ROA is one of the most illustrious / notorious urban street artists in the world. ROA’s artworks show that “Spray Can art” can be very intense, curious and beautiful.
ROA paints intriguing murals of animals in hidden places – underneath bridges and on walls that strayed from the beaten path. Based in Ghent, Belgium, ROA is renowned for his giant black and white animals. He is earnestly repopulating the cityscape with animals, as a way to have them re-enter the contemporary landscape that was once theirs. With a style all his own
The presence of ROA’s charismatic vermin in this extreme urban environment raises a question about our relationship with nature, that can tenaciously adapt, survive and thrive – supporting a variety of animal life here even in such apparently unsympathetic circumstances. There is an unease about their presence, a tension that provokes us to see the reality of the cityscape we have created. His creatures may be at odds with the city but they are not defeated by it, they are clinging onto life, tooth and claw. They demand our respect.
ROA is a nomadic artist travelling through the world which let’s him be totally immersed through his journeys with the native animal kingdom. The mural paintings of ROA illustrate a creative biological research about animal species in their lost habitats all over the World. He often offers an indirect comment to a current global tendency by trying to interact (through the depiction of native animals from the place) with the most territory obsessive mammal; human.
Roa is unique among street artists for his unsentimental images of animals that, in spite of their exaggerated features, reveal an understanding of the anatomy, movement and personality of the species in question.
ROA started painting abandoned buildings and warehouses in the isolated industrial areas of his hometown. Since then, his work has been seen in New York, London, Berlin, Warsaw, San Francisco, Oakland, Miami, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Cologne, Zaragoza, Madrid, Paris, Moscow, Barcelona, Brussels and now Perth and Sydney.
To complete the works for Paradox, FORM Gallery and Skalitzers Contemporary Art took ROA to the remote Pilbara region of north western Australia, Rottnest Island and south-west regions of WA to learn more about Australia’s ecosystems, fauna and history. Travelling through remote terrain accessible only via four-wheel-drive or on foot, deep in Ngarluma country, ROA was hosted by Ngarluma Aboriginal elders and shown places known only to the locals.
After the opening of his new solo show “ROA Paradox” at FORM Gallery in Perth ( 22nd Oct, 2011 to 13th Jan, 2012 ) ROA spent the week working on a new 21 meter long mural in Fremantle. In less than a month, ROA completed four massive murals around Australia ( Perth, Fremantle, Midland and Sydney) as a prosecution of his permanence here.
This is a place of paradoxes, where the natural beauty of the land intersects with the flotsam and jetsam of human habitant- disused water tanks, abandoned houses, pieces of car and machinery. Where life and death overlap. Where cultures and histories constantly cross paths. Where urban art meets the outback.
Hailing from Ghent, Belgium, ROA has been working prolifically since 2009, possibly earlier.
It is therefore easy to see his work on the walls of his city, Ghent, where he officiates alone, sometimes with good friends ie Bue, Resto, Sweetoof, Best Ever, Leprosy and Santos are his fellow fallow in this country where it is rather used to paint on the stock, rail of course.
ROA’s signature work is pseudo-scientific field manual-style animals in dynamic poses. Detailed linework for their fur, is the norm, and in black and white, often as skulls or skeletons. Sizes range from small to massive warehouse-sized murals.
ROA is a free bird, who paints his tribe purposely animal feeding an encyclopedic book, every day more substantial, raptors, rodents, squirrels, rabbits, birds, cattle, pigs from town to town, he toured Europe, the bulging pockets of acrylic black and white.
He was asked — “How did you decide to paint in the wasteland of your city Ghent ?
He said that he doesn’t remember even Why : — “I have not made a decision, properly speaking, to go painting in the wasteland, I like these places since childhood for their calm, it’s like a refuge in the noisy city. I walked often small in these abandoned places, and I brought home the skulls of cats and rodents, so I guess I have not changed much over the years.
I love to paint, Ghent and we do not really many options so I started painting over there because I’m going always.
In the beginning no one understood my desire to paint in a place abandoned or no one would see my work, but for me it was a great adventure, I had a sketchbook available in 3D for myself, which gave me freedom to practice speaking and understanding what I was doing.
Now that I travel a lot, I miss those places, they give me many different materials, and it inspires me to be consistent with my paintings, the history of the place, the whole industry invaded by nature makes me nostalgic and makes me want to return right away”
Roa has recently spent most of his time painting abroad, where he is often invited and participates in Jams, exhibitions, festivals, with of course during his stay A good number of outlets to cover the walls of the city of his animals.
“ROA: An Introduction to Animal Representation” – exclusive limited edition books
The book chronicles ROA‘s incredible art around the world through photographs, preparatory sketches, clear layered pages which reveal the process of ROA’s design, and two fold-out three-color silk screens in the back.
The embossed cover and inclusion of letter pressed pages makes it clear that each book is a work of great effort and delicate care, while the nature of handmade books infuses each one with a unique life.
