Happy Gaia Day!
Last Sunday, Brooklyn and Baltimore-based street artist Gaia (aka Andrew Pisacane) came to Washington, D.C. in conjunction with two recent works. Lauren Gentile of Contemporary Wing organized “Gaia Day” and commissioned the first work featured that day. As 200,000 Girl Scouts congregated in the nation’s capital to commemorate the organization’s biennial, Gaia created a portrait of founder Juliette Gordon Low.
Gaia set up a workspace in the Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery from 12:00 to 3:00 pm. Passers-by looked on as Gaia filled in details and shading with acrylic paint and charcoal over an oversized digital print featuring Low in the foreground and a few original Scouts behind her. When asked about his participation in the project, Gaia said he was “along for the ride” and saw the work as a welcome departure from his large-scale street art and portraiture that frequently features “old, white male …power figures.” But with the recent prominence of the Girl Scout’s 100-year anniversary in the media, Low has become an entrenched power figure in her own right. Gentile and Gaia have an established gallerist-artist relationship, and the artist had exhibitions at Irvine Contemporary in late 2010 and early 2012 just before it closed.
Later that evening, Gaia gave a talk upstairs at Smith Commons related to the mural “The Dusk of H Street ,” on the restaurant’s exterior. In his talk, Gaia discussed several other works and his approach to street art, in general, in addition to talking about the H Street mural. The H Street mural encapsulates much of Gaia’s signature aesthetic, including the suggestion of the sublime and romantic themes and incorporation of animals into the composition. Gaia explained the large rooster (seen in many of his works) is a biblical reference to the rooster as messenger. Although he is no longer an active Catholic, he often uses biblical references because they serve as “access points” that instantly renders his work more relatable. The Smith Commons mural also evokes themes of western expansionism with the version of an Albert Bierstadt Yosemite landscape and a small window with a view of an abandoned building in the H Street cityscape.
Although he just graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2011, Gaia has extensive experience with street art and commissioned murals in major cities throughout the U.S. and around the world going back to his time as a student. He explained his natural affinity for public art. It provides him the unique opportunity to see the “spectrum of reactions” his art provokes. He sees public art and mural making as “positive and constructive,” and, ideally, as a “mutual exchange” that incorporates “as many different points of view” as possible. Even when doing works in his own neighborhood in Brooklyn, but especially when working in unfamiliar places like Seoul, South Korea, he realizes the importance of being “respectful and upfront” with local residents about the process and the work.
If you were one of the many visitors to the National Portrait Gallery’s Kogod Courtyard last Sunday, it may have been impossible to imagine that the skinny 20-something with long, scruffy hair and rolled up cut-off shorts painting the Juliette Gordon Low portrait is a rising star in contemporary art. But after watching him interact with visitors and friends at the Gallery and hearing his informed take on successful public art, it was easy to see why hundreds of aspiring street artists follow him on Flickr and look to him as an inspiration.
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