"Tomb," a collaborative effort by street artists No Touching Ground and nko and photographer Dan Hawkins, is at Gallery4Culture through April 29.
Prolific street artist No Touching Ground is a bit of a mystery. You’ve likely seen his wildlife all over town — a bear under the West Seattle Bridge, a wolf stalking an abandoned building, owls emerging from walls with graffiti at the Bridge Motel art-installation project. Across from Capitol Hill’s Value Village, he recently posted a tribute to woodcarver John T. Williams. But you likely haven’t seen or heard NTG himself.
Some excerpts from a recent interview:
Q: What is “Tomb,” your first 4Culture gallery show, all about? What do the gravestones represent?
A: There’s an old Native cemetery in Cordova, Alaska. I took images of about 19 Russian Orthodox crosses and created graphics out of them. I talked to [photographer] Dan Hawkins about finding an abandoned warehouse where I could create an installation, a cemetery, in homage to a building that’s slated for demolition, and kind of pay respects to it. He had a building, and I talked to my buddy nko, who did a bunch of mural work. I did a massive installation, and Hawkins photographed the whole thing start to finish. We pitched the idea to 4Culture so it could be more accessible, and to see if something like this could be shown within a gallery setting.
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Q: Your moniker implies that you could be a group of people, and you keep your identity secret.
A: I needed an alter ego, an alias. “No touching ground” was always my favorite game growing up. I feel like the name has a real spiritual connotation to it that I was really drawn to. A lot of my earlier imagery was associated with the idea of flight and breaking away from human constraints. You could say that’s my “tag,” and that refers back to this game of play as well.
A lot of my work is seen in this gray area [vandalism and graffiti]. Seattle doesn’t really seem to appreciate public artwork in general. There are very few public murals in the city. It’s more about what a specific jury wants to see or what their ideas of what the community should see as opposed to what an artist wants to show or give to the community.
Q: Tell me about your fascination with wild animals.
A: The wolves and animals I’ve been bringing in make me feel way more at home than just walking around the city. I grew up splitting time between Alaska and Washington. It’s real natural for me to be able to see wildlife. There’s nothing like the feeling of walking around and having a whole pack of wolves in your bag.
Q: Do you hear any feedback from people?
A: After people learn who I am, then they share stories about their interactions with whatever piece. But I have had some interactions with people who had no idea what I did but were talking about what they’d seen that day or in the past. It’s cool to let them have experienced that without saying anything else. The warehouse (where “Tomb” was), no one knew about it. If you happened to find it and get inside … it would be a sacred experience.
Q: How many years have you been working?
A: Probably eight years. I think this is a different show than I’ve ever done. Recently, I’d been teaching high-school art in the Seattle Public School District. I was putting everything I had into it that I couldn’t put as much work and time into the (artistic) vision. After I was let go from teaching, I was given a lot of opportunities through [architectural foundation] Free Sheep Foundation, [local artist] DK Pan and nko to do large-scale art. This is the first piece that I did after I was let go. It’s almost a memorial also to my life, and practice, previous.
Rachel Shimp: firstname.lastname@example.org