Guerilla street artist Thrashbird skewers the shallowness of social media, and Instagram is eating it up
Story by Christina Campodonico · Photos by Ted Soqui
Thrashbird has more than 12,000 Instagram followers, yet the secretive street artist has built his reputation on skewering social media.
One of his early motifs is a slack-jawed Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder’s eyes blotted out with spray paint that drips from them like blood. It looks like he’s just had his eyes gouged out, while the text “I Own You” hovers hauntingly below.
(“I do like jabbing people with a little bit of a needle,” Thrashbird admits).
Then there’s “The Clone” (aka Thrashclone), a standing hooded figure slouched over a glowing cellphone screen that is Thrashbird’s signature — a mark that can be found all over Los Angeles, including (as of last Saturday) sidewalks behind Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Thrashclone is a nod to the practically universal stance many assume while tweeting, texting, liking, or even posting a picture of “The Clone” itself to Instagram, which just seems like the natural — if super ironic —thing to do.
“Thrashbird often stencils his clones on the ground rather than on the side of buildings,” street art scholar and Art and Seeking founder Lizy Dastin writes on the online platform Interartive, “and if we happen to spot them while we’re walking and texting at the same time — well, we’ve proven the artist’s point, haven’t we?”
#thrashclone for the win.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Thrashbird of using social media to promote his art. “I want to be able to sustain myself off of art. That’s the path I’ve chosen. But within that, in social media you have this ability to access people and to throw ideas back and forth, and I think that would be a better direction to see social media going towards — empowering each other versus what I like to call, ‘#howf**kinradismylifecomparedtoyours,’ which is the constant pursuit to outdo everyone. Every post has to be this pic of your life being so much better than everyone else’s.
“What I find really interesting is it’s called ‘social media,’ but social media isn’t social. It’s selfish media,” he continues. “It just seems like social media has become this tool to brag about how good your life is.”
Life, however, is looking pretty good for the Xennial (halfway between Gen X and Millennial) artist, whose first solo show opens Saturday in Culver City.
Titled “No Famous Guest Appearances” (a lyrical reference to rapper Nas’ “Got Ur Self a Gun”), the exhibit explores the interplay of fame and social media, considering society’s obsession with both. Featured work includes mixed-media pieces, wood cutouts, freehand and stencil drawings of Thrashbird’s street art on canvas, plus the debut of an interactive augmented reality app that brings Thrashclone to life on your phone.
“I think the construct of this imaginary thing called ‘fame’ is a poison on a society,” says Thrashbird of his show’s concept. “The more famous you get, the more mediocre you get.”
That’s what Thrashbird is trying to resist, even as his following continues to grow.
“I’m not an advocate for mediocrity. I’m an advocate for progression and innovation,” he says.
I get a taste of Thrashbird’s perfectionist impulse while following him around the back of Abbot Kinney Boulevard early last Saturday morning.
Scouring the sidewalk for an ideal spot to lay down his stencil, his face obscured by a blue bandana, Thrashbird stops at the feet of J. Goldcrown’s selfie-friendly mural “The Love Wall.” He lightly taps the tip of a spray can to get the optimal amount of paint out of it, gets down on his hands and knees to blow the paint out like a sunburst, and peels the stencil off the ground with a flourish — revealing a white-faced woman applying too much orange blush to her cheeks, smeared yellow gloss to her lips and a garish green to her eyelids. Splatters of orange paint — which he literally thrashed off his hands onto the pavement — look like bits of powder falling from her brush (which Thrashbird happened to find on the ground that day).
The tagline below the over-primped prima donna reads, “Ware more more more makeup!”
One of Thrashbird’s more controversial designs, it challenges viewers — especially women — to reevaluate society’s beauty standards and their own, but it also showcases Thrashbird’s flair for precision and spontaneity.
“I wing it with the color choices,” he says. “I want it to be abrasive and contrasting. That’s what I love about the stencil game. It’s unpredictable.”
The renegade and uncertain lifestyle of the street artist seems to suit Thrashbird well. He looks good in his camo pants and bandana, he’s commandeered commercial billboards as his canvas, and he takes getting busted in stride.
“I was hitting these boxes on a rural highway,” recalls Thrashbird of a past road adventure. “Somebody saw me. Twenty miles later I get lit up — pulled over. My car is covered in paint. There’s no denying it.”
But the possibility of arrest has yet to deter Thrashbird from continuing to make art that pushes legal and creative limits. Instead, he feels the unsanctioned nature of the work adds to its meaning.
“I got into [street art] because of the mystery. The enigma around how it gets done,” says Thrashbird. “Sneaking around when everyone’s asleep, it feels like cities are very different at night when no one’s around. You kind of feel like you’re in your own world.”
Just as we increasingly build our own worlds through social media, Thrashbird is building his on the streets of L.A. and the feeds of Instagram. He’s tackling what that kind of fame actually means, but says he isn’t quite ready to relinquish his anonymity.
“I’ve wrestled with taking off the mask,” says Thrashbird. “For now, I’m going to continue to wear it.”
The opening party for Thrashbird’s “No Famous Guest Appearances” is from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 13, at Bruce Lurie Gallery (2736 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver
City) and remains on view through May 20. Visit thrashbird.com for more info.
App Store: http://clone.5d-vr.com/app/index.html