No Touching Ground is a Seattle-based visual artist who creates evocative, photorealistic images that have appeared on the sides of buildings and on street corners around the world, from Athens to Buenos Aires to Lisboa to Seattle. His wheatpastes have dealt directly and poignantly with political and social issues, both at home and abroad, including Greece’s political climate, the Occupy Movement and the tragic death of John T. Williams. The artist has also explored the relationship between animals and humans, pasting owls in abandoned buildings and depicting mysterious figures with animal-like masks. It is this relationship that NTG revisits and expands upon for his large-scale mural, “Offering” at Roq La Rue. Unveiled at the beginning of March, I recently caught up with the elusive and prolific artist over email to learn more about this striking new work.
Vanguard Seattle: What inspired you to create this piece?
No Touching Ground: After traveling from Athens back to Seattle this fall, my imagery has been informed more by the natural surroundings, objects of beauty and northwest mysticism than social and political work, and mythology that I was inspired by in Greece. The culture I find myself surrounded by informs my work. Being invited to create a work in Roq La Rue requires a different approach than creating social and political pieces in the anarchist neighborhood of Exarchia in Athens.
When I returned to Seattle I was excited to visit the Henry and view one of my favorite artists, Ann Hamilton’s show the c o m m o n SENSE. I’ve been following her for years and have heard countless glowing stories of Accountings, her last massive show at the Henry, which she created in 1992. The Henry’s gallery walls filled with repetitions of scanned animals in her exhibit for the common SENSE felt cold and institutionalized to me, devoid of feeling. The animals turned into just another statistic.
I wanted to create a separate narrative and connection to the creatures found in the Burke Museum. My focus for the mural was on the personality of the osprey and to convey the actual feeling of touch. My friend Ayda Rojhantalab who works at the Burke in the taxidermy department put me in contact with the collections manager Chris Wood, and she and I were able to look through the countless drawers in the Burke and pull out an assortment of birds. Looking through the drawers of raptors we lifted an Osprey out of its resting place and I knew that was the bird I was going to base the mural off of.
VS: The image of “Offering” stands in contrast in some ways to your previous, livelier depictions of birds, especially “Man in Flight.”
NTG: Though it hasn’t been my focus, I’ve worked with images of deceased beings and things in my past work. In 2012 I created a giant mural based off Caravaggio’s “The Entombment of Christ” for the New Mystics Myth and Murder show at Vermillion. In 2013 I created a piece of a doe and her dead fawn entitled “Of Mother and Child.” It’s a challenge for me to explore the poetics of death. For me, Kiki Smith’s room of dead crows installed at the Henry for I Myself Have Seen It is a great example of how an artist can transform death into a poetic experience.
VS: How did the mural’s intended site inside the gallery influence your process?
NTG: Every wall comes with its own set of challenges. It’s different than working on a canvas. I like exploring a space and finding a way to create a composition that works. In Roq La Rue there’s a staircase, a door, a security system, a light switch and a perpendicular wall that can be used to wrap around. With this mural I wanted to keep the subject matter above the banister and underneath the track lighting as best I could. I saw the wall focal point of the wall as a rectangle, this is a geometric problem I love to solve. How can I create this composition by utilizing the whole space/ full bleed with minimal obstruction of the subject matter?
VS: How long did the mural take to make?
NTG: Dk Pan coined the term “Time Is Memory” and I believe it applies to this. It’s taken 10 years and 1,000 walls to create what you see in Roq La Rue.
“Offering” is on view at Roq La Rue (532 1st Ave S) until the end of May.