White Walls Gallery San Francisco was the venue for the official launch of a select number of these beautifully-crafted books. The book represents the ROA work as an unique edition of 500. Each book is hand bound, including two fold out screen prints of ROA, a Bird dissection and lots more… which infuse each book with an unique life.
Published by Mammal Press, the book is entirely hand-bound and hand-stitched and is limited to a single run of 500 at $350 each
A darling of the underground street art scene, photos of his work regularly appear on Vandalog, Brooklyn Street Art, Wooster Collective, Unurth, and a fury of London newspapers and blogs running to his defense when a street piece he did in Hackney, London faced removal late last year. Similarly numerous works by Banksy were “rescued”, again marking ROAs significance in the contemporary art scene.
“I think it is clear that humanity has decimated several animal species over the past two decades. ‘It’s also clear that people are estranged from nature and their roots,’ ROA says.”These over-enlarged animals are a celebration of the animal world. I put my image out there and people can decide how to interpret it for themselves.” ….. ROA, as quoted by Tristan Manco (Street Sketchbook)
Fascinated with the beauty in the circle of life, he brings the animal world back to our urban jungle, often juxtaposing his imagery onto remnants of yesterday. His bold paintings reintroduce these animals to the locations that they have long since lost to human expansion.
“I do not see any animal in an ingenious machine to which nature has given way to back itself, and to ensure, to some extent, everything that tends to destroy it. I see exactly the same things in the human machine, with the difference that nature alone does all the operations of the beast, instead of the man contributes to his own, as a free agent ”
“Nature commands every animal, and the beast obeys. Man experiences the same feeling, but it recognizes free to acquiesce or to resist, and it is especially in the consciousness of this freedom that proves spirituality of his soul. ”
“I feel very comfortable when it happens between friends or with people with whom I share the same passion. With the guys in Ghent is just great, and then with Sweetoof London is fantastic. I’m not the kind of person who always tries to make connections because often I know exactly what I want, or what I’m looking to put on the wall, and it is something very personal. But when the atmosphere is good, yes, all the way! ”
“It’s nice to paint in a restful and left behind place. It’s like an oasis between “the civilization”. These places have an unique character, the decay and the lost industrial activity (like the factories) offering lots of interesting situations. Once place with a lot of agitation turns out in a wasteland where nature calls back, little rodents and birds are the only survivors in these black holes and taken over the places like humans did some centuries before. It’s fine to paint with nobody passing by or watching you, just do what you love to do, paint”
Drawn in a style between naturalistic and caricatural, enormous kangaroos, wombats, possums and platypus populate old and derelict urban buildings and corners. There is a sort of act of re-appropriation of the space that human habitation subtracted from them. However, in their facial expressions and poses there is also a subtle feeling of resignation, as if the urban wasn’t the space they belong to after all.
Animals are the central theme in ROAs artistic universe. His monumental rabbits, birds, rats or fish, usually in black and white, can be found in cities like New York, London, Paris, Berlin or Mexico. He focuses on the fauna of the region, merging them naturally and seamlessly into the environment.
Often the decompossing creatures reflect the artists critical view of society around the walls where he works. The bold and large scale murals of ROA confront viewers and provide a break in their hectic everday lifestyle, if only just for a moment.
Over the last half decade, ROAs work has been exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions.
Most notably ROAs work was shown in the internationally acclaimed exhibition “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles) alongside Banksy, Swoon, Barry McGee, Space Invader, Basquiat, JR, Os Gemeos and many more.
ROA Transit (Solo exhibition) @ Skalitzers Contemporary Art, Berlin
13th July – 13th August, 2011
A modern-day naturalist, ROA moves between cities, observing and documenting the creatures that inhabit the fringes of human society. Famous for his large-scale depictions of animals on city walls around the world, ROA exposes the natural beauty in the cycle of life and death.
Transit focused on the movement in this cycle – processes of decay, discovery, re-invention, and life born out of death.
Employing the same concept with his materials as with the life he depicts, ROA’s latest body of works are the culmination of a 10 day passage in Berlin, exposing the neglected creatures of his recent travels against the discarded materials and energy of abandoned Berlin
“Roa brings the creatures which inhabit the fringes of human society back to the metropolis to expose the natural beauty in the cycle of life and death.”
Pure Evil Gallery, 2010 – London
These are some of the pieces that street artist ROA showed this evening at his opening at the Pure Evil Gallery in London.
ROA – a Solo Exhibition @ Factory Fresh NY 2010
Since his Belgium beginnings, ROA’s work has hit the ground running like the animals he depicts, scattering on four legs all over major cities, showing up on the walls of galleries and abandoned factories alike. His work has been shown in London, Berlin, Warsaw, and sold out in two days in Paris. He returned to New York, arriving at a very different kind of factory than the industrial wastelands his animals are known to inhabit, ROA’s show at Factory Fresh promised to be untamed and animated as his pieces.
Factory Fresh went wild as it opened its doors to the Zoo-etic art of Belgium-born artist ROA. The artist’s organic animal forms, huge in both their reputation and impact, will grace the walls of the gallery this May, reminding spectators of the forgotten natural world beneath the city’s streets.
