Recently, we at the Bushwick Dream were gathered on our usual rooftop talking about upcoming posts, and one of the Dans asked, “Did you see that new mural on Vandervoort?” (the city block that is becoming the Bushwick Art Park, next to art gallery Factory Fresh). Artist Veng of Robots Will Kill had painted the wall with characters for Bushwick Open Studios in June.
“Now it says, In The Dream, and it’s huge
,” Dan said. I passed by on my way home to check it out, and my first thought was, how had I not
seen it? The mural comprises 25-foot-high letters that spell out In The Dream spanning the length of the block, 200 or more feet. And that key word dream
is obviously close to our Bushwick Dream hearts. Painted inside the letters are scenes of urban life--people, street signs, graffiti--that are a natural fit for Bushwick. After the words there is an icon resembling a sunburst, a URL (inthedream.org
), and three names: Voke. Stain. Mode. I contacted Chris Stain
and asked him if he’d tell me the story behind the mural.
He lives close to Bushwick, so we met for tacos at El Fogon on Flushing Avenue--a location that reminded me to ask him about another mural--on the side of the restaurant. That mural, about two years old but only recently tagged over, was a collaboration between Chris Stain and Billy Mode. The two have been friends for more than 20 years; both grew up in Baltimore. Stain had proposed the mural, which features kids and the word esperanza (Spanish for hope) to the owner of El Fogon, who gave his consent.
Unfortunately, however, access to the wall was blocked by a locked gate that was in place to keep people out of the empty lot next door. As Stain and Mode started painting, a man spotted them from his window and began to harass the pair, threatening to call the lot’s owner, and the police. So even with consent, sometimes there are problems, Stain lamented. “Some people hate public art. But then, some of it is downright ugly.”
Chris Stain, father of two, speaks with the maturity of someone who was once that young graff junkie who just wanted to make a name for himself, but then did so, and got the chance to make some decisions about what to do next. And what he does, a lot, is paint walls. “And if I can do it legally, I will,” he says. A few days after our meeting I went to a party in Williamsburg, and that roof featured yet another big outdoor Stain-Mode collaboration, “Cries of the Ghetto,” with characters rendered in the style of social realism and also unmistakably Stain’s. He depicts blue-collar subjects and urban environments in a way that reveals reverence for his working-class characters as well as for the past.
Chris Stain lives in New York and collaborates with Baltimore-based Mode sometimes, but more than a decade had passed since either had seen former third musketeer Pat (Voke), who’d moved west. In fact, the three friends, who’d painted together as long ago as 1989, had lost track of each other until this March. When chance put them in touch again, Stain arranged a reunion and got permission for the Bushwick wall; Voke’s NY visit became part of “In The Dream’s Summer Tour.” So far, the trio has painted the Vandevoort mural and another project in Albany.
When I asked what In The Dream means, Stain explained that the three are resurrecting a name they used to paint under, in the ‘90s. Back then, In The Dream was shorthand to describe the painting experience itself. “Working outside, at night, painting, expressing your creativity, that is the dream,” he said. There’s something surreal about painting outside at night, “so while you’re doing it, you’re in the dream.”
On the site set up to document In The Dream’s projects
(current, past and future), Stain calls creating the mural using a projector and paint sprayers “cheating.” But if they hadn’t, those 5,000 square feet might still
be unfinished. The three men spent five long nights at work on the wall.
I found myself imagining how mystical and meaningful it must have felt to them, to work together again in their bliss, their collective dream, after so much time apart. Stain says the experience was powerful for him, and that all three are reenergized and looking forward to future projects together. The mural seems to be a reflection of and monument to their friendship, to friendship. And yet, soon it will be gone forever.
Through his artwork, whether it’s for gallery shows or prints or commissions or outdoor space, Stain says he’s “just trying to tell a story with pictures.” But this story, in particular, was a very personal one. You can’t give your heart and soul and a week of your life to a project that probably won’t even exist a month from now. Can you?
I find myself wishing the mural would live out a long, happy life with us here in Bushwick. But on practicing non-attachment, Chris Stain is way ahead of me, already thinking about the commission he will be finishing over the next few days.
“Everything is temporary, and everybody wants it not to be that way. Even the emotion that goes into the art is temporary.” Behind these words, I think, lies the reason why creating feels so dreamlike.
More Chris Stain: His work is included in Brooklyn Street Art’s Los Angeles show, “Street Art Saved My Life.” He’s participating in Living Walls in Albany in September 2011. The Living Walls project started in Atlanta last year. Its mission is to promote art and culture by creating murals on wall space donated by business owners and other community stakeholders. Chris Stain is also the author of a book coming soon from Drago Publishing,
Long Story Short, that offers a zine-style look at his life and art.