On Friday, September 9, the sun beat down, radiating off the Metropolitan Branch Trail as artists began their sweaty weeklong mural journey for the D.C. Walls Festival. In just eight days 20 artists — 10 local and 10 international — will create public masterpieces throughout the NoMa neighborhood, with several murals located on the trail.
We captured five of these artists working on and nearby the trail and spoke with three of them about their vision for their murals, surviving the heat and the festival experience so far.
Based in Washington, D.C.
District Fray: This is your first year painting for D.C. Walls. Why did you agree to participate in the festival?
E$: For the last four years, I would say that every single artistic thing that I did in the back of my mind I was like, ‘I hope that this is good enough to get on the radar for D.C. Walls.’ I’ve always wanted to do large-scale murals like this. I’ve gotten to do a couple of small ones, but never this scale. So this is like the greatest thing to ever happen.
Your artwork is known for its Easter eggs. What can we expect to find in this piece?
I do have some Easter eggs I want to hide in here. I want to try to get Alfred E. Neuman from “Mad” magazine. I want to get a couple of D.C. characters like Patrick Ewing and Marion Barry if I can, and a couple of Mambo sauce bottles in there. And then I want to squeeze in RIP for my Uncle Mike because he passed a year ago, so I thought it’d be cool to include. I always add a “Where’s Waldo” in there, so there’ll be a “Where’s Waldo” somewhere.
How has it been working with and around the other artists that are part of the festival?
It’s a blessing. I think when you’re in the art game, your favorite thing to do is collaborate with other artists and compare notes. It’s been cool to meet a bunch of people. That dude Tommii [Lim] from LA I was looking forward to meeting because he does a lot of black-and-white stuff, which obviously speaks to me, Nate Mann is a friend from forever. Rikasso I met at the Umbrella [art show] very briefly, but I never had a chance to hang out with him, and I always wanted to because I love his work. I see [artist and D.C. Walls organizer] Kelly [Towles] around town, but this is the most I’ve ever had a chance to really interact with him. So it’s just cool picking his brain and last night we all went to Maketto and Kelly was telling stories from past festivals.
The murals on the Metropolitan Branch Trail only last a year before they get repainted for the next year’s festival. Are you upset that it won’t be up longer than a year?
All art is fleeting. You kind of get used to it as an artist, but it’ll be my pride and joy for sure. I have a lot of friends that live in this area, and they’re all very excited to be able to brag that their homie is on the wall.
Based in Bilbao, Spain
Based in Washington, D.C.
District Fray: What is the inspiration behind this mural?
Bourgea: I work on commission pretty exclusively for private clients, so there’s a lot of the company or business in the work. I try to find the heart of it to make it interesting. But for this, I wanted to do something that the subject matter itself was pretty personal. It’s awesome. [Ed.’s Note: The murals at D.C. Walls are not commissioned, so artists have the freedom to paint what they want.]
What would you like people to take away from this piece?
I am interested in connection and attention. I love the poem that says ‘Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.’ I feel like mural painting in particular is my way of doing that. It’s about just sharing that gift of wonder and focus.
How has it been to work next to the other artists?
So much fun. Kelly [Towles] plans everything. We have breakfast, lunch and dinner together pretty much every day. It is definitely summer camp for artists.
It’s bringing people together. Like Nate [Mann who is also in the festival], for example. My studio is just down the street from the place where he works. But we’ve never connected and now we are painting murals side by side together. Kelly is building an artistic community.
Louis Amadeus Dain Jensen
Based in Los Angeles, California and London, UK
Based in Washington, D.C.
District Fray: You are brave to be wearing long sleeves in this heat.
Rikasso: I’d rather be hot than be eaten by these mosquitoes. These mosquitoes were tearing me apart yesterday. I have so many mosquito bites and they’re still getting my hands. So I had to wear long sleeve shirt today.
I notice the nod to Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” What is the inspiration for this piece?
My kind of art is taking what was, and then putting a Black spin on it. So a lot of the Renaissance paintings and stuff like that, I take them and make them Black people. You don’t see very many paintings with Black people. It’s just to give people the idea that there are other ways that you can interpret things and look at things. It’s my idea of rewriting history.
What are your musts while painting outdoors?
Definitely water. Alcohol is always great. Maker’s Mark is my preference. Alcohol is typically when I’m getting towards the end of the mural. It’s always nice to have that.
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