Through his large-scale installations of very wild wild-life on the industrial canvas of the city, ROA produces a juxtaposition of the overtly natural against the mechanic that is both feral and nostalgic, a reminiscence of what the world used to be before cement and concrete. ROA is famous for his large black and white works that depict both the outer and inner appearance of rodents, bulls, roaches et al, who slumber on garage doors and cement blocks, copulate in abandoned alleyways and decay on brick walls. His work is sprawling and uncontainable, and will be filling Factory Fresh as such, barely pinned down to found materials, clustering in our corners and escaping out into our surrounding streets.
ROA begins his portrait of the Ibis, a wading bird common in the marshes on the mid-Atlantic coast of the US.
Using only his eye, his spray can, and a confident hand, ROA mapped out the shape of the feathered creature with no false lines, and no chance of erasing. Periodically he brought the mechanical bird to the ground to step way back and assess his progress and make adjustments: the wild animals’ belly got a little fatter, the feathers more shading for depth. As the sun receded and the lights came on, the painting of the Ibis felt more like an “event”, a performance onstage in the floodlights by one of Street Arts’ rising talents who can command a stage and keep it real.
Brooklyn Street Art: How long have you been making animals?
ROA: I think I had a big period when I did all kinds of stuff – from letters to whatever when I was younger. Then I started doing characters. Then for myself I really changed my way of painting and I found out that I really wanted to paint animals. This is a couple of years ago. But then when I look back to the stuff I did when I was younger, there were some earlier tags that were, at that point, not important for myself but when I look at them now I realize that they were already there. In the last few years I think I really know what I am doing. There were signs that told what I might become.
Brooklyn Street Art: So you were writing graffiti first, lettering, tags?
ROA: Yeah, I started when I was like 13 so we copied things out of Spray Can Art and Subway Art – these things were for us like The Bible or something. So if we had a vision of how a piece should be it was like things we saw in these books — colors and a black outline and a white highlight. So for a long time that was what we did.
Brooklyn Street Art: These books were like textbooks for the school of graffiti.
ROA: In a way, definitely. When I started doing that I started skating and listening to Public Enemy. As a Belgian kid growing up in the late 80’s – early 90’s that was the strong influence, these kinds of things – so graffiti was one of these things. So in our minds, it should be done like that. So I think at that point nobody was doing anything else, there was just old-school graffiti..
Brooklyn Street Art: It had become globalized at that point…
ROA: And it is still there. It’s still being repeated now.
Brooklyn Street Art: When did you first see that there began to be a little divide in the graffiti/street art evolution? When did you first get an inkling that things were changing?
ROA: I think because I started to do different stuff, I started to see that there was different stuff. It was not really obvious. People were doing things that were more “characters” like a hip-hop MC with a cute female with a big butt and a chain around (the neck) and a big ghetto blaster. Then at certain points people started painting less of the MC styles – they started to paint extra old-school and “crappy “– in a deliberate way because they wanted “crappy”. A few years ago this was the first “unconventional” graffiti that I started to see – they tried to look crappy. That was for me the first moment that I started to notice a change. And that was the moment when I started to say “you have new styles”. It shouldn’t just be just the old style. You have new styles.
Brooklyn Street Art: So perhaps you had exhausted that vocabulary. You had done everything that you wanted to do and you wanted to discover something different.
ROA: I realized that I wanted to do something different. I had been drawing all my life and I sketched a lot. Most often my sketches were way more powerful than the finished pieces on the wall. So the moment I started to “sketch” with a can, that was the moment when I started to see for myself the change. When I stopped doing surfaces and I started doing lines… It is just a way of painting or drawing. You have a certain kind of culture where it came from but aside from that – it’s just paint and a surface to paint on so at that point I realized that there are so many things you can do and ways you can try to do it with spray paint.
Brooklyn Street Art: So now the proverbial horse is out of the barn and there is no use closing the door.
ROA: Yeah, I think so. It’s too late, that’s for sure. Of course you don’t know what the future will bring and I’m not saying I’m going to do forever what I am doing now. I try to keep on pushing it farther and sometimes I take two steps back and re-examine. It is not always clear, that’s the nice thing.
Brooklyn Street Art: So, for you it is like an evolution.
ROA: Yeah, I think so. It’s an endless evolution. That’s what is so nice about drawing or making stuff. It’s like a piece – when is it finished? Never. You can work on it for hours and hours more and then “Is it finished?” – you never know, eh? It’s like with drawing, too..… when are you a skilled artist? When you die probably, then. Then you are at the end of your journey, then you know what you know. Then you can not know more. Until then you can learn every day. With drawing it is not like a game you can complete. There is always a new level. Even if you get to the next level, then you have ten new levels. That is a nice thing about it, there is no ending.
Regarding the first wave of Street Art:
ROA: …everybody found a style and repeated it over and over and it was all around and people saw it and it was crazy what you could do with one small logo. Then at a certain point, it gets boring too. If you have the same logo over and over — I’m not the guy who says what other people should do, though. I want to do what I want to do.
