BERLIN — Blank space has a particular appeal to most artists. It suggests possibility. Artists tend to be, without irony or pun, drawn by the prospect of bringing order to emptiness from the first moment they understand that such a thing is possible.
When artist Little Chico was little Little Chico, he was attracted by the possibilities of blank space. Encouraged by his teachers throughout his time in the Worcester County School system, he began to experiment with filling the void.
As he entered middle school, he found a discarded tattoo magazine and realized that human skin was as blank as any piece of paper. In the kind of disregard for consequences that tends to inhabit all pre-adolescent boys, he gave himself a few small cross tattoos as a way, in retrospect, of experimenting with filling that space. His mother was less than thrilled with the trial to say the least.
More than a decade later, as a professional tattoo artist, Little Chico’s earliest tattoo was a tribal symbol that conveniently covered his youthful indiscretion with pen and ink. In the intervening years, he had convinced a professional tattoo artist to take him on as an apprentice.
He worked 10-hour days helping out around Explosive Tattoos in Salisbury, learning his trade while maintaining his grades in school. One of the stipulations of his apprenticeship was that schoolwork could be sacrificed only if he no longer wanted to be an apprentice. It was a rule he is glad to have followed.
Now a successful tattoo artist in his own right, Little Chico has his fair share of tattoos and works full time helping others get their fair share as well. But, at the end of the day, there’s only so much skin to go around. His creative impulse directed him to do more art. It directed him to do bigger art.
Although he is as adept with a set of brushes as he is with a needle and ink, when Little Chico decided to go big with his art, his medium of choice was spray paint. There’s nothing peculiar about the cans with which he works, they are the same ones most of us use to stain our fingers and create a halo around whatever we actually intend to paint.
But Little Chico paints in an explosion of industry. He grabs the cans and gets to work, filling the void and then defacing and augmenting until his completed work looks as if it’s been done not only with brushes, but with rather fine ones.
He tidies up with paint markers, another of the vandal’s tools, but the thrust of his work is that it happens organically, without thinking or planning or even much concentration. It is the lack of concentration that gives him the ability to ignore the fact that he is dealing with one of the most inaccurate pieces of painting paraphernalia available.
Although their final pieces couldn’t have less to do with one another, one of Little Chico’s early and current influences is Patrick Henry. Henry painted a mural in the hallway at the middle school where Little Chico was preparing to experiment with prison-style tattooing.
The process and the commitment stuck with him, though and as he began to enter the professional art world, Little Chico saw Henry’s work ethic as the right kind of model for him. It was Henry, in fact, along with some of Little Chico’s friends who persuaded Shelly Eppard and Robin Tomaselli, who own Baked Desserts Cafe and Gallery, to engage Little Chico as their featured artist for this month’s 2nd Friday Art Stroll.
Little Chico will have the first 2nd Friday opening in the space since Henry ceded his gallery to the bakery owners.
A a significant portion of Little Chico’s show will be devoted to what could only be called professional graffiti.
In this newest iteration of his work, he’s begun procuring discarded advertisements of the kind often seen on city bus shelters. Just as when he re-imagined his poorly done tattoo as a bigger, bolder inking project, he has re-imagined these advertisements as art.
While he doesn’t deface the faces of the impossibly beautiful women who adorn the boutique ads, perfume ads and the like, he quite intentionally defaces the meaning. There’s an obvious tension between the care with which these women were chosen to sell the product that they happen to be selling and Little Chico essentially calls the original creators out on it.
Not only does Little Chico change the work’s theme, but the contrast with the spray paint and paint markers reveals the intensely Photoshopped quality in the beauty ads. These photos are only barely real and defacing them demonstrates it.
His unique approach to his unique canvasses combines what many consider the two lowest uses for art — sales and vandalism — and pits them against one another. The tension is at times disturbingly sublime.
While the last few years have thoroughly answered in the affirmative the question of whether tattoos are art, the jury is still out on graffiti. The middle ground of the argument suggests that the state of mind of the artist has a lot to do with it.
If the end game is to offend alone, to destroy or deface in the name of desecration, than it is vandalism, pure and simple. But, like the re-imagining of anything else, if the defacement adds to the conversation, if it says something about the relationship between creating and destroying, it is most certainly is art.