portraits

Best-known for his interactive performance art and visual art that have been featured in a range of galleries, art fairs and museums, Miami-based artist David Rohn has recently taken his vision to the streets. In his new series, Street Peeps, he focuses on raising awareness of the issue of homelessness. While in Miami, I had the opportunity to speak to him:

When did you begin this project– with its focus on wheatpasting images of  yourself in various disguises representing street peeps?

I started three months ago.

Had you ever gotten up on the streets before you began working on this project?

Back in the 90’s, I did a series of boys’ heads based on an image that I had seen. I got them up in Miami – mostly on lampposts – Downtown and on the beach. One even made it into the bathroom of the Perez Art Musem, back when it was the Miami Art Museum. I painted the heads in different colors mixing guache paint with wallpaper paste.

What inspired you to do so back then?

I’d seen graffiti and wheatpastes up in NY, and I wanted to be out there.

What spurred you to hit the streets this time around? 

Between 2008 and 2014, I was represented by a gallery in Miami. After that ended, I wanted a way to share my vision — and concerns — with others. Things had tapered off. Getting up in the public sphere seemed like the most sensible way to accomplish this.

And why this particular project?

I feel very strongly about homelessness. I’ve seen it explode in recent years. It is appalling! And the income disparity is continually increasing. I’ve been interested in these two issues for awhile.

Each of your portraits is another rendition of you as someone who is homeless!

Yes! I’ve been doing portraits of myself since 2008 as part of my performance art.

Who exactly are these characters you are portraying?

They are inspired by homeless folks and street people I see when I’m out on the streets. The ones who are the casualties of gentrification. This city is changing so rapidly.

And what about the characters with the masks? Who are they?

They represents the power structure. The eilite – those who control our economic assets. The developers who can easily evolve into a monsters.

What about your relationship with the homeless?

For awhile, I was bringing them sleeping bags and cots. But these days, I bring loaves of day-old bread and bottles of water. And socks – white socks and gray socks. They choose which ones they want. These items are what they seem to need and want the most.

And how has this project – getting your portraits out there in public space — impacted you?

It’s been very liberating! It’s fun! And I like the idea of short circuiting the gallery system.

What’s ahead?

Creating and getting up more images suggestive of the homelessness crisis.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky with photos by Lois Stavsky.

Special thanks to Andrew Ringler for introducing me to David.

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A member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Colorado-based Gregg Deal is an accomplished muralist, painter and performance artist. I first encountered his artwork awhile back on the grounds of the EBC High School For Public Service in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This past weekend, I met him down in DC at the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building, where he was one of 40 artists featured in CrossLines, presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

"Gregg Deal"

What spurred you to so fervently embrace your Native American identity?

I don’t know that I specifically embrace it. It is just one of my many identities. I am, foremost, a human being. I am also an artist, a husband and a father.

gregg-deal-portrait-face

You are sitting here in a tipi. What does this particular setting represent?

This tipi represents Washington DC. It is where museums, politics, sports and commerce all contribute to a view of Native Americans.

gregg-deal-tipi

What about the paintings inside this tipi? How did you decide which to include?

I had to include works that would be acceptable to the Smithsonian. They had to be safe. And so I chose identifiable stereotypes of Native Americans — the only image most others have of us.

And as today’s event progresses, you continue to cross out the mouths of your portraits with bold red lines.

Yes! That is because of voices our censored. We have not been permitted to speak for ourselves. I, myself, have been censored.

gregg-deal-censorship

What about your interpreter? You often speak through an interpreter.

That is because our lives — our experiences, feelings and thoughts —  are almost always interpreted through others. Authentic indigenous voices have yet to be heard or recognized.

gregg-deal-portrait-crosslines-smithsonian

You are certainly creating awareness of that here.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 4 & 5 Lois Stavsky; 3 Sara C. Mozeson; interview by Lois Stavsky

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