Brooklyn Street Art: So you feel like now we can identify some of those practices as being a part of the “first wave” of street art?
ROA: I think that made a big difference. Then people made logos and t-shirts and toys and calendars and condoms and whatever, which is ,in a way, really funny. You can do it with stuff like that and you can be all over. But at this point I think we are at a new level and people can do stuff like that but it is more interesting if somebody does stuff with it and it continues and it grows and it lives and you can be surprised by most of the new work. It is not like this symbol repeated again and again with a different color and a little slight twist. In the end, it’s been done. Sometimes it is time to move. When DuChamp put his urinal in the museum it was really one of the biggest statements of the last century. Definitely. But the next guy who did something similar was less interesting. If you see what was done later in the same tracks, it’s really boring. It’s good that things get knocked down and rebuilt and knocked down.
Underbelly Project – New York Subways, 2010
The art world is abuzz about an exhibit that neither spectators nor buyers are able to see. The Underbelly Project, one of the largest exhibits of street art ever shown, is located in an abandoned New York City subway station.
Workhorse and PAC – organized over years an astonishing and especially secret street art project in the underbelly of New York! More than 100 urban artists were brought to an abandoned and almost forgotten or unknown New York City subway station during the last months to paint and create without authorization one of the most spectacular street art locations worldwide!
Paris Exhibition, 2010
Roa come to his painting in different ways, either as abandoned places, town, or gallery, and develops more and more the effects of anamorphosis, also in a goal context. After distinguished journeys in the streets of New York, London, Berlin and Warsaw in 2009, Roa now took possession of Paris in 2010.
“Roa opens a door to a twilight zone by settling in the heart of the city wandering animals such as crows, hares and rats that live close to humans, in relative agreement. He portrayed them in static positions, waiting or sleeping with a disquieting realism in black and white.” His detailed, monochrome animal spray-paintings are well-known around the globe. Every time he creates a new mural art somewhere in the world, it’s recognized by the majority of the urban art movement
Cologne, Germany – 2011 CityLeaks Festival.
The objective of the CityLeaks Festival 2011 is to increase society´s awareness of Street Art. The main focus of international art will be placed on Cologne when the big names of this recent form of modern art join forces in Cologne for the first time and realise their art work at the CityLeaks festival.
The skinned rabbit can be seen hanging at Senefelderstr. 5
Vienna – Aug 2010
ROA spent the month of August, in Vienna as Artist in Resident at Museums Quartier. With the help of the MQ and INOPERAbLE, ROA spent much of his time creating awe inspiring works around the city.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Los Angeles
The Geffen Contemporary Museum, as affiliated with the Museum of Contemporary Art, opened Art in the Streets on Sunday in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo. In addition to chronicling the foundation and evolution of international street art, the exhibition also raises questions about the validity of the art form as it clashes with the legal system, and the direction public art is taking overall. Since the opening, increased vandalism has sprung up in the neighborhood, and the protest group LA RAW was on site to question commodification and censorship
Doel has many in the life of the artist, he was one of the first to paint, and he have great memories,
“Doel is incredible, overnight an entire village abandoned, close to home … a playground for big kids size … Every bit of it was surreal, very few people left behind are very friendly and welcoming, but we also happened to be throwing quite aggressive.. It was a unique adventure, with many opportunities that are not found generally in the “normal” places. Paint the facades of houses, on windows, doors, roofs, all that was really exciting.”
Doel first impression = Desolation: Deserted streets, sealed windows, closed or gutted houses. It was a wasteland. Several locals still live here, as there were a few cars parked on the side of the road. There were banners in Flemish, and several squatters. On certain walls, there were beautiful paintings, by Roa and Resto for the most part. And all of this amid freight ships sliding along the river of Scheldt, before the nuclear plant and its two huge chimneys spitting out steam. But what has happened here, what is the history of this village?
Actually, “the case” of Doel is very famous in Belgium. For 40 years, the village was threatened by the expansion of the port, and during the last decade, it suddenly came to its demise. The new Port terminal was officially installed here, by this village, and residents were asked to pack their bags. But some resisted, remain in their homes and paint slogans for the survival of their village. An association was born, Doel 2020, and the artists came to support the cause by painting on the walls and creating installations. The contrast between the empty houses and the residents’ resistance is striking.
Whatever birds ROA thinks they are, they seem particularly at home in this neglected area of Spitalfields, where nature has taken over and where the neighbourhood foxes have their lair.
There is a fierce bird in Spital St at the back of the Truman Brewery, a miserable lazy pig dozing on the pavement outside a tattoo parlour quietly ignored by a preoccupied smoker in Bacon St, a crow on a pair of doors also in Bacon St and a smaller crow, round the corner on the shutter of the Brick Lane Boutique.
You can watch a time lapse film of Roa at work by night in Chance St on a painting of two pigs sleeping below.
The short film successfully captures ROA’s natural draftsmanship in action and the immediacy of his spontaneous way of working through building up the image with feathery strokes, resulting in such lively paintings placed strategically in unloved corners of our neighbour-hood.
