Atlanta-based muralist Greg Mike made a big impression on Richmond this summer with his contributions to the Richmond Mural Project.
Atlanta-based muralist Greg Mike made a big impression on Richmond this summer with his contributions to the Richmond Mural Project. Incorporating influences from cartoons, Pop Art, surrealism, and classic street art, he lit up the walls of this city with several bizarre, slightly sinister, but totally captivating paintings, particularly drawing attention with his colorful mural on the side of Star-Lite Lounge. But this is just standard operating procedure for Greg Mike, who does art direction for some of the better-known music festivals around the country, including Disco Biscuits’ Camp Bisco. He founded ABV, a design studio and gallery space in Atlanta that does branding and apparel design as well as creative commissions; it also functions as a display space for some of the most innovative artists in the Atlanta area and around the world. We were privileged to have such a talented and hard-working artist in town this summer for the Richmond Mural Project. While he was here, we caught up with him to talk design, the worldwide street art movement, and the benefits of receiving recognition from the fine art community.
How did you get involved with the project?
I’ve done a few murals for some different conferences before, and me and Shane connected via the world wide web. I was familiar with Art Whino, which he was doing, and some of the outdoor stuff he’s done with other artists. He reached out, connected, and we started talking. The opportunity came up and I told him I’d like to be involved.
Did you see the murals from last year?
Yeah, I checked them out. I saw them online and a lot of the stuff in the mags.
I saw the art pyramid at Camp Bisco. It was sick. How hard was that to put together?
Extremely difficult. We were planning for it for about a year–design, development, fabrication, engineering, the whole thing to get it stamped, so If a tornado came through it wouldn’t blow it over. It took awhile to get the design together. The actual fabrication of it was six days, and then tear down was about five hours. It was cool. I’m really into designing live art structures. I think there’s a void in that market. We’re excited about building things like that that can be involved in music and art events.
Was that after you started your current design company, ABV? It’s pretty new, right?
It’s been three years. I’ve been doing design work forever, since I was in school. Then I started the agency and we started working with all different clients. We work with a big variety of brands and different companies and businesses. We started working a lot more with the music sector of things–events companies, bigger events, stuff for Redbull and these bigger brands, incorporating art. That was in the last year or two that we started developing that.
I would think it’s a big leap from designing in print to murals. When did you decide to make that jump to murals? Was that a big decision or did it seem pretty natural?
The way it happened was actually opposite. I’ve alway been doing art and graffiti since I was like 12. I did graffiti heavily from 12 to probably 19. Then when I went to college was when I got into the design aspect, because I was like, “Shit, I gotta make a living out of this.” This was before street art was anything, it was more just graffiti based. The only people that were classified as street art were Shepard Fairey and maybe Cost Revs from New York. But everyone else was just painting their names and shit, maybe a few characters here and there. So when I went to school, that’s when I learned design and got an education in studio art, and that’s when Macintosh computers came into play. I had the first iMac and a bootleg photoshop program. That’s how I got into the design aspect. I kind of took a break from the fine art stuff when I was studying, and studied design. That’s when I started doing some private design work, like t-shirt design, branding, art direction, stuff like that, then probably like four years ago was when I started getting heavily back into my art, just ‘cause I felt like it wasn’t satisfying my creative needs.
What street artists are you looking at right now and appreciate? Or do you mostly look at designers?
No, I’m sort of all over the place. I’m inspired by everything. Who do I think is killing it? Nichos. That concept is really rad. These [other Richmond Mural Project artists] that also came into town are also really inspirational. They killed it. It’s good to see people that are taking a more painterly fine art approach to walls vs graffiti street art vibe. Most of these people came from that background too, which is cool. Taking that on a larger scale and mixing it. I like seeing people that are not just painting realism or expressionism, but mixing that all together and making their own style. Utilizing your imagination, but also painting photorealistic stuff.
I was going to talk to the guy who curates the contemporary exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I’m really curious to see what he thinks of street art and its place, all these big murals. I’m wondering: is that going to be written about like pop art? [featured exhibit at the VMFA]
Street art and graffiti is the biggest art movement ever. The biggest worldwide art movement. Think about all the people all over the globe who are pushing this similar movement. There’s never been an art movement that united. It’s global. You have different styles and different movements, but nothing where there’s this many artists traveling all over the globe painting all these walls in different countries. Like, these cats [Etam Cru] just came from Poland and it’s their first time in the states and they’re just smashing these huge walls. It’s crazy. That’s the beauty of the internet.
That’s the key to it maybe–that it’s the first art movement to be combined with the internet. I was really curious what the [VMFA] thought of it and if they’d ever have it in the museum. It’s really a conservative place, but you can’t deny street art.
I know out in LA they had the “Arts in the Sreets” exhibit. I know in Atlanta, they’re starting to work with a lot of street artists. They did Kaws’ show there and he came from street art. That was a solo shot. Penz just did a installation in there. It’s definitely, slowly, just pushing its way out there. Like you just said, you can’t deny it.
What projects are you working on next?
I have three new skateboard decks dropping soon. You might have seen the first one. My design company is ABV, “A Better View”–it’s the goal. I’m trying to push it to the next level and create visually stimulating things that hopefully give energy and life, and give people a smile. I’ll paint a little here and there, add our design touch to things, try to stay out of the office.
What do you think of Richmond?
I love it, it’s great. I actually got asked this in a call earlier–I think I like it because it kind of reminds me of Atlanta too, where are our studio is at. It’s got these little boroughs, multiple little boroughs. It’s like a big city–obviously it’s got a ton of history, but it’s still got a small town vibe. It seems like a lot of people know each other, and people are pretty friendly and real receptive to the arts. I’ve seen more thumbs up in this city with people just walking by being like, “I appreciate what you’re doing, keep it up!” In other cities it seems like people mind their own business, but it seems people here go out of their way to say thanks and appreciate what the artists are doing.
You’ll be done with this in a few days. What have you got lined up for the rest of the year?
I’m going to Paris for B-Street Festival, which is a magazine out of France. They’re doing a big video once a year where they bring a bunch of arts, music, DJs and fashion brands. So I’ll be there for a week painting. That’s the next big trip. I’m going to Lollapalooza to kind of just chill out after this, and maybe look at some of the stuff they’re doing. It’s good, since I do a lot of the art direction at music festivals, seeing what other musical festivals are doing. Get a good perspective on it from an outside view.
See Greg Mike’s contributions to the Richmond Mural Project around town at:
821 W. Cary St
2416 W. Cary St
2600 W. Main St.