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Photo by Brian Addison. Above: The Draculas’ mural at The V-Room off of 4th and Alamitos.
Let’s be honest: Pow! Wow! Long Beach changed the city’s art scene, turning the city—at least in my view—into one of SoCal’s finest outdoor museums, etching names like James Jean, Tristan Eaton, Nychos, Cryptic, and more into the annals of Long Beach art history. And on walls. For the public to explore.
2018 is no exception.
Artists are presented in alphabetical order by first name.
Andrew Hem: The child of Cambodian immigrants, Hem is no stranger to Long Beach—or the horrors that his parents experienced under the Khmer Rouge. His works are somber, their temperatures cool—as if Hem’s environments are perpetually viewed through a blue lens—and incredibly engaging.
Hem’s work in PWLB first appeared in 2016 when he partnered with Edwin Ushiro and Yaskay Yamamoto to do a mural in Cal Heights on the east-facing wall of Steelhead Coffee at the southeast corner of Wardlow and Orange.
Bordalo II: A son of Lisbon and born in the late 1980s, Bordalo II’s work shows a clear, continuous sentiment: anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist, anti-waste, and anti-authority. With clear hints toward environmentalism, kindness, and corporate skepticism, Bordalo II’s work eschews a cleanliness of lines in favor of compulsive, emotionally-driven strokes that draw viewers in with both wit and worry.
His latest work, focusing on animals and natural conservation, show the dichotomy of nature and manmade elements, mixing sculpture with street art with pieces that take human’s trash and turn them into colorful animals—the precise creatures affected by that trash.
CASE Maclaim: Based out of Frankfurt, this German artist hones in on human features—particularly hands and faces—to create a world that mixes a talent for photorealist painting with overtones of surreality. And don’t underestimate his ability to use spray paint to create highly detailed works: for nearly two decades, his collective of artists known as the Maclaim Crew have taken photorealism to new heights across the streets of Europe.
Evoca1: Dominican Republic-born and raised in Florida, this Miami artist—whose talents span everything from street art to graphic design—has drawn popularity because of one single agenda: “to merge art and humanity into a single creation.” Born Elio Mercado, his pseudonym Evoca1 plays off the Spanish evocar—literally translating into “to evoke”— and expresses his wish “to mobilize the public emotional consciousness in order to raise awareness about the difficulties the impoverished people have to face on an everyday basis.”
Fafi: Fafi, like some of the artists of PWLB ’18, is no stranger to the Long Beach scene. The famed French artist is an alumna of the first PWLB.
(That first piece was an assemblage of her famed Fafinette lady characters surrounded by flowers tied to the fence that faces 4th between Elm and Linden was sadly removed by the property owners just weeks after being put up).
Her work is definitively female-centric, empowered characters that, frankly put, don’t give a fuck. Making a name for herself in the mid-1990s in Toulouse, her sexy, funny, and sometimes aggressive girl characters explored femininity in and through stereotypes.
Fintan Magee: Fintan Magee is arguably the world’s leading social realist muralist, having appeared last year on the cover of Juxtapoz while tackling—sometimes head-on, sometimes more figuratively—questions and thoughts concerning social justice, equity, and identity.
His most recent series of work, under the umbrella title of Who Built the American Dream, takes a deep examination into the values—or lack thereof—that created the dream that only a few have achieved under the hard work of many.
One piece, pictured, shows the under-the-table laborers, often seen seeking work in the parking lots of Home Depots and Lowes’ across the nation, painted onto a white picket fence to show the severe disconnect between those who own the dream and those who built it.
Jason Keam: You might have seen Jason Keam’s work around Long Beach—particularly his piece at Walnut and Anaheim in Cambodia Town as part of the neighborhood’s murals project—because, well, he is based in Long Beach.
The artist’s work is wonderfully whimsical, graphical, and—just to be frank but boring in description—it’s outright fun. Dogs happily drooling. Stick-figure humans enjoying laziness or the sun. Anthropomorphic donuts being happy.
Joon the Goon: This Los Angeles native, born Juan Alvarado, has noticed one thing about LA culture that only those deeply imbedded get: there are strange moments of solitude and loneliness in a place that is simultaneously crowded.
These moments are found when sitting in traffic. Waiting in a line. Sitting at a bar.
Combine this with his influences—everything from graffiti and animation to Japanese woodblock art and comics—you have graphical, sometimes tattoo-like work that defies specificity in its genre but remains referential.
Juan Travieso: Born in Havana and raised in Miami, Travieso’s work explores the divide the digital world has created in terms of both nature—he has a clear obsession with animals—and our conception of time. He loves “notions of impermanence and decay” that are interwoven into the cultural and revolutionary icons of his childhood in Cuba, his dedicated to endangered species, pop culture, and abstract expressionism.
Juane: This Belgian street artist, born Jonathan Pauwels, enjoys disruption with his art by calling out the lack thereof amongst our most important workers, particularly sanitation workers that—despite often working in fluorescent jackets—are relatively “invisible” when it comes to social functioning.