An Afternoon with Roa, Street Artist
February 17, 2011
by the gentle author
With the change in the weather, the street artists are stirring for the first time this year. Yesterday I got a message to say that Roa – the Belgian street artist responsible for the squirrel in Redchurch St and the crane on Brick Lane – was painting a wall at back of the Foundry in Old St, so I grabbed my camera and raced over to discover an empty car park with a lone security guard sitting in a car. I expected him to ask me to leave, but when I enquired about Roa, he told me with some excitement that the celebrated artist was expected at any moment.
In fact, Roa had started painting the day before, evidenced by a pile of finely drawn creatures, a rat, a fox, a weasel and a heron, adorning the raw end of a building where an adjoining structure had been removed. Just as I was admiring this, a skinny pink-faced young man in a woollen hat came round the corner carrying the front end of a steel ladder, with a portly builder in a blue football shirt following up the rear. They put the ladder down in front of the wall and shook hands, then the builder left.
The lanky young man stepped forward to greet me, all smiles and offering a paint splattered hand – and I was immediately struck by an intensity in his pale blue eyes as vivid as any of the scrawny febrile creatures which have become his trademark. Yet in spite of being full of life, there was a gentleness about him too, and although I was immediately concerned that he needed to start painting, he was happy to stand and chat whilst puffing amiably upon a rolled-up cigarette. Then, “Alright, action!” he exclaimed, as he turned on his heel, climbed the ladder and began sketching out the hind quarters of an animal about twenty feet up on the wall.
As he worked, Roa maintained a pattern of drawing, moving the ladder along and stepping back to see the bigger picture. Yet he had no sketch, the composition was in his mind’s eye and the nature of the picture was conceived to reflect the qualities of this particular wall, which had a ridge halfway up where he was drawing a second pile of creatures – arranging the shapes upon the surface just as the cave artists placed their drawings to fit the contours of the rock face.
Contemplating the animals, all with their eyes shut, I wondered if they were dead or sleeping, a crucial distinction in the meaning of the picture. “Many times my paintings have been the last thing that happens to a building before it is destroyed,” said Roa,“ that has happened so many times. In some of those places you feel like life stopped at a certain moment.” I asked him whether his animals were sleeping or dead, “I don’t know,” he said with a shrug, before casting a thoughtful eye over his work, “I like to think they are sleeping.”
We were shivering in the East wind that blows along Old St, so I went to fetch hot drinks and slices of apple pie, and upon my return I was amazed to see a party of a hundred students with cameras emerging from the car park, all beaming contentedly. “They were on a graffiti tour,” explained Roa with modest affability when I handed him his double espresso, “so I invited them in to take a look.”
As the afternoon wore on, ROA reached even higher up the wall, sketching the outline of a heron above the squirrel with the end of a roller on a long telescopic pole, stretching out with it and twirling it down to dip it into the paintpot before swinging it back up again to slap it onto the wall far above his head, all with the satisfying comedic grace of a young Buster Keaton. ROA’s process is to outline his figures with black and then fill them in with solid white before adding the shading and hatching, using a spray can, that brings dynamic life to his animals. These finished works possess such finesse it is as if the designs simply sit upon the surface of the wall, entirely belieing the effort to mediate the irregular surface beneath.
A grasp of the dramatic potential his works is one of the qualities that makes Roa such a superlative street artist. Naturally, there is a tension in the existence of these wild creatures in the cityscape, a tension amplified by their monstrous scale, but, beyond this, ROA knows how to place them. You walk up Hanbury St and the three storey heron appears around the corner. You walk down Redchurch St and the ten foot squirrel leaps out from Club Row.
Here in Old St, the effect is more subtle since the painting is in a car park, but the tip of it is visible from the street which will draw people in to confront the whole thing. Most excitingly, commuters sitting on the top of the bus will have a jolt this morning to see this huge pile of sleeping animals, manifesting the somnolent state they might wish to return to, in preference to work, if they had the choice.
For the last five years, ROA has been painting his animals on walls all over the world in response to a chain of invitations. He has only spent a few months in his home town of Ghent in the last year, and now has come to regard wherever he is engaged in the familiar act of painting as his home.
ROA makes a living but not a fortune, doing the projects he likes rather than those that pay. Mostly, he gets no monetary reward for his work at all and commonly, as at Old St, pays for the paint out of his own pocket too.
Even when the conditions are difficult, I really enjoy this,” ROA admitted to me, his eyes gleaming with delight, as we stood alone in the empty car park in the dusk, clutching hot drinks to keep warm. And after all this investment of care and energy, he is happy to walk away and leave his inspirational work out in the street, subject to the random nature of fate.
“That’s what I like about painting outside,” ROA explained to me, dismissing his own generosity of spirit, “It’s not something harassing you every day at home.”
In a few days, Roa will be gone again like a migratory bird – leaving us the benefits of his life-affirming talent
ROA spends much of his time traveling the world, visiting cities and villages of all sizes.
