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Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Brooklyn-based muralist Hellbent has a unique aesthetic that may already be familiar to locals. He’s had solo shows all over the country, from NYC to Georgia to LA, and has even exhibited in the United Kingdom. If you live in New York City, you’ve probably seen his work across bricks and buildings – an abstract blend of mesmerizing colors and geometric patterns. We had the pleasure of speaking with the artist to learn more about his work.
When did you first discover your passion for art?
When I was in third grade I did an after-school art program when I lived in Portland, Oregon, and I had a hippy-ish teacher with a long beard. I just did portraits of him with collage, drawings, and clay. I don’t think I had seen anyone with a beard before – it must have fascinated me – but it introduced me to a lot of different mediums and a way to express myself.
Have you always been a muralist?
I started doing Graff in high school, running around with a few friends and catching tags. When I went to college and started learning about Jenny Holzer and Barbra Kruger and the like, I got inspired and started doing some word stuff and wheat pasted them around town. Mostly very political stuff like, ‘We live in an economic totalitarian state’, and ‘There are a lot worse places your tax dollars go than to support art’, are a few that I can remember.
Why did you move to NYC? What makes it so special?
I moved here because of the song ‘Walk on the Wild Side‘, by Lou Reed. I heard that song occasionally on the classic rock station my dad listened to in the car when I was super young, and it was different than a lot of the other schlock he played – I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but it spoke to me none-the-less. Everyone says it, but it’s true: there is energy here. So many talented people around you makes you push harder, makes you better at what you do.
Do you have a favorite spot in New York City?
The Met, specifically the Chinese Garden court on the upper floor of the Asian wing. It is a nice quiet place in the middle of this humming city. I go up there and draw whenever I can. Also, love Low Brow Artique in Bushwick. I can go hang out and get paint and catch up with Bishop who owns the place, and usually meet a visiting artist painting at Bushwick Collective and run into some friends.
What defines a muralist?
I guess one who paints murals. I mean, I do paint canvases, but I think being able to take what you do in the studio and scale it up so it still reads as if someone was in a gallery viewing it is what makes it successful. I see painters who try and do murals and it just doesn’t read the same. It is about taking all the things of the wall you are working with and making them work in the mural. A lot of times there are weird things happening on a wall – it’s not a clean surface, so you have to adapt and not try and force your will into it too much.
How long have you identified as a muralist?
Since my daughter was born, I’ve chilled on going out and doing anything at night (i.e. anything illegal). While I miss some of the aspects of all that, I do enjoy taking time on a piece and seeing it through. So I guess I have been strictly painting murals for the last four to five years. I still do art shows, but when the weather gets nice I want to be outside on a big wall with my headphones on.
Do you have any words of encouragement for others aspiring to achieve their dreams?
Perseverance. I save all my rejection letters.
What does your art mean to you?
It is an extension of me and my personality. It’s me in 2D.
How does it feel for your work to be increasingly recognizable by the general public?
It’s been great! It’s nice to be asked to do projects in my style because people have seen my work and they like it. I am very humbled just to be able to do this at all.
Who are your influences?
I am really into the West Coast Abstract movement: Clyford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, and the Hard Edge Painting philosophy as it pertains to Geometric Abstraction and OpArt. Lately, I’ve been looking at the Washington Color School (Sam Gilliam, Anne Truitt, Howard Mehring, etc). I identify with the Graffuturism Movement when it comes to contemporaries that I dig. Poesia, Augustine Kofie, Remed, MOMO, SatOne, Alex ‘Hense’ Brewer, and many other amazing artists associated with that movement.
How much of your day is spent thinking about your art and mural-ing?
Well, I have a 4 year-old daughter who keeps me pretty busy, but every day I think about something I want to paint, or a project to propose, or something art-related.
Is there anything you wish you could design but haven’t yet?
I would like to do a really tall building. 15+ stories. I think it would be a great challenge, and would love to see my work that large within a city.
What is your favorite work to date?
I have to say the mural in Little India in Journal Square, Jersey City. It was a giant building, and it was the first time that building was in my favorite format, which is a square. The people were really amazing and so happy about the painting, and I just had a great bunch of people that were involved in project. It was a blast, and I was really happy with the way it turned out.