about how much it will cost, where I will stay, etc. I’ll figure all that out later. Bottom line is I’ve been wanting to see Germany for years, and was just hoping that art would one day be the catalyst to bring me there. I could not pass up this opportunity.
For months the trip was looming in the distance, but growing. Like approaching a big wall on the horizon. People were trying to line me up for shows after the trip, and I would say
Just wait until I get back. I can’t see past Germany right now.
As the date of departure approached, all I could think about was:
What am I going to show? What am I going to bring? And most importantly, what am I going to paint while I am there?
After kissing the wife goodbye, and nearly 24 hours of traveling, I arrived stinky and dazed at the biergarten in the courtyard of Praterinsel Museum where C.A.V.E.’s Patrick and Tanya greeted me with hugs and smiles before we sat down to enjoy our first bratwurst together durning the vendor/artist pre show meet and greet. Ahhh, so this is Munich. Large green trees towering over us. The river of blue-green water from the alps, a constant presence of cool confidence in the background. Slap-your-momma-good BBQ. Let’s do this.
Day one of the fair. I took a quick turn around the grounds and was impressed with the variety work on display. I’ve been to several art fairs, and although galleries generally pull out all the stops and show their best work, I usually end up leaving having actually liked only one or two pieces. Granted, having been in the scene for some years now, and I’m a bit jaded. I often find it hard to discover new work that will make me look twice. But there was something different at Stroke. Sure, not everything was pure gold, but I think I responded positively to the general attitude that was so prevalent there. Youth, passion, a disregard for the rules, and exploration of new concepts and techniques. I found that the sense of rebellion that is often prevalent in urban art seemed to yield a variety of contrasts that was all the more visible with so many different artists lined up next to each other. One man going against the grain is a single dissonant note that might be lost in the mix, but Stroke was a symphony of noise that you could not escape, and at times it was awesome to behold.
To try to cover everything would be impossible, so I’m going to point out the highlights and some of my favorite work there.
One of the first people I met was Shai Dahan, an artist who used to live in Venice Beach, but now lives in Sweden with his sweetheart. His work is often compared to Conor Harrington‘s, and I can see that. But I also see his own unique touch. Looking at his wild motion and textures contained within the clean edges of a profile are like looking through the window of a moving train. Step right outside the window to meet your violent doom, but instead you can sit safely on this side of the window and observe the chaos framed and tidy. However you describe his work, Sweden seems to love it and has been trying to keep him all to themselves, but they can’t seem stop him from breaking out into the bigger arenas and making waves.
Perhaps it was his conversational nature, but we hit it off right away and ended up talking for hours about, art, life experiences, painting techniques, etc. The whole time I was talking to him, I was thinking he looked familiar. I’ve seen his face before. Then, when I saw his work, I knew I had seen his work before, but where? It was not until he began to tell his story about posting art in Palestine that I realized how I knew him. I had seen his TED Talk! Check it out here.
You may not know it by looking at his art, but he actually a very funny dude. It was great to meet him and I look forward to seeing his work back in the LA area soon.
There was a room in the lower part of the basement wrought with paint fumes, as it was filled with a medley of artists from around the world. I ask you, what other art fair will you witness artists from Spain, Italy, Mexico, Germany, and Brazil, all filling the walls with color in the same room? One artist that I especially resonated with was a fellow from Brazil named Rodrigo Branco. His blank eyed faces were both spooky and comical, and I enjoyed watching his unique technique unfold using both spray and small rollers. We did not speak much because of a language barrier, but there was a definite expression of mutual respect shared, and at the end of the fair he was nice enough to trade me a print for one of my traveling bunnies.
