“Upon the Closing of a Child’s Eyes, Sleeping Giants and Titans Rise” : Ernest Doty and the storytelling of street art
Depending on your perspective, monsters or heroes flex their muscles in the new fairy tale family portrait at the corner of 24th St and Mandela Parkway in West Oakland. I had the pleasure to speak with Ernest Doty, one of the three artists that collaborated on the mythic mural on the Buchanan Auto Electric building. The epic 70ft x 32ft wall took Doty and his collaborators, Griffin One and Skinner, an astounding 165 cans of paint (generously donated by All City Paint) and only three weeks to transform.
Having seen Doty’s work around town, I noticed while watching this piece develop that even as the bulky decapitated warrior at the center holds his own head, the tone of the piece seemed to be a bit lighter than his other work. The image itself, Doty explains, wasn’t worked out ahead of time but rather a product of intuitive collaboration. As each artist painted their respective characters, slowly nudging closer together, an inspiration inevitably developed.
While Doty acknowledges that most of his work speaks to an adult audience, this piece is meant more for children. Creating a Grimm-inspired fairy tale, the bright colors and graphic, whimsical creatures invoke an uninhibited sense of wonder and excitement. The artists, as socially-challenging trickster figures, ask the audience to imagine, to play, and to dare. As in traditional fairy tales, there is also an element of the macabre, which Doty acknowledges as part of our innate childhood process in “working through our own darkness.” It is this time in our lives when we learn to balance our own innocent idealism within the scope of the world’s realities.
Having recognized and responded to Doty’s distinct aesthetic, I had to ask him about the recurring symbols in the various collaborations he has worked on in the Bay Area. Quite often he creates a richly dystopian landscape as in “The Last Caravan of Eden,” located at the street art oasis on Laguna and Haight Streets in San Francisco and completed with the help of Griffin One, Skinner, and Eon 75. The post-apocalyptic scene is juxtaposed with evocative characters sporting multiple eyes and exaggerated skin that lend an air of internal wisdom, spiritual evolution and hope in the face of physical destruction. One sage-like character in the caravan protects the last bit of nature from Eden as they set out, suggesting that there is room to hope as the human species gains generational spiritual insight. Besides the heavy, philosophical meaning, Doty admits that figures with multiple eyes function to “draw people in” and make them more likely to engage.
This seems to get right to the heart of why Doty does what he does, besides what seems to be an overwhelming passion and personal compulsion to paint. Creating public art is very much about engaging people and provoking dialogue while expressing oneself. Publicly expressing self-empowerment, imagination and the courage to take up space in the world encourages others to do the same. Man-made laws are secondary to the laws of basic human nature and general spiritual health.
Perhaps that is part of the reason graffiti, regardless of its varying forms, is broadcast as such a threat. The graffiti artist is the ultimate Trickster figure woven into every mythological tradition, the seemingly isolated Coyote or Raven that maneuvers stealthily through each tale saying what needs to be said.
What one might not realize is that they run in packs. I got the ironic impression after speaking with Doty that graffiti artists are instinctively social animals. In order to do what they do, a cooperative and collaborative network evolves; there are unspoken rules of etiquette and respect, all of which naturally evolve outside the confines of an imposed legal cloud. And in Doty’s case especially exists a profound amount of gratitude for his community. They are a pack of modern spiritual warriors, often unconsciously poking at the world’s sleeping third eye so that we might remember the complexity of life that comes from a natural dose of entropy and the wonder we once felt as children when the world felt like it could be anything.
Keep an eye out for the film from GraffHopperfilms.com, detailing the making of “Upon the Closing of a Child’s Eyes, Sleeping Giants and Titans Rise.” For more info on the artists mentioned, check out their websites, www.ErnestDotyArt.com , www.GriffinOne.com , www.theArtofSkinner.com, www.MaxEhrman.com. And of course, keep an eye out on the streets for more prolific inspiration!
February 18, 2013 | Categories: California, Oakland | Tags: all city paint, art of skinner, california, comics, creativity, eon 75, ernest doty, graffhopper films, graffiti, griffin one, heroes, max ehrman, monsters, murals, mythology, oakland, philosophy, public art, san francisco, social norms, storytelling, street art, trickster figure | 1 Comment