Democracy Murals

In times of cultural and social discussion, unrest, or revolution, street art can have an important role to play to help contribute to our community’s conversation. Although our country is no stranger to the themes of racism, hate, disenfranchisement, sexism, and suppression, the past years have created an environment to comfortably display these deplorable beliefs. I wanted to meet this hatred head-on and respond with work that could encourage conversations around freedom, democracy, and an ability to rise above the din of bigotry.

The night of the first protest mural. The people in the background are watching as tear gas is being used to disperse a crowd a few feet away (the first of many nights SPD would use flash grenades and tear gas on Capitol Hill). I finished this piece while grenades were flying.

I pivoted from painting Covid-19 focused murals to more politically motivated pieces in June after the murder of George Floyd. But more specifically, I was watching a stream of a march in downtown Seattle and saw an 8 year old child get pepper spray by police. With so many emotions about the many injustices, I began working on the above stencil design. This was the first of many instances of this piece, and this night I would paint it in what would prove to be the start of series of intense and impactful months. Here is the caption from the night I painted the above image.

Tonight was one of the most surreal nights I’ve ever had. Given recent (and ongoing) events I felt I needed to join the conversation the best way I know how. I painted this mural this evening as a sign of solidarity and hope. I worked on the piece about 100 feet away from a squad of riot kitted police on Pike st, who occasionally walked by in groups of 20+. This was a curious enough audience. But I also worked to the backdrop of overhead helicopters and the emotional chants of a society who has reached the end of their tolerance of grieving and suffering. Twice, I found myself in the middle of the organized march (sorry I was in your way folks). Toward the evening, the people in the building I was painting came out to walk their dog and say hey. That’s when the explosions started and the tense evening turned into a frantic one. As people started running away from the nearby explosions and toward pike, the couple ushered me (a stranger) into their shop where we listened to a mix of screams of confusion, cries for help, and yells of anger, all set to a backdrop of exploding grenades and sirens. After a long while, when the sounds died down to mostly people chanting, I left the shop and finished the mural, keeping one eye on the people occasionally running behind me (some to safety, some toward the conflict). Once home, and while typing this, I’ve counted what sound like 14 gun shots. There are so many people who are just angry and scared. There are so many emotions in the air. So just know, Seattle, I love you, whoever you are. And please be kind to each other.

Jun 02, 2020
A design created in solidarity, love, and anger. First painted near 12th and Pike.

I continued to paint this image throughout the year in multiple parts of the city, but largely around areas of protest (all about 70 x 48 in). It saw marches. It witnessed brutal acts of violence. It had blood spilled just a few feet away. It filled what would later become known as CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest). I was humbled to have many people share with me stories of its importance to them in a time of so many conflicts and conversations.

Used as two cover images for KUOW/NPR.
Police barricade during the summer protests.
Police deploying tear gas and flash bangs the night before CHOP was established.

The area of the summer protests surrounded the building that holds my studio. My community has been an important element of my art and to see such pain and passion has greatly influenced my work. This night in particular will continue to be very formative.

The demonstrations on cap hill in Seattle, again, develop into a show of force from police and military with flash grenades and chemical agents. Earlier in the day, I was walking around taking photos of the amazing protest art going up in the area thinking, for as many times this week, that our community is so powerful. That in times of grief, anger, and so many other complex emotions that I will never begin to understand– we can still be beautiful. But last night, that beauty was eclipsed by another ugly shadow. Last Monday, I wrote about being caught up in a dispersal while painting a mural. I felt like a rock in a river, unaware of the water flowing past me. Every day since then, I’ve joined the community at the line to express solidarity and share these streets as they collectively bleed with emotion. Last night, I wasn’t a rock, but a fish, actively swimming in the river. The result was affecting. The demonstrators showed that a wall is a symbol, and we built our own line. Our crowd was shot at by a person who drove thru a barricade. Council member @cm.kshama spoke to our crowd, not from a podium but from a megaphone. And the evening developed into another night of social division. It destroys me to see people get hurt. I don’t want any more pain. But I was proud to be an ally to my community last night. I was proud to feel the flash bang shrapnel bounce off my chest in the first volley of grenades. I was proud to stand with my disenfranchised friends in a cloud of tear gas and feel my stomach and chest constrict as my nose and mouth foamed. I was proud to pull people up and give assistance as a force of armed men and women advanced on umbrella wielding citizens. There are no words for weeks like this. I can’t imagine a lifetime of it. I can’t imagine generations of it. Be good to each other, Seattle.

June 07, 2020
In the alley of SPD while CHOP existed.
After CHOP was dispersed, the alley was immediately painted, but some pieces were apparently spared according to Dept of Arts and Culture for “Cultural Relevance”.

Additional murals were created to meet additional current events throughout the year– for instance the shooting by, and subsequent celebration of, Kyle Rittenhouse, at another BLM protest inspired this tryptic.

Mural on Pine and Harvard.

I tried to chronicle the moments around each mural. For instance, days like this one:

As usual, it was such a strange moment in time to be painting. While prepping and cutting and painting, I was working to the soundtrack of a right wing prayer rally in Cal Anderson Park. Meanwhile, a blue lives matter demonstration was underway downtown to protest the city council’s pending vote to defund police. A counter protest was roaming the hill. I heard two unrelated fights break out, and one road rage incident. But every coin has two sides. Many of the residents of the apartment I was working on came out to talk to me and we had nice conversations. Passersby were very happy to see more art going up. And a stranger brought me a pastry (my third food offering while painting haha). Now, more than ever, we need to stand up and take the power away from hate in its many forms. Sometimes that’s a revolution. Sometimes, that’s a stranger handing out baked goods.

August 10, 2020
When viewed directly, the message “ERASE HATE” is clearly displayed.
When viewed at an angle, the message becomes difficult to read– Symbolic of the need to address racism head-on.
Hand cutting a stencil layer.
One of the safety barriers installed by WSDOT in CHOP. SPD would later use these concrete blocks to build a wall around the East Precinct.
Two pieces on Harvard and Pine
A piece meant to fight voter suppression. On 10th and Pine.
Painted after the Capitol Riots on Jan 6, 2021 in Washington DC

Of course, not everyone is a fan of my opinions. When you speak out against racism and hate, you still somehow offend people. It was pretty interesting to see what type of vandalism these pieces incurred, which I repaired quickly and frequently. Here are some of my favorites.

Anti BLM sticker (Burn, Loot, Murder)
Pro Trump written on flag of protester
Covered up info about mail-in ballots.
Scribbled “Bull shit narrative” over the image of a black infant.
Covered the image of a black person with hand lotion.