This summer he was invited to Gambia along with a handful of active Street Artists to paint murals in small villages, which are usually ignored by tourists. The project was meant to encourage “whites” to stop in these towns to admire the works and support the local businesses.
This is a part of Wide Open Walls in Gambia: “1000 cans of paint. 8 artists. 2 weeks. 1 Village. Welcome to Wide Open Walls, an Art Safari. Please subscribe and follow us on this amazing project that begins 12th October 2010.”
Eight well-known street artists converged on the village of Kubuneh in the Gambia with the project aiming to increase tourism to more remote regions of West Africa and to transform Kubuneh into a living art village: an art installation that incorporates local elements and the artist’s personal style.
WOW is the brainchild of Lawrence Williams, a conservationist and street artist originally from the UK. Williams is co-owner of the Mandina River Lodge and co-founder of the Ballabu Conservation Project, part of the United Nations’ S.T.E.P program—Sustainable Tourism to Eliminate Poverty, which focuses on bringing sustainable and prosperous business to the area. He was having a hard time getting the world interested in this rural corner of Africa, so he decided to recruit street artists such as Roa to paint murals on the walls of different buildings in Kubuneh.
ROA’s signature style is to use local animals in his graffiti. From elegant giraffes to lazy zebras and curious monkeys, he manages to capture the Gambia’s natural beauty.
These street artists are certainly not bringing something new to the Gambia or to Africa—instead, they are incorporating rural Gambian experiences into their urban landscapes to create one-of-a-kind international works of art
Street artist ROA recently went on a tear in Mexico, after being invited by Gonzalo Alvarez of Mamutt Arte. “I love to integrate the native animals of the country I visit,” he says, referring to the armadillo, buzzards, raccoon, anteater, and fighting cock he gave his hosts in Mexico City, and a tiny town in the north called Jamaica. Part naturalist and part social activist, ROA shines his spotlight on the underdogs of the natural world as if to elevate their status among the more prestigious animals of the planet.
ROA continues at the pace of a hungry prairie dog running across landscapes dusty and rusted in search of a fitting tableau for his traveling animal reserve. Fans of the Belgian Street Artist are accustomed to his rats and birds and furry creatures climbing rugged weathered urban walls in Europe and the US. More recently ROA discovered the enchanted sunlight that warms the winter earthen hues of central Mexico at the invitation of Gonzalo Alvarez of Mamutt Arte.
“I love to integrate the native animals of the country I visit,” he relates as he talks about the armadillo, buzzards, raccoon, anteater, and fighting cock he gave to his hosts in the metropolis Mexico City and a bit north in the tiny town of Jamaica in the State of Guanajuato. Part naturalist and part social activist, ROA gives center stage to the underdogs of the natural world as if to elevate their status among the lions and peacocks of the planet.
“This big armadillo was a new one for me, ” says the artist about his piece on the facade of The House of Cauce Ciudadano A.C., a non-profit youth services center that serves young people in Mexico City.
Adhering to an austere monochrome palette, he swiftly renders his realist studies using cans and a variety of caps over a rollered silhouette of blanco, if necessary. With wiley coyote agility, a sharply assessing eye and an audacious appetite for painting as many walls as you can source for him, this quick-moving Street Artist continues to populate the wild ROA kingdom wherever he migrates
ROA in San Francisco
Interview with Roa.
By Vincent Morgan
Sept 27, 2010.
FC: Tell us about your beginnings and your discovery Street art.
Growing up in Europe during the eighties, we were under a great influence by the American music, skating, movies etc. The first time you get to hear Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim or the first time we saw Wild Style was impressive. Later I became a huge fan of The Beastie Boys, Wu Tang Clan and everything about hip hop attracted me, also graffiti. Very modestly beginning with doing some Throw ups under bridges and on walls, grown out to an every day passion.
FC: How is the graffiti and street art movement in your town?
My hometown is very tiny, in American terms, it isn’t a real city but more a village. But in this town, Ghent there is always activity, in every way of expression it turns out like a breeding nest for many styles, you can not stick one particular movement on it, but everybody has mutual respect and doing his/her own stuff, which is a comfortable environment for many people. Most of my friends are busy with painting; and we have a lot of people from abroad dropping by to paint, so actually it’s a mellow city were pretty much everything is possible!
FC: What’s your taste in movies, music, and books?
There are a lot of crappy movies but there are also a lot of real inspiring good movies, when I was a teenager until now, I think David Lynch movies makes the most massive impression on me. I like a lot these type of director movies because they try to offer the viewer something more controversial and defying. At that point looking forward to see the new Vincent Gallo movie. And the “popular” European directors like Lars Von Trier, Fritz Lang, Godard, Fellini … and I will never forget the first time I saw the Belgian movie “Man bites dog”. But also movies, like The Shining, Raging Bull, The Birds, Ramble Fish, or Patricia Arquette in True Romance!
FC Best books ? :
The illustration version of the “On the Origin of Speces” I read books when I am on the train, in waiting areas, when I am sleeping alone, …
At the moment I am reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!
FC Best album ever ?
