Curbs and Stoops: Where did the name Gaia come from?
Gaia: Gaia is the personification of earth in greek mythology. When considering a pseudonym to assume for my street work, I wanted to find an identity that represented my interest in using animals as the fundamental subject of my art.
Curbs and Stoops: Where did you grow up?
Gaia: New York City.
Curbs and Stoops: What kind of background in art do you have?
Gaia: I am currently enrolled in art school.
Curbs and Stoops: How long have you been doing street art? To what do you attribute your quick rise in popularity?
Gaia: I have been doing work on the street for a little less than three years so it really has not been a long time. The very nature of getting up is to be widely disseminated; its most powerful feature is extensive circulation of an artist’s imagery. Beyond the art, its application is a practice in marketing and promotion. Its marriage to the Internet makes it exponentially more effective for spreading street arts communication. I think the primary reason for the quick rise in popularity is social networking communities such as flickr and its publication on various blogs.
Curbs and Stoops: You read and write a lot about social art and the purpose of street art. What do you consider the role of street art at large to be? How does your art in particular relate to this context?
Gaia: I believe that street art’s defining characteristic is its illegality. It is a means of working that is not hindered by any obstacles beyond the artist’s desires. The weight of prosecution under the law maintains that artists must work directly and without sanction in the spaces in which they want to apply their work. No permission is necessary for the work to exist and the artist is in complete control of how they implement their art.
It is practically impossible to designate one particular purpose of Street Art given how varied and broad the community is. But if I were to make an effort to locate street art’s function within society, I guess I would say its aims and methods are based in subversion
Street Art is a call to alternative engagements of space and provides a generative reactivation of neglected property. It is a challenge to our notions of space, and a challenge to institutional controls. But its aim is not to dismantle any of these systems, nor does it have the power to do so. Instead it is simply providing another method of working. It is expanding the multiplicity and interdisciplinary nature of contemporary art today.
Curbs and Stoops: I recently read that you are going to do a piece that will take the lighting and shadow in a particular place, at a particular hour as a compositional element. How many of your pieces are this site specific? What goes into that form of exploration?
Gaia: Most of the pieces that I have created for the street are not site specific but are instead a multiplied, uniform image that is applied to different contexts. In the past I would print one figure about twenty times from a linoleum block and then put it up in as many spots as I could all over New York.
Recently, I have not been as satisfied with the very rigid limitations that are set by the time intensive approach of carving a block. So instead I have been exploring new ways to make the pieces more unique and flexible, while simultaneously increasing output. This new strategy combines a printed head with a painted body, so that I can make a piece specifically for a spot and provide small variations within the work. Also it allows for an output of newer imagery. Unfortunately, I have not been able to produce as much street work as I did in the past, but I am slowly discovering refining the logistics of this process using projectors, better brushes, different paints and approaches in drawing.
Curbs and Stoops: As a street artist you are forcing your art on the public. How do you feel about having such a presence in a community and how do you make sure your work is welcomed there?
Gaia: I don’t usually investigate deeply into whether my artwork is welcomed. While its reception into a community is a concern of mine, I generally do not consult for permission to put up work. I think that the imposition and force within putting up work illegally is very important because it gives the artist total agency and does not hinder their creative process. This power demands a certain responsibility on behalf of the artist.
What I have found with extensive conversations with passersby and quiet observations is that you will inevitably have the bell curve: most people are complacent, a few despise the application or the image, and a few take notice and adore the piece. I try not to worry about it and just put up a piece in a relatively innocuous location such as an abandoned building or place of disrepair.
Curbs and Stoops: Your work varies between pieces that are aesthetic to pieces that are social. What kind of precedents do you use for your work?
Gaia: Generally my work is inclined towards an aesthetic, more ambiguous image. At times the work is informed to a certain degree to social issues concerning the urban environment, but generally my approach is one that is not as immediately accessible as political work.
My precedents are the body of work that I am constantly building. The pieces succeed each other in a process that is very much based off of response and intuition. I am very much interested in situations of domination and power and I believe that this dichotomy is manifested very clearly in our relationship to animals. So any material that relates to subjects of control whether it be found in theory, literature, visual representation or personal interactions are what serve as the foundation or initiating points of my work.
Curbs and Stoops: Who are some artists that inspire or motivate you and what aspects of their work appeals to you?
Gaia: Phillip Glass is an individual from whom I derive constant inspiration. His staunch beliefs and confidence in his work and process are characteristics that I find very motivating. Since carving is such a meditative process, I also find his music perfect for listening to while working on a block.
Swoon, because of her superlative line quality and because her work is the simple reason why I have begun producing street art.
From a theoretical standpoint, Foucault’s exploration of Power and its mechanisms in Western society have been a great indirect influence to my work. Also, while she has an unfortunate name, Erica Fudge’s studies of Man’s relationship to Animal are essentially considerations in writing that reflect what I am creating visually.
Curbs and Stoops: I have seen a lot of your work in New York City but now you live in an area that is not as urban, how has the change in environment affected your work? Do you work better within the urban fabric or do you find that a suburban area responds to your work just as well?
Gaia: Actually Baltimore is very urban. I have never done work in the suburbs because I have no access or familiarity with that landscape. I think that the urban environment lends itself more towards coincidence and chance encounters with the piece on the street although that is certainly a remote possibility in a more rural or suburban area as well.
Curbs and Stoops: Anything big in the works?
Gaia: Lots of legal murals, illegal rooftop spots, a return to some good old street bombing, some new, more specific pieces, and a move towards ceramics and wood in an effort to expand sculpturally.