Street art is a hard route to fame. While Shepard Fairey (of the OBEY campaign), Keith Haring and anonymous British graffiti artist Banksy all burst into the limelight with their surreptitiously scrawled designs, most street artists hide under cover of night. Their works are constantly in danger of damage, or repainting by taggers and city clean-up crews.
Phoenix-born artist Thomas “Breeze” Marcus took an interest in graphic arts at an early age. Like many of his peers in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa community near Scottsdale, that meant tagging and street art – which, in turn, meant a few run-ins with the law. Breeze honed his painting skills, eventually turning his eye to creating public murals in collaboration with fellow artists such as Lalo Cota (noted for his Chicano-inspired piece on the 18-foot-high wall at 15th Ave. and Roosevelt).
After a three-year hiatus from local solo exhibitions, Breeze is back with an all-new display at Modified Arts (407 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix). Titled Microcosm, the show’s petite prints are in stark contrast to the massive, tribally inspired murals the Native American artist is known for.
We caught up with Breeze shortly after the show’s opening reception on Friday, December 18. Here’s what he had to say about his latest works, future projects and the ups and downs of Valley living.
What are the challenges of painting on a large scale?
Mural projects and pieces have their own challenges in comparison to smaller works. Primarily scale. If a project is really large, then ladders, scaffolding and/or hydraulic lifts have to be considered. The painting of large-scale murals isn't much of a problem… I feel most comfortable painting big because of my background with graffiti.”
How do you feel about living in the Valley? Is it difficult to be a working artist here?
For working artists, Phoenix can be a challenge when it comes to being able to keep the bills and rent paid by art alone. For whatever reason, the market for art here is extremely tough... It can be like pulling teeth when it comes down to artists building a strong collector base locally. But perhaps that can be a good thing.
I love Phoenix and would not live anywhere else. I have lived other places in the past. The Valley and surrounding deserts and native communities are my home. I've seen Phoenix change, and I change and grow with it.
What have you been up to in the 3-year hiatus since your last gallery opening here?
I have participated quietly in group shows. I recently worked with the prestigious Philbrook Museum of Art and completed a large 6 ft. x 12 ft. painting that was a commission for their permanent collection and which is currently on exhibit through June 2016. I've mainly shifted focus on my work and relationship with my gallery, which is out of state, as well as participating and showing work in large art fairs with them such as the annual L.A. Art show at the Los Angeles convention center, S.O.F.A. Expo (Sculpture Objects Functional Art & Design) in Chicago, and the Santa Fe Art Market during the end of each summer.
My show at Modified was a last-minute show that I got asked to do while I was still in Miami. Luckily I had a small body of work, which is the small pen and ink drawings that make up the show titled Microcosms. These rather tiny (5-inch x 7-inch) drawings have been hidden away for over a year. They are primarily studies of small animals and insects such as a hummingbird, scorpion, dragonfly and several others. These are basically the small versions of larger paintings to come, whether they be on canvas or the side of a huge wall coming to a city near you.
How is it working on smaller scale paintings in comparison to murals?
To do such small drawings has a meditative quality for me. I also wanted to bring to light the smaller worlds around us that we are connected that we don't notice on a daily basis. In contrast to the small animals and insects, we are the macro and they are micro indeed. But it's not a far separation from us as individuals and as human beings that we become the microcosm. If we need an example, take a nighttime drive an hour outside the city in any direction and look up at the sky and attempt to wrap your head around the idea of the universe that we are only a speck of dust floating in.
What do you have planned for the future?
I have larger bodies of work on canvas to be made as well as a second project with the Philbrook Museum. More mural work, out-of-state exhibits and whatever else comes my way… These days my schedule seems to fill up pretty far in advance. The next time I'll have an art opening in Phoenix? I'm not sure. It could very possibly be another couple years.
Catch Breeze’s latest works on display at Modified Arts through January 9. Gallery hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 12-4 p.m. Saturday. A closing reception is planned for 6-10 p.m. on January 1 (First Friday).
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