That’s hard, in what kind of music ? Because so many music styles and to many good albums, but personally most listened top 5 bands; The Beastie Boys, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Public Enemy and Wu Tang Clan. Not that means that these are for me the best bands or musicians (maybe Hendrix he is), but just where I listened most to it when I was younger. But I also listen to Kraftwerk, obscure guitar bands, George Clinton and many more!
FC: Name an artist (or many) whose work you respect and admire (not only in the graffiti or street art world).
Again, difficult question, but I like to feel the passion of an artist if she/he is a dadaist, a surrealist, an expressive painter, a director, it doesn’t care, she/he need to tell me a different own story. I love the creativity of Picasso, the genius Marcel Duchamp, the LA artists Paul McCarty and Mathew Barney, the skateboard art from Jim Philips and so on, to many options to choose from.
FC: What’s the point with all those animals? You never wanted to paint Humans or monsters, or even landscapes?
Not in this moment of my life… monsters and robots I used to do longtime ago, which was fun, but I am obsessed by animals! For me they tell so much more about this world then any other creature, but maybe in a year I’ll only paint landscapes…
FC: How do you choose your animals?
It depends on the region where I paint, I like to paint the ordinary animals from that location, I dream to go one day to Africa or Australia to extend my choices.
FC: What’s the idea behind showing animals organs?
Organs are the vital substances of our body and they represent a lot of symbolism which i like! Painters like Rembrandt did it ages before me, slaughter paintings!
FC: How do you organize your paintings? Do you do sketches before? Do you have any “gestures”, characteristics or paint habits? What tools do you use (paint brush, stencils, cans?)
I don’t sketch every piece, mostly I work with a copy of a found animal on the web or from a book, but when I have the opportunity to do something big, i like to sketch it, it makes me much easier to paint. Sometimes I use latex white paint to cover big surfaces, but mostly it’s only spray can.
FC: You seem to love lost places. We saw your pieces in Doel, and in many abandoned places. Can you explain how do you find it, and what’s your feeling about it.
It’s nice to paint in a restful and left behind place. It’s like an oasis between “the civilization”. These places have an unique character, the decay and the lost industrial activity (like the factories) offering lots of interesting situations. Once place with a lot of agitation turns out in a wasteland where nature calls back, little rodents and birds are the only survivors in these black holes and taken over the places like humans did some centuries before. It’s fine to paint with nobody passing by or watching you, just do what you love to do, paint!
Doel was a special case. It’s an abandoned village near the harbour of Antwerp and known in Belgium for his power plant. The village always had a dubious character; at one hand it’s located by the harbour it has an old school wind will and it looks quite peaceful but at the other hand there is the power plant and the industry in between and for many years the inhabitants are threatened to have been compulsory purchased by the government in favor to extend to industry.
But after like 20 years of discussion nobody couldn’t believe Doel had effectively to disappear, and suddenly people were obliged to leave there houses, stop the school, ruin the whole village.
So when we all paint there, there are also mixed feelings from the last inhabitants involved. Some conceive it as an act of rebellion to get attention for their case and bred it in a larger cultural action for there case. Others experience it as pure vandalism and hunt down graffiti painters and promoted themselves as neighborhood watchers by day and night.
But for us it’s just a cool playground!
FC: Did you know this project? : Ghost village
No, didn’t know, that’s great!
FC: Yes, there’s a lot of lost places to paint! Do you need something particular to be creative?
Sometimes music can be helpful!
FC: What was your most adventurous and dangerous piece?
Comparing with the stories I heard from LA painters, I guess I don’t have any story that come close to this! Yes, I undergoing some strange situations, mostly the more dangerous situations were abroad at night time but never get troubles by that, mostly I get troubles with Legal walls from council haters etc. The most adventurous pieces are the most creative challenging ones; the ones you cannot have a fear of heights, and when you suddenly look down you realize that fear lunges in your veins meanwhile you need to focus on your piece.
FC : Have you been arrested for graffiti ?
Yeah I had some problems in the past, but mostly not in my country, because the tolerance here is quite ok when you compare this with London or Barcelona nowadays.
FC: What kind of reaction do you want your art to evoke?
Not a particular one, everybody reacts different and that’s the cool thing about it! Sometimes I hear reactions from people that I think that’s more profound than it was meant to, but that’s nice, the more different reactions, the better!
FC : How’s the collaboration with other artists going?
Between painters it’s smooth and fun, even when we can’t speak to each other because of the language, you have that common expression that offers a kind of connection/communication which is very cool!
A lot of times you met somebody for the first time just before painting, you can not understand each other, but than you go painting and it’s fun and works perfectly!
FC: Tell us about your Show in Paris. What are the feed backs?
It turns out all fine, but I think everything is relative in ‘the Art World’. I need to be satisfied by myself, and good commentaries are really great and flattering but it’s all quite new for me and it keeps for me a challenge to work between the white cube of the gallery. I want to transform these spaces in correlation with the outside paintings and I don’t want to have it hermetic or fancy. For that reason I attempt to experience one show as one large installation where every work interact with the others.
