By Michele Lin. The U.C. Berkeley Extension at the corner of Haight and Laguna, abandoned for years, is now officially a hotbed of delicious street art! Lower Haters, in cooperation with the city to beautify the neighborhood, got the O.K. to paint this giant stretch of dead real estate. They pulled together over a dozen artists, gave them paint, and let them loose. The line-up includes the likes of Mars-1, Doze Green, NoMe Edonna, Romanowski, David Choong Lee, Jeremy Fish, Leanne C. Miller, Matt Sanna, Ursula Young, Hugh Leeman, and a plethora of other talent. The result is a gourmet of tasty delights to stimulate your optic nerves, feeding your cerebral hemispheres to debunk, and eat up!
One highlight of the Lower Haight murals is a mesmerizing collaboration between Mars-1, Doze, NoMe Edonna, Romanowski, David Choong Lee. I had the opportunity to sit down with artist NoMe Edonna over Philz coffee and a recorder. We talked about art, living, social structures, and more.
Michele Lin: You, Mars-1, Doze Green, Romanowski and David Choong Lee all collaborated on a mural in Lower Haight. What’s your section all about?
NoMe Edonna: I can’t really say if it’s ‘about’ anything in particular. It’s a freestyle painting, made up on the spot, so I just let it come out. Visually, It’s a mix between animal, machine, plant, everything. Stylistically, it’s a bit of a return to the ‘characters’ I began painting about ten years ago. My characters are evolved from letterforms. Like a deconstruction and reconstruction of various written languages and in the process, become a new language. An unspoken language, only to be felt. You could see it and it might move something inside of you, leading your mind to see animals or something, but there’s no way to know for sure. Like seeing things in the clouds.
ML: Does the mural tell a story?
NE: No, no story. Okay, there’s a story there if your mind wants to create one and string things together, which may or not be there. Some of us, we have a certain world view or just the way that we think about things in general and see the world around us, so I think that always creeps into the work. Doze, for example, works a lot with symbolism and mythology, while Mars’ work is a bit more ethereal and equivocal, which leaves more to the imagination. Even if there is a particular story there, people will see it and form their own story or meaning and that is the great thing about art, it’s a circular communication between creator and viewer.
ML: So, did you go to school for art?
NE: No, I’m an autodidact. I’m not very good at school. I usually learn things pretty quick and then get bored. I just found that I’m better at learning on my own, in my own ways, at my own pace. The way the system is set up is very archaic. People learn differently and they don’t encourage that. In many art schools they don’t even teach you how to draw anymore! Basically what most learn in school is how to be a cog in the machine, to go off and be part of the system and to perpetuate it. Even art school. Many of the artists making it in the upper echelons of the art world have gone to Yale or something like that. The system feeds itself.
ML: We’re all part of the system. It’s a human condition.
NE: Yeah, if you choose to be. I mean okay, we are ’cause we all live in this society to some degree and depend on the water and power etc., but ultimately, the ‘system’ is a system of beliefs and protocols for living. I don’t subscribe to most of it. Most things are designed to make you a distracted, docile consumer.
ML: Do you feel like it’s a constant battle?
NE: In some sense, yeah, everyday. But then you get to a point where you set up your life in a certain way, in the way that works for you as a unique individual within society. Eventually, you have a good community of people around you that have like ideas and beliefs, so you have the love and support that you need as a human. It makes it easier, but ultimately, yeah, you’re still in this system that is constantly bombarding you everyday with ads, jingles, images, ideas – you can’t escape it. I mean, I don’t watch T.V., I haven’t owned a TV in 20 years. Just that alone is HUGE. People don’t realize how much of themselves, how much of their own creativity and thought they forfeit to this, every single day of their lives.
ML: What do you do to make a living?
NE: I’m an artist. People buy my work and it helps me to continue. But I’ve also been doing it for a long time and that helps. There are definitely times where I need to make ends meet and I do what I need to do, whether that’s an odd job or creative consulting, or teaching or something. I taught at SF School of the Arts for the last five years. I used to DJ quite a bit and I still play some gigs here and there. I’m not really a super go-getter businessman type of person. I’m sure if I were, I’d probably be making a much better living off my art. I make art because I need to make art, and if I make money off it I feel very fortunate. I’ve been so blessed over the years with the people in my life and the opportunities that I’ve had. In the end I’d rather be a bit broke sometimes and do what I love, than work in some job I can’t stand and make “good money.” A teacher once told me, “Life’s too short and if you’re doing something you don’t like, then stop! Right now!” That’s something that really stuck with me. It may sound cliché but it’s really true. I think a lot of people don’t do that because they’re afraid to go out on a limb and they become seduced by the ‘secure’ life, then they get stuck in that system.
ML: People like security – it’s safe.