(And yes, he even worked as a sanitation worker to imbed himself in the invisibility of arguably the world’s most important job.)
Funny, irreverent, and challenging, Juane’s workers have become iconic along the streets of Antwerp
Kaplan Bunce: Artist, wood-maker, 2015 President of the Kaua’i POW! WOW! Council in Kauai, and PWLB Alumni (’16).
Kaplan Bunce has built a mural-meets-Native American graphic design world that incorporates geometry, repetition, scale, and a beautiful androgyny where blues and pinks and fluidity are entirely seamless. Gorgeously clean but also playful, the work of Kaplan Bunce is the work of someone paying homage to his heritage while assimilating to a growing world.
Kamea Hadar: Kamea Hadar is no stranger to POW! WOW!—in fact, he’s the co-Lead Director for its worldwide subsidiary as well as the designer/artistic director of Utopium that is home to POW! WOW! Hawaii.
And his art, stemming from having a Japanese/Korean mother and Israeli father, is incredibly intimate in terms of street Art. While his talent was birthed in portraiture, it eventually expanded into murals without losing the intimacy.
Detailed, human-centric, and brightly saturated in rainbow hues, the work of Hadar is grand and personal.
Koz Dos: The work of Venezuelan artist Koz Dos is a surreal blend of realism, graphic design, and overlaid, intertwining symbols.
His work often shows the interplay between humans and animals—be it their fight for survival or their harmonious coexistence when either happen to exist—as well nods toward the human obsession with deities, his imaginary characters evoking gestures ranging from classic Catholic depictions of Christ to Hindu gods.
In other words, it’s captivating.
Leon Keer: This Dutch pop-surrealist loves to play with the perception of space and depth, known as anamorphic street art where optical illusions play with both the viewer’s mind and, well, their own sense of playfulness.
Oftentimes subversive—he once depicted a crucified Lego Jesus Christ on an old Sega Genesis cardboard box, an ode to not only our new gods of consumerism but how the creativity of building things [Legos] has given way to a digitally immersed world where we disconnect from our bodies—but definitively whimsical, the work of Keer is as captivating as it can be challenging.
This is, after all, the man who painted a giant box of Oxycontin with gummy bears flowing out of it.
Lolo YS: Proudly female-centric, utterly intelligent, and genuinely playful, the work of Bay Area-based Lolo YS “aims to create and populate a misfit wonderland in which imaginary heroines can address the absurdities of reality in the confines of a page or a wall.”
Those absurdities—misogyny, inequity, constant battles—are explored in the fantastical, where dreams and mythology, death and love, sex, universal and her Asian-American heritage, all merge.
An alumni and fellow of Nychos’ Rabbit Eye Movement studio in Vienna—Nychos was one of the many famed artists at PWLB’s inaugural season—Lolo’s dream-like world is one which we often wish was tangible.
Never Made: Never Made, born Francisco Reyes Jr. in Compton, is no frills when it comes to his experience growing up in Los Angeles: he faced gangs, dealt with the troubles and beauty of having immigrant parents, and expressed himself initially through punk music.
Those punk roots inspired Never Made—as much a brand as it is the artist—a makeshift clothing and art space he ran out of his garage, eventually attracting the attention of none other than Shepard Fairey. His clean, graphic work has since been a dedicated part of the Obey world as Never Made continues to expand its presence.
Noelle Martinez: Noelle Martinez has been with PWLB since its first year, having assisted Benji Escobar on his now-covered mural that sat on the easter wall of the parking for the Edison lofts in DTLB.
Noelle is, first and foremost, an artist who loves artists. You’ll see her sporting Aaron de la Cruz (PWLB ’15) jackets. Photographing the art of Fafi (PWLB ’15). Visiting musuems around the world.
This inspires her art, often finished off with strong female characters, a saturated color palette, and recurring odes to comics, the 90s, and anything her mood desires—like her PWLB ’17 mural in Bixby Knolls (pictured).
Ms. Yellow: Nuria Ortize goes by Ms. Yellow and calls Long Beach her home—and though she is very frank about having a violent childhood, her art is nothing short of the opposite: swirly, playful, colorful, and definitively feminine.
Her utility box art? They’re the kind we wish we had in Long Beach. Her murals? They constantly play with mythology, the culture of the space surrounding the wall, and dreamlike sequences that draw viewers in—whether you’re an adult or a child.
Shane Sun: This self-proclaimed artist and gardener hails from Long Beach and like his PWLB ’18 counterpart, CASE, Shane has an obsession with hands and nature.
Having grown up in the liminal space that is between East Long Beach and Los Alamitos—a constant dichotomy, “going back and forth between a high school predominantly attended by students from a more regimented area only to return to the second most diverse city in the nation,” as writer Asia Morris described Shane—this tension is visualized in his art.
