The Street and Beyond: Interview with Artist Gaia

Bear Print Artwork by Gaia

Bear Print Artwork by Gaia

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As I look at the work of New York artist Gaia I can’t help but think about how pieces of ourselves get divided and brought together again. How we are constantly deconstructing and reassembling ourselves in order to perfect our own understanding. Gaia’s work is about ideas reassembled and things torn apart. His work breeds a familiarity that perhaps rest in the unconscious of past relationships within us that once existed, or should have existed, repackaged and re-imagined.

In the forefront of these lost connections is his reoccurring theme of of man fused with animal. Man: controlled, thinking, progressive and questioning. The animal: instinctual, primal, raw, in alignment with the natural forces around him. Control verses the uninhibited, raw verses refined, natural, verses the unnatural bound into one. The work reflects an affirmation of our own nature and reexamines the notion that the order of our relationship with nature may be horizontal and not hierarchical as we may want to believe.

The use of the animal heads on humans and not the reverse proposes the domination of our animal self. Perhaps the choice is based on Gaia’s own experience as the street artist. The animal like the artist reacts. The head becomes his tribal mask a metaphor which lends itself well to both the anonymous nature of the street artist. It becomes a shield to protect all that is not yet identified, a sanctuary that allows the artist freedom from judgement, freedom from the burden of conformity, the freedom to create.

I am left feeling reunited with what was torn from myself, my animal, my humanity and my appreciation for this artist.

A common motif in your work is half animal, half man, tell me about this

It began from a pretty intuitive place around three years ago. As way to differentiate myself from the big figures like Swoon, Elbow-Toe, Faile and Bast would be to work primarily with animal motifs. It sorted coincided with how I was feeling in high school. It just sort of began in a very very simple and intuitive place that was just like do the animals then slowly go from there. Then iteratively it’s grown and grown and has become more and more complex and meaningful as it’s progressed. What’s interesting about it and the reason I say that it came from such a simple germ is because as it’s progressed I have been able to find more complexity and meaning from it by sort of just exploring and working with more theory.

Recently I have working with a text called  “The Forest of Symbols” by Victor Turner who is an anthropologist who studies travel societies and he goes over animal man hybrids in his work as a expression of liminal space, this place of uncertainty between statuses. I only bring that up because as I work more and more with the animal man hybrid it becomes to really blossom, there becomes more to it and in this particular instance I found it really helpful reading this text because I really trying to locate my work into something more specific versus just an animal man figure. I wanted to bring it farther and it is a visual trope that gets utilized a lot by a lot of different artist and I want to find a way to make it something special and something more meaningful.

What I do is try to primarily work with North American Domestic Animals because I am interested in this notion  of domesticity and domination and this relationship that we have with our animals where we are very much dependent on them for our livelihood and for sustenance, yet they are sort of underneath us.  I don’t really want to venture to far from North American motifs because I don’t want to necessarily want to begin to colonize other cultures without a true understanding of them so i’ve been trying to stay within the American experience; the rooster, the lamb, the pig. I use these animals as an expression, a way to guide the gesture of the figure. These figures and these animals are in view from within a cultures understanding. So I try to utilize that, that signifier, as a way to direct conversation with the viewer and direct the way that it’s read. So there’s a logistics standpoint, it sort of elucidates the reading of the piece. It sort of grounds it.

Massacare of the Innocents, Street Art by Gaia

Massacare of the Innocents, Street Art by Gaia

When did you decide to become Gaia and when did you decide that name?

It began about three years ago when I was in high school and I just started making work. I hadn’t really come up with a name yet and I knew that I wanted to stay within the animal realm and I wanted it to be something that had an environmental basis to it. Gaia is the personification of earth in greek mythology so I figured that it was a really good. I enjoyed how it allowed even a more a anonymous  protection. There was this first assumption that I was a woman by people who hadn’t seen me in real life, but also I sort of enjoyed this confusion and…not androgynous, but more sort of level sexual place. I sort of went with it as Gaia, being the greek goddess who birthed the titans and again as it has moved forward it has grown and become more meaningful to me. Originally it just started from a very basic place…and then how do I express my desire to work with animals and it seemed like a good place to be. So Gaia that’s how I chose it in high school.

