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Photos by Kelly Koehler-Gorman |  Written by Adriana Sparkuhl
Travel Photos courtesy of Eddie Colla & 2wenty

With a solo opening around the corner, 1AM went to Oakland on a sunny morning to visit with Eddie Colla at his studio. Nestled deep between highway, truck routes, and train tracks, Eddie works diligently in a large industrial warehouse space filled with printing materials, stacks of equipment, and a slew of artwork, floor to ceiling. He met us wearing a navy automotive coverall with a nametag that said Alan.  

“Nothing Lasts Forever” is a new collection based off the art he has been doing for the last nine to ten months. While Eddie has been known to create bodies of work using materials found on Oakland roadsides, this exhibition consists mostly of work on wood panel, allowing the process to be less influenced by the surface.

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Eddie’s commitment to running a gallery until late 2014 has given him a pretty serious travel bug. Within the last year, he rolled through the southwest and New Orleans, visited Paris twice, jumped into Mexico, and spontaneously hopped on a plane to see Thailand for the first time. He’s been seeing dollar signs as airline tickets, and took along with him a wealth of creative juices. Eddie highlights some these experiences with us.

“I went with 3 artists out to the Salton Sea in September, Night Owl, Caratoes, and a photographer from LA, 2wenty (who took some impressive long exposure photos of the adventure). Salton Sea is this giant man made lake out in the California desert near Mexico. There are military bases and weird abandoned towns out there. It was a beautiful freshwater lake that was supposed to be the next big vacation destination, but then it became a kind of an ecological disaster. We all went together and did a bunch of stuff. From there I went to New Orleans for a few days and came back.”

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photo by 2wenty

“Then I went to Thailand with D Young V; that was awesome. Thailand is an easy place to just show up and have a good time; it’s all ready to go. Bangkok doesn’t require anything of you. It’s like a river with it’s own current, you just walk outside of the hotel and it will take care of you.”

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photo by Eddie Colla

“January I was in Paris. The street art scene there is thriving; and there’s a different respect for it, even in terms of how aggressively they buff. I don’t know if they have any sort of policy in place. I decided to return to Paris for all of June and things were still up from January. I put up a piece in Montmartre, and when I went back over there it was still up, but clearly they had painted the wall four or five times and just kept going around it, like they had decided, ‘Ok, we’ll just leave this one.’ That’s something that would just never happen in San Francisco.”

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photo by Eddie Colla

After discussing his recent travels, we dug into the influence social media has on street art and culture.

“Its way easier to see what’s going on today. The old paradigm was, put up the art and that’s it; end of story. It might disappear, it might still be there; you don’t know, and you forget about it. With Instagram we have a kind of surveillance camera on the world. I can tell what pieces are up or what pieces got buffed by what I get tagged in. I know what’s still up in Thailand because people are tagging and sending me photos.”

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“There are people who go out and photograph what’s up all the time. They become basically the people who educate the others. I put up pieces and people photograph them. Then people who know my work tag me in the photos they find and all these other people start following me as a result. It turns into this weird thing that once you start it, you don’t really have to do anything. It’s kind of fun because this kind of opportunity didn’t exist before. Back in the day it wasn’t like that, you might run into someone at a party and they’ll say, “Oh I saw one of your pieces,” but that would only happen maybe a couple times a year. Other than that there would be no indication of whether or not something was still running.”

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On the subject of murals, we discussed the lines Eddie will not cross when it comes to potential clients and what differentiates street art from commissioned projects.

“I will do certain things, and I won’t do certain things. I’ve turned down a lot of projects. It depends on who the company is. If it’s a company like Facebook, I can’t get into it; if I agree to do it, I’ll know I’m only doing it for the money and I’ll work myself into this foul mood, because essentially I know what I’m doing is wrong; at least I think it’s wrong. The piece will be horrible, making the piece won’t be fun, and it becomes this torturous thing. By the end of it you get the money and it doesn’t even matter!

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“It’s interesting that murals have become more synonymous with street art because for me, and a lot of people I know [who are doing street art] don’t think it is. Murals have a long standing tradition and it’s just an evolution of that tradition, it’s not an evolution of street art exactly. You might use a lot of the same people, but the whole practice of it is completely different. First of all there’s no time element; which is a big part of doing illegal shit. There is a lot of equipment involved, there’s a budget, plus there are usually four or five people who have veto power over what you can put in the mural; which is the exact opposite of why I think a lot of street artists started doing street art. You can go out there, get in the mix, and say whatever you want to say. The only barrier is willingness. You don’t even have to be good, but if you’re willing to get up, go out every night, and spend whatever you want to spend on materials, you can be all over a city in no time.”

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Not long ago, Eddie Colla found himself having to confront Walmart for selling prints of his famed piece with the words, “If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission.” mistakenly advertised as Banksy’s work. We were curious to hear about how the issue resolved.

“Things worked out with that, it actually funded all my trips this year. I think I made my point and caused enough commotion. Because it was a stencil design, it was easily picked up as Banksy. That piece has gone everywhere. I can look on amazon and find phone cases with the image on it, I even found a shower curtain with it. It’s pretty laughable at this point. I’ve had a couple things that have actually pissed me off, it’s not surprising to see someone looking for things to put on iPhone cases but I have had it verbatim ripped off by several artists. They cut the stencil, put it on a canvas, and hung it in a show.”

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While some elements of Colla’s style may have carried over from being a commercial photographer, he never felt much of what he did during that time allowed him to express his style. The subjects of his work today are real people that he encounters; some friends, others acquaintances.

“The way I work with images now is a lot more minimalistic. Commercial photography has criteria to make a person or product look good. If I did any of the stuff I do now when I was doing fashion stuff I would have gotten fired. I always joked the images I do now are a big ‘fuck you’ to all the people I had to make look good [chuckles]. The images of people I do now, at least the visual part, is about texture and imperfection. In a way I’m trying to give it some validity, because when you work as a photographer or even exist in our society, we create these impossible goals as far as our appearance goes. I mean, it’s gotten to a point where you look at a fashion magazine, and even the model who does have the perfect skin, and is 19 years old, and is completely fit, is being modified in Photoshop to be even more perfect and more fit. It’s completely unrealistic, almost cyborg looking. We have come to a point where these features aren’t even attainable. I think what I try to do is create a kind of strength or confidence around imperfection.”

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“Nothing Lasts Forever” opens at 1AM Gallery Thursday August 6th, from 6:30pm-9:30pm in San Francisco. Do not miss this very unique exhibition if you are in the Bay Area!