The Long Beach Photographer Who Finds Art in the Chaos of Graffiti, Vandalism and Covering It All Up
Photo by Brian Addison. Images courtesy of Victor Mick.
Perched on the sixth floor of the Pacific Tower facing south in Downtown, Long Beach photographer Mick Victor can talk of many endeavors: his role as a creative director, helping shape the branding and images of companies, his role as an artist, his role as a capturer of images.
But the obvious things about this sometimes-bespectacled man with erratic-yet-coiffed hair, brightly colored socks, and calm demeanor—more Zen Buddhist than Andy Warhol—are also the least interesting. Mick is a builder as much as he is a photographer, admittedly loving to take separate pieces and put them together to create larger, fantastical entities that help let what is inside his head escape into tangible form.
Even his office reflects this assemblage-style approach, acting as a set of disparate pieces put together. Off to one side we have the pseudo-organized space of a working artist with prints scattered, plenty of light, nooks that offer cubby holes and a variety of tools that I am sure have a purpose, but I couldn’t pin down. Off to the other, a soundproofed space, complete with six layers of insulation—it was a recording studio before Mick scored the spot nearly a decade ago—provides the artist with a dark, cavernous space that is his hideaway heaven.
Taken as a whole, the office is a piece of art in and of itself.
The philosophy of piecing-together explains the fascination that surrounds Mick’s largest side project, Art Unexpected. Delving into the alleyways and concrete wind tunnels of Long Beach and Los Angeles, scaling the walls and façades of the all-too-unexplored spaces and crevices of New York and London, Mick searches for what he calls “accidental images.”
“The chaos of everything can be quite beautiful, y’know?” Mick said. “People often forget that… Look at this:“—as the artist quickly gestured to a print that resembled a Rothko more than a random photograph [pictured right]—“this was on the side of a Sears building in Downtown LA. But I tell ya: somebody’ll paint, ‘Fuck!’ on the building and then you have some place like Sears saying, ‘Hey Bob, go out there and re-paint over the damn thing!’”
He wasn’t kidding: in this particular piece—a massive wall-hung canvas measuring 7 feet wide-ish by 10 feet tall-ish—you can see that a maintenance crew was sent out with a white paint bucket to cover a ‘Fuck!’ of some sort. You can see the white paint roller starting from the center and then curving right to cover whatever it was that was offensive on the black layer under it. Before the black, a red. Before the red, another white. Before the white, the wall itself.
The irony, of course, is that the obsession with covering graffiti—even if it means creating an off-putting patch that destroys the building’s character more than any street writer’s spray paint could—creates a new graffiti of sorts; an urban expressionism, if you will. And Mick’s keen eye catches it repeatedly, from the odd images created by the Cover Up Maintenance Crews to the layers created by nature itself.
“One of my favorite pieces from Long Beach is this painter’s table,” Mick said while pointing to a beautiful, up-close shot of Long Beach artist Michael Stearns’s table [pictured right]. “I like the way this guy is floating in the air, with his feet being lifted up… [Stearns’s] assistant posted something on Facebook about cleaning up their studio. She took all the paint off this painting table and then took this wide shot of the table—which I fell in love with.”
Taking the table with him for a few days, Mick endlessly photographed shot after shot of the canvas whose façade took years of accidental paint drips and slips of the wet paintbrush to create. Accidents—like the “accidents” that are weather, time, and the placement of pots on a planter’s bench all coinciding to provide Mick a beautifully monotonous piece.
“I had put pots—flower and clay pots—on this bench and they were on there for about ten years and then the rain and everything else just… Left these spheres all over,” Mick said. “I didn’t want it so I just put it on the side of garage, y’know? And when I was driving home one night, my headlights just shone on it and I immediately had to make sure the image never left me.”
This piece, along with the others mentioned, were featured in the photographer’s latest exhibit at the Chuck Jones Gallery in Costa Mesa. A total of ten large prints were put on display—a marriage between Mick-as-photographer and Mick-as-painter thanks to his printer, Daniel Friedman in Van Nuys.
Friedman’s knack for seeing what Mick sees—“The photographer and printer relationship—it’s everything,” Mick noted—permits Mick to move beyond film and .jpegs and into the physical space of galleries.
This hand-in-hand becomes tantamount when talking of Mick’s more altered photographs that require Photoshop to show the world what’s going on inside the artist’s head. It can be, for instance, the oil leaks of cars staining the parking lot and, without hesitation, Mick sees a warrior, while you as the viewer might be a tad bit miffed at a monstrous soldier poking out from the oil patterns. To calm our less sophisticated heads, Mick will take photograph after photograph from different angles and then slowly piece them together to make what he deems to be a warrior in a manner that we can actually imagine it.
Ultimately, despite whether his images are raw and unfiltered through Photoshopping or collages of images neatly edited and pieced together, there is one thing Mick refuses to halt, and that is the urban ballet of large populations. The random interaction of denizens—from the haves and have-nots to the single-family dwellers and the sans papiers—create a need for expression and a desire to be heard, even if it means taking to the alleys and hidden walls where a stream of urine stretches under your feet and the stench of brake dust and trash pervade your nostrils.
“It’s not always pretty,” Mick said, “but there’s this potency about it all. There’s a reason that kid felt the need to scream, ‘Fuck!’ on a wall. It goes beyond vandalism, beyond territory marking… And Long Beach is incredible provincial—almost trying to create this Polyanna-esque world. Which is great for living with one another but when when it comes to individuality, it’s stifling.”