What do you hope to achieve ultimately as an artist, How do you define personal success for you as an artist?
It definitely oscillates and changes and shifts around. I’m still a student in college. I have been really fortunate to be able to sustain myself from my art. I haven’t had to get a nine to five job or like a weekend job and ultimately success for me, now, would be ultimately to be able to live off my art very comfortably, be able to live in a place like Baltimore where I am not struggling all the time and find a really healthy balance between working on the street and my gallery work. Success as an artist for me is mastery of a lot of different disciplines, whether it be media, sculpture or definitely painting and to drive my street work forward so that it does become more complex and intricate in it’s reading. So ultimately to have a real steady gallery presence and to have a really responsible career in that sense but to also be able to get up as much as possible, or at least get up with work that I really feel proud of. I am almost there from a sustenance level…So that’s the first tier of success for me

Give four words to best describe yourself

1. Loquacious
2. Nice
3. Morose
4. Disciplined

What do you think people’s biggest misconceptions are about you?

I deal with misconception a lot‬ especially as being a student. I do have a strong internet, gallery and street presence and because my work is known amongst my peers people tend to judge me or are very critical about my work before they really know me personally so in class I do get challenged pretty frequently or am held to a much higher standard during critiques but otherwise.

I guess in the street art realm I havent had that many misconceptions. Maybe people have been confused about my age and gender either thinking that I am a girl or either thinking that I am a girl or much older than I really am there are also strange judgements that do get made about my socioeconomic background and family from people who have gained access into my personal life from the street art realm whether I have special connections with the police, or have access to other special priviliges which are generally total bullshit.

Do you have any interest exploring other mediums?

I am a sculpture major, which is weird because I only really have published my work in printmaking. Other mediums that I would venture in that are close, or up an coming…I have been trying to do a lot of casting, casting cowheads that I bought from the butcher. I am doing a lot of body casting so working in plaster or clay, so I think ceramics would be the next stage I would go into otherwise working in different media, like working with different media, like working with surveillance and live feeds on the web, that will take a lot more time and investment than I have right now, maybe that is something I will do once I graduate or when a class affords that kind of work but i have been taking a lot of creams and metal and wood classes so trying to move further into the sculptural realm to extend and expand my repertoire and the range of my work

If you had 30 seconds of television time to send a message to the world, what would it be?

I think right now I have been watching and reading a lot of theory on globalization and reading a lot of theory regarding  anthropology and travel societies and of course other post structuralist theory and it’s certain become really clear that america kind of needs to really chill out and really sort of reconsider everything we are doing and decrease our consumption and means and try to live more simply without compromising our health. I feel like the greatest challenge the world has today to be able to innovate to a place where we don’t necessarily decrease the living standards of anyone else or ourselves and are able to reduce our consumption and our impact.

Do you think art can be part of that solution?

Yeah I think so. Art can be superfluous and beautiful or it could image time and worth being attractive to. I would like to being my artwork to where their’s a translation, like a environmental translation this notion of a more simpler life, a more innovative life gave sort of a rising to this tenous and strange dichotomous place that we exist in between ourselves and nature and this challenge that were always facing. And while my work isn’t necessarily political or that direct in any one message it’ fairly ambiguous when you counter it on the street, there is sort of a call to arms for the environment and ultimately in cultural production. It will come down to artist and street artist who have their own means of production to spread whatever message they want. The environmental message of a more simpler life and a more realistic approach so the world can definitely be disseminated and spread and essentially promolgated by artist like Shepard Fairey  has done for Obama and he has done for the wind turbines posters. Utimately art becomes the Galvanizing force. It becomes the voice for the scientist, the voice for the farmers, the voice for the politicians.

Black Rabbit, by Artist Gaia

Black Rabbit, by Artist Gaia

Deny Me Three Times, Street Art by Gaia

Deny Me Three Times, Street Art by Gaia

St. John by Street Artist Gaia

St. John by Street Artist Gaia

Street Aesthetic, Art by Gaia

Street Aesthetic, Art by Gaia

Family Drawing, Art by Gaia

Family Drawing, Art by Gaia

Gaia and M City in Bedstuy

Gaia and M City in Bedstuy

North Avenue Progress Mural, Street Art by Gaia

North Avenue Progress Mural, Street Art by Gaia

Espeis Outside, Art by Gaia

Espeis Outside, Art by Gaia

For more information or to see more of  Gaia work:

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