Chris Pyrate’s work is everywhere, from his pastel floral murals to collaborations with brands like Nike and UNIQLO or musicians GWAR and Lupe Fiasco. Though he’s used some of the time during the pandemic to slow down his busy schedule, Pyrate also sees this time of change as one that can be truly set forward through art. In between work on some recent murals in Shaw, Georgetown and even New York, Pyrate spoke to District Fray about the role of murals in the anti-racism movement and what keeps him in his hometown of D.C.
District Fray: What are you up to these days?
Chris Pyrate: I’m just trying to take the opportunity right now to impact the city when it’s at a very impactful moment – not just in D.C., but larger than that. When [Mayor Bowser’s] team put down the [Black Lives Matter] mural, that influenced other cities to see murals as a bigger deal. I think it’s a call to action that people like me should really embrace. We don’t get a chance often for something like murals to really be seen as something great. So, I’m trying to take the moment and do the best I can with it.
It does seem like murals are being used more to raise awareness for a whole host of social issues. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because art is something, if you go back to hieroglyphics and such, that is a universal language. Everybody has a relationship to art, whether they realize it or not. I try to simplify it for people when they don’t think they really consume art, and I’m just telling them, “You know, everything you buy from the grocery store and everything you purchase has a logo, which came from an artist.” So absolutely, everybody is just constantly interacting with art.
You grew up in the District but work in cities throughout the U.S. and internationally. What about the D.C. art scene brings you back home?
D.C. is authentic. Most major cities’ scenes have been fully exploited and at least part of the underground local culture has been kind of sold out. For being such an influential city, [D.C.] is still pretty young in the sense that it’s still innocent. There’s no real big mainstream artists here, but I think people like myself and Trap Bob are going to change that soon.
What makes D.C. great, in your opinion?
I’m glad it’s people like me and [Trap Bob] changing that. I think that’s what makes D.C. cool. It still has a scene that’s a hidden gem. We’re able to put those voices out there and put the flag on the ground and say what D.C. really is. I think D.C. is starting to be known for its creativity. The time is finally here. We did [the 2019 D.C. Statehood art] project and it blew [Mayor Bowser’s] mind. I picked very D.C. artists for that, and I think without her having such a positive reaction to it, we wouldn’t have the Black Lives Matter mural. It might have been done in a different way. It started with the people’s voice first and then filtered through [the mayor], and it had the biggest effect in the world.
How do you wind down after a long day of painting? I like to fish. I always have a different type of Bass Pro Shops hat on, which I’m all of the sudden starting to see more people wear. I was doing it before the trend. What do you listen to while you work? I listen to podcasts or call a friend. I like to actually keep my mind engaged in conversation and learning things while I paint. I can understand that. I listen to a supernatural podcast called “Web Crawlers” where they talk about things like Bigfoot and Yeti while I work. The supernatural, I like that. I saw Bigfoot in Southeast once. Favorite local place to grab a bite? Chicken + Whiskey. I’m not vegan, but I’m plant-based. I can’t eat everywhere, but I try places with diverse menus [like theirs] and make my own meals. Any advice for aspiring D.C. artists? Be original, and if you don’t have your original stamp yet, be patient. Work on your craft and develop a style that’s natural to you. Best thing to do outdoors in D.C.? Walk around the Southeast border. There are more woods, rivers and streams than you would think. I used to walk and skate around those areas and bring friends to shoot photos throughout the woods. Is there anything you don’t miss about your pre-quarantine life? A lot. I don’t miss how racism was ignored. I’m in no rush to go back to whatever the [old] normal was. This has been bringing a lot of things to the surface, and I don’t think we’re there yet. I think there’s been a blessing in disguise, or whatever you want to call it, with this time.
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