NE: It’s easier for most. I mean, I don’t blame people in some way. But ultimately it’s just fear. Fear of what your family and friends and society will think of you if you break out and follow your own path, follow that crazy idea you have rolling ’round in your head. I think the world really suffers from it though.
ML: I think it’s holding us back from evolving as a society.
NE: Exactly! I mean, imagine if everyone was living their lives, doing what they truly loved and were passionate about, and being supported to do it, it would be so amazing! And it’s fully within our potential to live that way. In fact, I believe it’s the true way. I always believed that if you do what you love, and you’re really putting the time and effort and passion into it, it’s going to be good. It may not be good right away, it may take some sacrifices or whatever, but it will work out in the end. It always does.
ML: The world would be so undeniably colorful.
NE: Yeah! It already is, but could you imagine if instead of handing their lives over to what they’re ‘supposed to do and be’, people were living as truly intended, as unique, creative creatures? I almost can’t imagine it. If all the energy that was put into making money, to make war, to make things we don’t need, to mask fears and insecurities – if all that energy was no longer tainted, but pure- oh man, I can’t even begin to guess how the world could be! Utopia can exist. I’ve seen it.
ML: Now what are some significant inspirations? Derived from anywhere.
NE: Everything; Love. Death. War. Justice. Inequality. Music. Woman…. I’m inspired by countless things everyday. Artistically, I’m influenced by way too many things and people to even begin a list here. In a general artistic sense, I guess I would have to say that the ideas of Dada and Surrealism have always made the most sense to me. Most of my work is born from the subconscious realms and dream states. Early Hip Hop was also a strong influence. True Hip Hop, when it was a mix of Funk, Disco, Punk, Rock, Electro, Techno, Soul, all that. The movement, the dance, the style and color. The flow.
ML: What does NoMe mean, and is that your real name?
NE: It means, literally ‘No Me.’ It’s a multi-faceted word that is, at the same time anti-ego and full of ego (in the sense that we are human and have a basic sense to preserve the self). Also in other languages like Italian for instance, ‘nome’ simply means ‘name’. I really like that. My last name Edonna is my father, Ed, and my mother, Donna, names combined. I changed my whole name. I changed it legally in 2001. It’s kind of a long story. I will make a book in the future and you can read all about it in there!
ML: Sweet, I look forward to it! What are some necessities in the daily life?
NE: Dreams. Growth and evolution. Love and friendship. I’m just really trying to experience life as I think it truly should be, moment by moment.
ML: You mentioned that you have a daughter. How has raising a kid changed your views? How about your art, has it influenced what you make?
NE: Yeah, she’s about to be 9. She pretty much kicks ass. She’s one of the most loving, sharing and creative people I know. I don’t think it’s really changed my views. Perhaps it’s just deepened them. It’s made me want to do my part to change the future of this world into a better place. She has to live in what we’ve left her. I read something once before she was born that said something like, ‘One of the most detrimental things for a child is the un-lived life of the parent’. That always stuck with me. I feel like so many parents give up on their dreams when children are born for ‘The sake of the child’. But ultimately, what will these kids have to look up to when they are growing? And in turn, how will they (and the world) end up if everyone around them is just a hollow shell of their former, true self?
ML: San Francisco is your home. How has the city influenced you as an artist, and as a human being?
NE: Oh god, yeah, San Francisco is the best. I think this place is so special on so many levels. There is a real ‘earthy’ energy to this place as opposed to somewhere like LA or NY. And I don’t mean earthy in some sort of ‘hippy’ way, though there is that. I just mean that it’s extremely beautiful here with the coastal environment, and people here are quite down-to-earth and open-minded. So much has happened here in the past. Early SF was crazy during the Gold Rush days. And then the whole psychedelic movement in the 60’s. And you can feel it all. Sometimes the wind blows a certain way and you can get a smell of the history here. Like when you smell someone’s fireplace burning in the Fall and it makes you think of Halloween or something. A very visceral, emotional feeling of a time long past. I often think of how this place was before the white man arrived. This must have been a very special and magical place to native peoples. This area of the world is definitely some sort of energy vortex.
And, there are people here from all over the world and every kind of food, which really lends to having an open mind about things and facilitates new experiences. Not to mention, the houses are old and beautiful. The hills and the streets, dilapidated buildings. It’s all very inspiring. And there are so many amazingly talented people here! I feel blessed to live here.
ML: Do you have anything to say to readers?
NE: Well, thank you for reading! I guess if you mean some sort of advice or something to young artists… I would say to stay true to your own visions and beliefs. Copy to learn, but then find your own way. And most importantly, KEEP DOING IT!! Don’t give up. Sometimes things take years to develop and it’s really worth the process, both as an artist and a human. I’ve been at it for ten + years and I feel like I’m just getting started!
Michele Lin is the newest member of the 1AM team. She is an art historian who currently resides in San Francisco, CA.