A constant presence of saturated blues and pinks, his Warhol-like odes to nature, being, and peace are reminders that we should seek balance.
Shantell Martin: There are two types of relations artists have toward their own art: either the work “is not theirs” and once it is released, it is for the world to own; or the work is inherently and permanently attached to the artist.
British artist and cultural icon Shantell Martin is of the latter camp. She seeks to educate, interact, and inform viewers with her iconic black-and-white line art.
Her pieces—sometimes small and intimate, oftentimes grandiose in nature—are labyrinthine, eschewing traditional forms, and unafraid of becoming commercial. In fact, she persistently sells her work to larger formats—clothing outlets, shoemakers—and she has a constant presence on YouTube.
Spenser Little: Spenser Little is obsessed with wire—and it creates artworks that straddle the line between sculpture, installation, and street art.
Sarcastic and dry-humored, his work is often filled with harsh tinges of social critique: one piece depicted an iPhone above a woman’s vagina with the sentence, “If your clit had a touchscreen, he’d caress it more” while another, installed overlooking a serene ocean, depicted a smartphone being held and read, “Authenticity is everything.”
In short, Spenser Little challenges the ideas of space and art itself.
Steve Harrington: Much like Shantell Martin, Steve Harrington—the self-described “contemporary Californian psychedelic-pop artist”—isn’t afraid of commercialism, his work shown on entire lines of Nike shoes and shirts or literally on Coke cans.
But his story wasn’t always one of massive world appeal. Growing up in SoCal, he had to initially skip entrance into the esteemed Pasadena Art Center because he couldn’t afford it, eventually building up a portfolio strong enough to garner him some scholarships.
Since then, he has created whimsical, anthropomorphic depictions of SoCal life—palms trees smiling are often found in his work—that not only make viewers smile but alleviate his own anxiety about “investing so much of yourself into your work that if you get caught up in questioning yourself too much, then that imaginative, creative spark can easily vanish.”
Sydney G. James: Sydney James is unafraid of the fact that the world disinvested in her being, her family, and her community by disinvesting in her entire city of Detroit—but it is in this harsh reality that Sydney also calls Detroit a “black person Mecca,” because it was left to the folks of Detroit to, in her words, create their own landscape.
Unlike Los Angeles—where the mountains and ocean and trees would still be here with or without humans—James feels her community created the environment of Detroit. And this is clearly expressed through her art, where visions of strong black women and black culture are on display unabashedly.
Take her appropriation of Outkast’s Stankonia album cover, a pieced dubbed “Codeswitchonya.” She said of the large mural: “The subject in this piece is one woman painted wearing different garments with very different hair. It’s highlighting the fact that most people ‘code switch’ but black women in this society and beyond have to do it the most. We are constantly in the act of making those around us ‘comfortable.’ Be it our looks, hair, tone of voice, subtle actions or aggressive actions, we are seldom accepted as our true selves.”
Tatiana Velazquez: On the west facing wall of the market at the northeast corner of Broadway and Cherry, the mural of Long Beach’s Tatiana Velazquez, aka Baked Papaya, has greeted passersby.
Her work—bordering the lines between graphics and cubism—plays with female identity, beauty, and the interconnection of all humans.
In other words, it’s just beautiful.
The story of POW! WOW! begins in the warehouse-filled Kaka’ako district of Honolulu, a young Jasper Wong saw an incredible opportunity to create a spectacle that harkened more to the power of humans rather than the excessiveness of human partying.
Coachella he was not seeking. EDC? Absolutely not. He was creating what would soon become a phenomenon that the art world could not ignore. This is Pow! Wow!—and last year, the famed art collective made its first stamp on Long Beach.
Eschewing hipster antics—those popularity-contest-driven events where the partying is slowly eclipsing the art—Wong wanted to bring together his beyond cool friends as “an excuse to make an area better with art.”
We are talking talented street artists that are beyond respected in their own right, from James Jean to Ekundayo, Wu Yue to Will Barras.
The result of his “excuse”? Massive mural after mural that has now created a public, outdoor collection of the some of the world’s finest street art, with some walls oftentimes altering year after year. Last year’s Pow! Wow! in Hawaii? It brought over 100 artists the U.K., Germany, Egypt, Israel, Mexico, Lithuania, and the States.
“Every year, every time, we tell ourselves that we are gonna scale it a bit back—y’know, it’s not easy managing all these artists taking on all these massive walls“ Wong said. “But each year we grew substantially—including to other cities [such as Taiwan, Singapore, and D.C.] has become a different kind of beast altogether.”
The ultimate point of Pow! Wow! is simple: create a global artist collective that seeks to alter the public landscape by providing the world’s leading street artists the largest canvases possible—the walls of buildings—while bringing together creative spirits in a way that is otherwise not possible. It has additionally brought forward musicians, photographers, and videographers to bring their own artistic flair to the event as it has expanded over the years.
For more information, visit www.powwowlongbeach.com