Storied Portraits In a Texan Music Warehouse
Street Artist NohJColey travelled to Texas for a few weeks to visit friends and put up these new portraits in the studios of a de facto music factory. The former meat packing plant is abuzz with activity day and night with up-and-coming entrepreneurs of all stripes pounding out the beats, doing fashion shoots, making videos, mixing music, and a little bit of partying to ease the stress of all that work. NohJ slept on couches for a few weeks and hung out with many unknowns on the hip-hop tip, and a few bigger names too. He also spent long stretches of time killing large walls in these artists studios with his very distinctive illustration style of portraiture. Not surprisingly, the theme of music runs through them.
“The first piece I did was done in the place I was sleeping in. It wasn’t about the owner but it was a reflection of him in a way because he literally ran around with his head cut off and he didn’t know what was going on half the time. He was mostly crying about his girlfriend or surfing the net looking at new videos. Supposedly he was a DJ. He had gigs, but no turntables. He was scratcher and mixer,” explains NohJ about this mural going up a staircase.
If you know anything about NohJ, it’s that he is always thinking and observing people. Each piece has a story that is rooted in his imagination as much as his observation of the human condition. His characters are illustrative of greater truths and of their personal idiosyncracies. You can imagine him becoming a literary or screen writer because he knows his subjects inside and out. Psychology, sociology, and popular culture all come to fore, placed with symbolism and gesture into the portrait and into a moment. If NohJ inhabits each fictional character he creates just for a moment, he stays with them for hours, gently observing their motivations and making judgments about their judgment, blending in some social critique.
Brooklyn Street Art: What about this dude?
NohJ: These are piano keys, I don’t know if I ever said that.
Brooklyn Street Art: No, I didn’t see that
NohJ: Yeah, they’re supposed to be exiting his chest
Brooklyn Street Art: So does it seem like musical notes coming out of his chest?
NohJ: No, just keys
Brooklyn Street Art: So they’re musical tools with which to create the sound but they don’t necessarily have a sound?
NohJ: I’d say they represent the sound just because those are the keys, you know?
Brooklyn Street Art: Biomorphic, undulating
NohJ: Definitely, contorted, yeah
Brooklyn Street Art: What about these gray lines that go around?
NohJ: That’s the chords
Brooklyn Street Art: He looks kind of constricted by them, his lower torso
NohJ: He’s can’t go anywhere because the line is wrapped. He wants to DJ but he can’t get the turntable, it keeps rocking back and forth. He can’t really see it. The right eye is covered because, you know how there are constantly music videos going – he’s constantly seeing the music video in something. He sees clothes, a phone, somebody’s chain, sneakers. He sees it in a video and thinks he’s gotta buy it.
Brooklyn Street Art: So he’s imprisoned by his consumerist tendencies?
Brooklyn Street Art: or just his impulses
NohJ: Probably his tendencies though because he’s like being brainwashed.
Brooklyn Street Art: It becomes a tendency after a while
NohJ: He’s like “Oh, it’s a whole lifestyle”, you know
Brooklyn Street Art: “this stuff represents ‘me’”. He doesn’t look like he’s very old.
NohJ: I don’t know – mid twenties, early thirties
Brooklyn Street Art: So what was the reaction of the person who hangs out in this space?
NohJ: He liked it. He didn’t know what it was about. It was about him though.
NohJ: This one is about noise levels.
Brooklyn Street Art: She’s plugging her ears too.
NohJ: Even though the sound is coming out of her nose. That’s why I used the pattern- It’s octagons and triangles. I usually use triangles to represent strife, the points!
Brooklyn Street Art: So if we see shapes that are in your work that are circles or are circular, what are those going to represent?
NohJ: I rarely use circles but it probably would mean that you are going through a transition. It might be rough but it’s going to get better. It all depends though cause it all has to do with the number.
Brooklyn Street Art: What’s her name?
NohJ: She doesn’t have a name but this is in a guys studio and when he has the speakers on, this piece makes so much sense to you. Because it’s like all this noise coming from the right side of the house and you are just looking at this woman and she is looking at you and she’s like, “Yeah it’s noisy right?”
Brooklyn Street Art: This pattern also makes me think of some folk art or maybe Native American art.
NohJ: I kind of figured you’d…. I mean, why?
Brooklyn Street Art: Because of the diamond motif repeated. I mean it’s a quadrilateral but it’s squashed. There’s no Native American influence here.
NohJ: Maybe, but if so it subconsciously got in there.
Brooklyn Street Art: I think her name is Consuelo. That’s what I’ve decided. But you don’t have a name for her.
NohJ: She’s trying to distance herself from the rest of her body because this over here is her back and the speakers are inbetween, you know?
Brooklyn Street Art: Man! She is really trying to get away!
NohJ: She’s pulling herself apart.
While a portrait may be a symbol of a greater truth, he isn’t going to stand on a soapbox. But if you really want to know and you are listening, he’ll tell you. If not, he won’t worry very much. Amalgams of people he’s met and the person he is, the pieces and their stories have their own logic – part reality and science fiction. Mixing fantasy with reality, sometimes it’s not clear where one ends and the other starts;Just when you think you got the scenario and you think it’s all symbolism and representation, you’ll learn that a character actually does have a piece of jewelry protruding from their head, or a cassette tape flowing out of his mouth and it is not a metaphor after all.
Brooklyn Street Art: Tell me about this boy
NohJ: He’s just like a teenager that listens to all this new music that we’ve been talking about. – Like poor quality stuff.
Brooklyn Street Art: He doesn’t think it’s poor quality though.
NohJ: Exactly, that’s the problem. That’s why there are all these tapes flying at him and he’s just covering his ears. He doesn’t want to hear the titles of the good stuff you know? – Whether it’s like Led Zepplin or the Beatles or I don’t know.
Brooklyn Street Art: What does he want to listen to?
NohJ: I don’t know, like Justin Bieber, Souljah Boy, stuff like that.
Brooklyn Street Art: Is this other guy lecturing him?
NohJ: Yeah, definitely. He’s like an older musician, dressed in 70s fashion.
Brooklyn Street Art: He looks like he was on the set of “Sanford and Son”
NohJ: Yeah, definitely. The large oversized collar, open.
Brooklyn Street Art: That looks like a VCR tape
NohJ: It’s a cassette tape.
Brooklyn Street Art: So what do you think this guy has on these cassette tapes?
NohJ: Like Hendrix, the O’Jays
Brooklyn Street Art: Oh yeah, like “Love Train”.
NohJ: …Sonny Rollins… I mean he’s really just telling him about quality stuff, and really where most of the new stuff derives from.
Brooklyn Street Art: This kid looks a little bit mad
NohJ: Yeah he’s super angry, he doesn’t like this
Brooklyn Street Art: But he can’t talk back, that’s why his mouth is closed
NohJ: I think he’s really scared though because he’s like “how are cassette tapes coming out of someone’s mouth?”
Brooklyn Street Art: I love that kid.
Images courtesy and © of NohJColey