By: JC Rodriguez
I landed in San Francisco and settled into my Airbnb. On the ride in from the airport you can't help but see how San Francisco is changing. The influx of tech companies is evident with the continued change in the city's skyline. Towering office buildings, increased traffic and rent, to some are signs of progress. The dichotomy of two worlds colliding. Very few places in the world can you see so evidently the gap between the haves and the have nots. I make my way over the Bay Bridge toward Oakland. A city many predicted would share the same fate of tech takeover, but it just hasn't happened. What's taken over Oakland? Cannabis. With designated "Green Zones" there is another takeover sprouting in the often discarded brother to the now gleaming San Francisco. The end result, areas typically home to artists like Eddie Colla, are now being overtaken by "higher" rent paying Cannabis start-ups.
We made our way to Oakland to meet with Eddie Colla, one of the most influential and well know artist of the Bay Area. Originally from New Jersey, Eddie has been exposed and is attracted to the normally discarded parts of town. In his work, he connects that influence to life itself. Life can give you some bumps and bruises, but there is beauty within. This is the essence of Eddie Colla's work and we are happy to see past the decay and discover the history that's etched on.
What's your earliest memory of art?
My dad was a business guy. But he loved to draw. He would take these legal pads from work and Saturday mornings with his coffee he would start drawing. It sometimes would be noon and he’s still drawing. Geometric stuff and doodles. Then I would start drawing with him. This is my earliest memory of art just drawing with him.
I remember also being a kid and seeing the movie Jaws. I was obsessed with Jaws. So I went home and I created this book of drawings of scenes from the movie. But I only had one copy and I didn’t know how to make more of them. So my dad said he could take them to work and make copies of them. So he did and got copies but they were only in black and white. I was so disappointed. But it was my first art project that I worked on.
What made you want to be an artist?
I was drawn to it early on. But I never thought about having another career. I’ve had a million other odd jobs like contracting, painting apartments and stuff like that. It was sort of like I’m going to stick with this because I don’t know what else to do. I think to a large degree I never had a backup plan. I thought to myself, somehow I have to make this work. It’s so difficult to make it, that if you do have a plan B, you are probably going to choose that.
What’s your definition of creativity?
At the heart of it, it’s all about problem solving. Pretty much everything about how I make art or what the art looks like is a result of some work around of something I either didn’t have or couldn't afford. I thought about if I had everything I ever wanted from the beginning, my art would be really bad. No going around whatever the idea is. To me the process of coming up with the concept and putting it together the way you were going to execute and realize it’s not working. When you have to figure another way and be creative about a work around, that’s when the art starts becoming good.
A lot of the materials you use are repurposed material wood and steel. What draws you to using these previously discarded materials?
I don’t like to start with a white canvas. I like to find the materials I’m going to use. A white canvas is very steril, it doesn’t have any history or character to it. When you are presented with an object that has its own history and it’s own character then I think, I have to collaborate with this things and somehow add to it or accentuate whatever makes it cool.
How did you come up with your aesthetic?
I like things that have imperfections, decay, history and character. I used to live in Hoboken, New Jersey. There was a period where it wasn’t as nice as it is now. Things were falling apart. At that time it wasn’t like now. You could go wonder around the decay. There was something about the character of a building that burned down or partially fell down. There was this history and yet resilience to this places. There was something about that, that always appealed to me. It was places like this that make me feel like it’s something people should aspire to. Because life can be tough and beat you up. But these places still endure. In a visual way all of those characteristics are shown in my work.
Who are some of the artists that inspired you early on?
Pop art was my biggest influence early on. When I went to art school that changed. When I first went to school it was predominantly for photography. I had a teacher in college named Larry Sultan and he was one of these guys. I would say all of his work resonated with me but as a teacher the way he thought resonated with me. I would see him in talks and would see him every now and then. Then out of the blue I heard Larry had died. I received a message from a friend letting me know and I just started crying. I was a weird thing, because despite the fact that I didn’t really see him. But throughout my entire art making process I would step back in the studio and think, what would Larry think about that. When I found out he wasn’t there any more it was weird. So he had a very big influence on me.
Where do you want to take your art?
Now I’m more focused on travelling more. I was just recently in Bangkok. You get a totally different energy there. I’m spending more time in Paris. I spent three months there and was working while I was there.
Is your approach with street art different from your gallery work?
The street stuff always has a time element. You want to do it pretty quickly. There more high profile a spot is the less time you have to work in that spot. You do as much as you can beforehand and you make it executable. The pieces have gotten bigger. When you are working on an exhibition it’s a lot less about time. I like the fact that I can find a place and being determined to put something. Putting something in a different environment is fun to me. In a gallery you typically have a white box to work with. The work becomes something else when it’s in that environment. I don’t even sign my pieces any more on the street. It doesn’t matter to me to get the recognition. I just enjoy doing it.
"I like things that have imperfections, decay, history and character."