Ideally would be one left building or something more rougher to paint the whole space and create an overall installation. But I was satisfied about my first international solo show, in April and May the London and NY show followed and these were amazing experiences and of course it’s cool to hear the visitors liked the works.
FC: Ever had any serious graffiti beef?
Nothing serious, like I mentioned before, Belgium is a quite small World…
FC: What advice would you give to other up and coming graffiti writers and artists out there?
I am not the person to give advices, but for myself it is painting, painting and painting and keep it fun!
FC: With who would you like to paint?
It’s difficult, in Belgium I paint a lot with friends with different styles which make it sometimes more interesting than people with more comparable approach. I like style crashes and make it not to esthetically but more organic and improvised. But you know, everything depends on the contact with one person, a nice contact can generate a nice collaboration.
FC : Does Street art make you free?
Yes, I think so. Graffiti is one of the most free art expressions of the world; you don’t do it for money nor for an institution, it’s free expression and it liberates yourself creatively from a lot of restrictions.
FC: Why do you paint?
That happened over the years, it wasn’t a moment of awareness to decide to paint. My whole life I draw and making stuff just for pleasure and discovering the medium graffiti was a way of free expression. At the beginning I was using the medium in a very conventional way trough my huge respect to early painters, i never thought about experiment too much with the medium for that reason. But after some years, I wanted more because I like to paint with a spray can and latex rollers, I like to paint wild and doing big surfaces!
FC: There seems to have been a sudden surge of interest in graffiti and street art recently, why do you think this is?
I don’t know, but I do know there are some good painters including in the past exhibitions at Tate London and at Foundation Cartier Paris and people who like art get to know this people in a larger context. It is one of the most biggest continuing international movements that I can imagine, people from South to North America, Europe, Russia… are connected by painting without any funds or institution involved.
So sometimes it gets attention and other times it gets denigrated, but the good thing is: all these guys (and some women!!) don’t paint to impress the press, they just do it anyway, so I don’t think it gonna ruin the scene.
FC: How do you see street-art in 10 years?
Changed again and again.
There will always be an underground scene that improves the medium and bring it on a new and higher level. But I am pretty sure hot cities will replaced again and street art will evolving where nobody expect it.
In the nineties Barcelona was the nicest city to paint nowadays the police of Barcelona haunted on the painters meanwhile East-Europe became the perfect region to paint while a few years ago you couldn’t paint there any wall, so it is unpredictable, but everywhere there are creative people and a lot of regions we don’t know the talent yet!
Let’s hope that Asia also get more involved, like the South America styles and the Russian Styles do at the moment, they open the medium to flourish!
FC: Who’s the owner of the street?
FC: What are your worst and best habits?
Worst & best together; I do what I want!
FC: Do you practice other forms of art?
FC : Your favorite colour ?
Every color has his qualities.
FC: Word Association : I’ll give you a word and you give me the first thought that comes to mind.
Paris: Impressive architecture
Brussels: Waffles and Chocolate
Street art: all kind of graffiti off springs
Vandalism: What’s in the name
Britney Spears: Slutty Mini Mouse
Subway systems: Boogie Woogy, amazing well organized transport with a huge subway culture history
FC: 3 things to do before you die ?
Just try to do every day something enjoying. Live, breath and think.
FC: Favourite 3 pieces of all time and why?
Because it’s under the chapter ‘perso’, you mean from myself? Uuuhhmm, The NY cranes, the dead bird, and…the lenticular rabbit. Why?
The NY cranes: because it was a real pleasure to be back in NYC and painting there stays something very special. The cranes are partly paint with rollers (latex) and finished with cans, which I don’t do often, but it’s great, it’s so fast and nasty…I want to do this more. When it’s about action painting, this one was great to do.
The dead bird: I just liked the situation; being on the silo and try to cover every piece of it, sometimes I need to be very athletic to get my last stripes on, but I was satisfied with it and I want to find more situations like this.
The Lenticular rabbit in London: Painting that gate wasn’t easy…it was wintertime LND, cold and dark and I needed to be focused to get that rabbit in 2 angles well proportioned and right. It was a hell of a job and it was probably the piece that I swore constantly under my breath!
FC: Favourite city to paint and why ?
NYC because of the history of graffiti and the big American sized walls!
FC: Perfect day ?
Beautiful light shining to the curtains of the room demanding to awake with a smile, going out to a place to paint come back a few hours later and enjoy good food and company, crashing later with a good movie up to next day.
FC: What’s coming up in the next few months? Show etc…
Just did the three solo shows, travelled a bit to paint trough Europe afterwards and in the future, some mural festivals, and maybe soon …LA!
FC: What’s your real goal?
Never had a real goal, maybe a dream that I could be in a situation that offers me satisfaction with my life and it all comes more and more realized… something that I never really could believe, I have a driver license, I have a great love, I do what I want to do and I travel a lot, I have a passion for painting, that’s really more than I EVER Expected!
FC: Any words of wisdom?
Thank you Roa!!
Here are some more images of ROA’s work around the World