Street art has many wonderful qualities. For one thing, there’s the serendipitous joy of stumbling across a mural that you didn’t know existed. What was once a dull section of wall, an unremarkable stretch of urban geography, becomes a riot of eye-popping colors and bold imagery in an instant.
Part of what first drew me to downtown Phoenix was that treasure-hunt quality to street art – knowing that some random alley or back wall could be the canvas for an amazing piece. That joy of discovery is what often makes these works stand out. Freed from the walls of a gallery or museum, stumbling onto a beautifully wrought mural is like seeing an escaped zoo animal – the fact that it’s out in the world adds to its grace.
But the thing about murals that really intrigues is the lack of context behind their creation. There’s no handy artist statement or museum title card affixed to a wall to tell you who’s responsible (for obvious legal reasons). Nor do the murals tell you the troubled stories of their birth: the interruptions from gawky onlookers, the hassling from cops, the battling with the elements. Each wall contains a story that only the artist knows. As the old saying goes: If these walls could talk…
When I heard about Royce Contemporary’s art show If These Walls…, those unknown stories were the first thing that came to mind. The joint show, featuring the works of Douglas Miles and Thomas Breeze Marcus, celebrates the dynamic work of these two Native American fine artists and designers.
For lovers of local street art, Marcus’s work, in particular, is a familiar sight. His intricate designs can be found throughout downtown. His pieces often feature flowing, interwoven line work that looks like a combination of basket-weaving designs and coloring book mazes. It isn’t hard to imagine someone in an altered state of mind getting lost for hours in those dense thickets of dead ends.
Creator and founder of Apache Skateboards, Douglas Miles often applies an activist spirit to his art. His work pays tribute to his heritage and depicts the realities of life on the reservation through the use of brightly colored figures and backdrops. Whether it’s depicting crucified Natives in one image or showing a determined Native man brandishing a pistol on one of his skateboards, Miles pulls no punches.
Aside from their Native backgrounds, another thing that unifies Marcus and Miles is that they use similar tools. Both artists work heavily with aerosols and paint markers to bring their elaborate pieces to life. And while they draw from different wells of inspiration, their work shares a feeling of playfulness, freedom and expansiveness.
In a civilization that has cruelly pushed Native Peoples into the margins, the work they create pushes back, reclaiming the soil of their ancestors brick by brick, wall by wall, stencil by stencil.
If These Walls…
Through March 31
7077 E. Main St., Suite 6, Scottsdale