JBAK in Berlin, a 32 Meter Human Totem and How it Got There

Karl Addison and James Bullough, as JBAK, Share Their Trip With You

Berlin’s dedication to public art takes another leap with a newly completed mural by American duo James Bullough and Addison Karl, creatively partnered as JBAK. Nearly a year after the art and education initiative LOA Berlin (Lichtenberg Open ART) put out the call for submissions to hit this tower in the housing association HOWOGE Wohnungsbaugesellschaft mbH, the two guys find themselves exhausted and elated with their latest photorealist painting in this high profile location.

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JBAK (Karl Addison and James Bullough) and their new “Totem Mural” for Howoge LOA. Berlin, Germany. (photo © Just Photography)

“From meters away the seeping feeling of being proud and accomplished washes over. The kind words of passer-bys, neighbors and the local business owners. Making every long moment worth every second of it,” Addison tells BSA below as he recounts how personally affected they were by the process of pitching to be considered and eventually awarded above a competitive field of around 50 artists and artist teams from six countries.

And then there was the execution of the actual mural.

The average observer of a mural like this one in Lichtenberg, and Street Art or urban art in general, has little appreciation perhaps for the psychological/ spiritual / physical energy that can go into the process for any given artist or project. In fact, many artists don’t realize the effort until they endeavor to try. When the project is formalized to the degree that this one is, many artists simply choose to not apply at all, so intimidating and resource intensive it the process. Not to mention the setbacks, sudden turns, revisions, and problem solving on the fly. But of course, it happens all the time and people who create art in the streets can be pretty scrappy and resourceful.

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JBAK (Karl Addison and James Bullough) and their new “Totem Mural” for Howoge LOA. Berlin, Germany. (photo © Just Photography)

 

With a generous sense of sharing some insight on the process, Addison gives BSA readers personal view of the experience from an artists perspective, revealing the costs involved to merely to be considered for a public/private works project such as this where a variety of voices are involved in the conversation before an ultimate decision is made. It reads like a personal journal, but it is a template for many who would try to make the transition to professional artist.

“ ‘For the long haul’ – it’s one of those things you hear about from a good friend and exceptional fellow artist. At first glance the whole experience seems a bit overwhelming but then you put your head down and buckle down for the application process. What to show, how to explain – will the work stand-up by itself? Some times you may complete 10-15 applications like this per month – it is always the beginning with very little turnover to actual work or the creation of beautiful things to come.

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JBAK (Karl Addison and James Bullough) and their new “Totem Mural” for Howoge LOA. Berlin, Germany. (photo © Just Photography)

“ ‘Maybe this one is different’. After a few months we received a nice letter of acceptance. Surprised, happy – and ‘oh shit’ are all simultaneous reactions. Now the grind of what comes next – so many factors to include; the building, the audience, the people who live there, the colors, my collaboration with James Bullough, HOWOGE (the ones organizing the whole project under LOA), my own interests, passion, the scale and much more.  Then there is ‘The Unknowing’ ; is this the best artwork I can create for this project – will it be accepted – can I do better? Every question leads nearly to no answer, but 45 more questions.

‘It is the winter months and we’re working online and in a studio going back and forth as to the possibilities and composition. After a long day of taking hundreds of mock-up photos somehow the very last photo taken has the concept we need. We begin planning out the colors, the theory and the collaboration aspect of the painting. We make a full canvas piece in the proportions of the wall to get the right details.

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JBAK (Karl Addison and James Bullough) and their new “Totem Mural” for Howoge LOA. Berlin, Germany. (photo © Just Photography)

“ The time has come for us to present our idea – in a room sits many people loaded on every side except directly behind James and I. We’re overwhelmed because there are three times more people in the room then we expected to be there. Pushing forward, we begin to discuss and present our artwork and concept. It does not go well. We leave discouraged and feeling all the holes of our artwork for this project. A week or so goes by – and again to our surprise we get another nice email asking for some revisions to our artwork.

“Back to the studio, we’re trying to fill those holes in – and to fix what we can with the work. We come to a point where the collaboration is happy – we have both created something in over three years of doing projects together and we are both happy with this. The artwork compliments both sides – it is strong and subtle with room for the imagination and interpretation of the viewer. It has a strong positive message for it’s new home on Landsberger Allee 228b in Lichtenberg. With fingers cross we send in the second proposal.

‘Waiting….. waiting….. waiting… doubt…. waiting…..

“An email comes in – I read it once, twice and for a third time. It sinks in. The Totem Mural is accepted! In an instant we have been selected for the next Howoge LOA mural. I’m sitting on my couch in my studio when I read it, lucky for me. I’m nearly speechless as I show the computer and email to one of my best friends Adrian – and he is screaming with excitement.

“Because of all the work we did during all this process – we have already addressed such a huge part of the painting : everything is nice planned out, prepped and nearly ready to go. The only things left are the logistics about the painting, the materials and how to get up a 32 meter wall. We get the help of a good friend Dennis G. to help us organize the installation – then we plan for the next 4 weeks of work.

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JBAK (Karl Addison and James Bullough) and their new “Totem Mural” for Howoge LOA. Berlin, Germany. (photo © Just Photography)

“ It takes long days and nights, two nights to outline – the first going from sundown to sun up. We focus on keeping the artwork in proportion as we do it in three sections and from different locations. Without sleep we are back up to do it again the next day. The first week is long and unsure and our lift breaks three times,  we have some rain delays and down time until we change machinery. Our schedule for the next month is 6 days a week, 12-14 hours a day. There are late nights coming home when I feel barely able to stand. But then there is the rising up early every morning and getting to work and feeling the warmth of the wall radiating from the sun throughout the day. After four weeks of nothing else, the Totem Mural is finished.

“From meters away the seeping feeling of being proud and accomplished washes over. The kind words of passer-bys, neighbors and the local business owners. Making every long moment worth every second of it.”

 

For more about Lichtenberg Open ART (LOA Berlin) and HOWOGE please click HERE.

 

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