Another fun moment was when I got to catch up with my friends Amanda Marie and her manager/partner in crime/artist Hyland Mather. Amanda had shared C.A.V.E. gallery with me during my New Tongues show in January 2014. It was great to meet with them on the other side of the globe the globe and share some food and drink together. Amanda has a quietness about her that I find calming. Like she could tame a lion just by sitting next to it for a few minutes. I also find that her work reflects this. It does not try to hit you over the head with anything. Instead it sits there quiet and inviting, and as you approach the work, it begins to affect you. Not like being hypnotized, but more like someone speaking softly to you, so you slow down and shut up in order to hear. I say Amanda is an artist to keep an eye on. Get a piece now while you can afford it, and let it change time and space in your house.
I finished my wall on Friday before it started raining, but the sun was out on Saturday and I was able to set up the extra bunnies around the base. I am continued to be amazed at the response these bunnies get. Combined with the giant colorful techno-walrus, and the cryptic writing in the background, people were not sure what to make of it. But I set out with a goal. I wanted to paint something that would almost trip people’s eyes like a crack in the sidewalk. Something that they could not pass without consideration. “What kind of writing is that? Are those cut out bunnies? What’s up with that wacky walrus?”. Unlike Amanda Marie’s work that charms you by whispering in your ear, my piece was a wild animal howling in tongues. Beastly and possibly slightly dangerous. Don’t get too close.
I sat and watched people walk past, enjoying seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they pointed at the bunnies. And even though I don’t speak German, I could tell when people were wondering what language was written in the back. It seemed someone approached camera in hand and took a picture every 15-30 seconds, like they were capturing a shot of Bigfoot. Conversation, questions, and pictures. Mission accomplished.
Once you’ve had your fill of eyeball candy, the next logical step was to fill your stomach as well with a brat or burger and some bavarian beer in the central courtyard. Most of the day there was either a band or DJ playing, which really lent to the festival like atmosphere. My favorite band was the Monika Roscher Big Band. The lead (Monika) donned a mask and electric guitar, which she rocked good and proper when she was not conducting the rest of her massive ensemble, which included a mean horn section, stand up bass, full live drummer, keyboardist, and computer noise guy. Perhaps it was me feeling overwhelmed with gratitude that I was lucky enough to have such experiences. Maybe it was the beer. But at one point during her performance, I was suddenly and surprisingly brought to tears. Amazing how a certain sequence of notes and tones can unlock emotions. I am now officially a huge fan, and have bought her album, but I will say that the recording just does not do them justice. Hearing it through speakers is nothing like feeling the sound of the full band move through you. Too bad it seems you will have to go to Germany to see them live, but check them out online anyway. They deserve some attention.
Another main feature of the courtyard was a massive painting slowly coming together by Stroke sweetheart, Fin Dac. You may already know him from his recent collaborations in LA with local artist Christina Angelina. I had a great conversation with him and was at first stricken by his no-bullshit demeanor, but he was ultimately a great guy and I look forward to seeing him again the next time he is in LA. We discussed many things, among them his painting technique, which is uniquely his own, and one of the keys to his success. He is primarily a stencil guy, but the way he builds them, uses them, and then shades and finishes his work leaves his pieces feeling more like a straight up painting rather than a stencil job. He believes that stencil artists should avoid being slaves to the stencil. Just use them as guides, then expand with your own unique hand embellishments. He must be on to something because the man is booked solid.
Here’s some more highlights?…
I the end, my favorite part of the fair was meeting other artists from around the world. I left with invitations to Brazil, Austria, and Sweden.
Come out any time and you will have friends to greet you.
was the general attitude. It feels good knowing like minded people around the world. But I was not the only person meeting artists. After chatting with several fair goers, I discovered that meeting other artists was one of the main attractions for them as well. Having been in the scene for a bit, I find myself around other artists all the time, so I forget how rare we are out in the wild. The public seems to get a special kick out of meeting us and chatting with us about our art and our adventures. I met computer programmers, movie producers, fashion reporters, geologists, a french bulldog named Olive, and had conversations as varied as the people. Many thanks to C.A.V.E. Gallery for inviting me, and many thanks to Stroke for having me. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.