Think of your favorite animals. Now imagine them bursting out of another dimension through neighborhood walls. That imagery falls right in line with the whimsical work of BirdO. The combination of vibrant colors with assorted geometric shapes award a kaleidoscopic vibe to viewers as they see a new form or bold pattern with every tilt of the head. There's a childlike innocence to his subject matter but more like when you find out your favorite children's book has some dark back-story when you get older. Saturated hues and a prominent shadows bring his surreal creatures to life as they travel across the walls of unassuming structures.
Visual artist and graphic designer, Jerry Rugg aka BirdO, went from a kid tagging the streets of Canada to transporting his unusual beings around the world. Some may be quick to recognize him now when he's outfitted in his large bird headpiece that adds to the enchanting nature of this artist. His creatures have found home in Los Angeles, Toronto, and Ireland to name a few and are steadily populating the Earth.
Jennifer Agyapong: When did you begin pursuing your art?
BirdO: So I had began sort of like scribbling my horrible nickname on other people's property many years ago. Probably over 10 years ago and had what felt like a life time of adv- not adventures- misadventures. I mean just like within graffiti culture zany stuff is always happening. So I painted for quite a while, and I would say in terms of seriously painting and my craft, 3 or 4 years.
Do you think there's something that specifically triggered the switch 4 years ago?
Yeah I mean I just sort of was tired of getting arrested for one, but there is actually a trigger. I went to design school, graphic design school, and sort of learned a lot about composition and having the viewers eye and how it can sort of traverse your work. I always site that I'm inspired by graphic design and that can sort of read through my pieces.
What were early influences?
Early early inspiration definitely stems from Tim Burton. Just think Beetle Juice and Batman, I love Tim Burton's work. I always used to say Dr. Seuss was a big influence of mine. The world is so great currently. People are just doing amazing work all over the place every day you can discover something from graphic designers to fine artists to graffiti artists, sculptors, installation artists it's just incredible. I definitely gravitate towards surrealism. So I always say Rene Magritte and obviously Salvador Dali I love, M.C. Escher I love.
How would you describe your work?
When I give the elevator pitch the shortest answer is always just surreal geometric creatures. Um I mean a little bit darker than that. What are they? They're playful but mischievous creatures, I'm actually looking over my shoulder because I'm working on a piece now. They're approachable but as you get to know them I think they'll probably potentially take on adventure not necessarily into the depths of darkness but they're not afraid of a bit of spontaneity into stranger places. Yeah I've never given that answer before but I like that.
You should write a book around your characters I feel like you could. I would buy it.
What's interesting is I find young children gravitate to my work as I paint outdoors and people sort of come by to ask questions. Often parents with their young children. There's definitely a kid's book aesthetic and kid's books if you look at them they're obviously approachable they're character driven, colorful, but they're kind of creepy actually and characters are kind of dark and weird and I actually like that kids gravitate to my work. People have suggested I illustrate a kid's book which could be on the list of all the things to do in the future.
You described your work well but is there an underlying theme throughout your work in the back of your head?
No I can't say there's a theme. I definitely want to progress and evolve and be a bit more thematic. I openly would say that there isn't really a story within any of my individual works. There's definitely elements for people to interpret on their own. You know sort of express that they see something that I never intended to be there or I never once considered. That's a compliment. I mean that's what art should and can do. But definitely as I continue to explore and continue to go I like the idea of telling more of a story within the piece.
Do you see a difference in your studio work vs. your street work?
As I mentioned I had been painting with aerosol even if it was.. I used to paint freight trains and graffiti and so the process of once I really start to use paintbrush acrylic oil paint, it's been certainly more meditative I guess because it's just been longer process for studio. When we do mural pieces outdoors you get your sketch up I always say the hardest part is getting the proportions of your outline up then it's just headphone. You throw your headphones in then you party. It's so much fun- not to say that- I mean studio work is fun but it feels more like work than mural work does even though mural work can be work but there's something about being out there, people around or there's other elements like life elements going all around you where as studio work I find that I'm spending so much time just by myself in this little fluorescent lit cubicle.
I know you mentioned a lot of kids reacting to your work. Have you had any interesting encounters of people reacting your work, good or bad?
This was a few years back. It was my birthday wall in April and I had a bunch of friends which is common when some friends bum around the wall and we'd hang out. This particular piece is in somewhat of an alley with some interesting individuals and some people were inebriated on many forms of chemicals or alcohols and a lady came and was so explicit about my perspective she was just critiquing so hard "you're doing it wrong, this is awful, this is terrible" and at a certain point I was like okay but can you let me do this. I do remember it was funny my buddy took me aside and was like "You know she's right about that" I was like okay fine but I mean I'm painting here. She just got more and more belligerent she was drinking heavily. So we wrapped that day and I was the first one to the wall in the morning and on the wall on my piece there was human feces all over my piece. I called my other buddies and they came and they were just bursting out laughing. They created the theory that the woman took [offense] to my not heeding her advice and came in the night and showed me literally how she felt about my work. So she shit on my wall possibly literally and figuratively.
Any current favorite artists?
Yeah I would highly recommend Rex Van Minnen he's doing incredible stuff. There's a ton of people doing incredible work.
Is there anything interesting you would want people to know about you? It doesn't have to be art related.
If I were to ever receive a gift from somebody it's just a cup of warm Earl Grey Tea with lots of sugar.