Memphians cruising along Cooper Street may have noticed a new, brightly colored mural on the wall of Eclectic Eye. In it, a giant, multi-hued creature carries a smiley face in his outstretched paws. The mural, it turns out, features a Los Angeles-based artist, MrBbaby, who worked at the invitation of the Memphis-based Birdcap, says Robbie Johnson Weinberg, the owner, creator, and manager of Eclectic Eye.
“Michael Roy [Birdcap] is a longtime friend and collaborator,” Weinberg says. “I just consider that his wall. He can do whatever he wants with that.” When the mural maker said he had an artist friend coming through town who wanted to add something to the building, Weinberg’s answer was short and sweet: “Let’s go. Let’s do it.” She adds: “I believe 150 percent in my soul that art is transformative, and I love that I have spaces available for us to experience people from other places.” So to learn more, I spoke with MrBbaby about her new mural at Eclectic Eye, her heritage, and the art of making the unseen and unheard feel welcomed and remembered.
- MrBbaby and Chucho at Eclectic Eye in Cooper-Young
MF: How did you find out about this project?
I’m originally from California, but decided to venture off on a road trip to Tennessee. Naturally, I contacted Birdcap, who set this project up for me.
MF: How do you know Birdcap?
I know him through the art world. I was in Miami two years ago for Art Basel, which is when we officially met.
MF: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your experience making art?
I’m originally from San Diego. I’ve been painting my entire life — it’s always been the thing I knew I wanted to pursue. I sort of jumped in with blind faith. I did the work without knowing where it would eventually lead, not because I was looking for an outcome but just because I loved to do it so much; there was no stopping me, even if no one ever noticed me. Eventually, my work took me to Los Angeles, where I reside as a full-time artist.
MF: The mural at Eclectic Eye is dazzling. Tell me a little bit about your use of color.
I come from a Latin background. I am Mexican and Puerto Rican. They’re both places that pride themselves in art. It’s hard to be in Mexico without seeing art everywhere you turn. I have always been drawn to the vibrant colors used. I feel like when it comes down to the furniture, the buildings, even the food, there’s a special passion and artistic touch to even the most mundane objects. The culture is one of my biggest inspirations.
MF: I understand that the character in the mural, Chucho, is a recurring character for you. Can you tell me about them?
Chucho is a piñata. I originally created him to represent the battles of life. Life is often hard and challenging; sometimes it feels like it’s chasing you with a bat waiting to crack you down. Chucho represents hope in the moments when life gives you lemons, when it wants to tear you down just like a piñata. He represents that no matter the battle you face, and how hard it seems in the moment, you can take the power back and take something away from these moments. As uncomfortable as they are, these moments give you growth and they give you an understanding you didn’t have before. Bad things happen to everyone, and it’s how you choose to see them that will eventually determine the story of your life. It’s accepting that life is a rollercoaster, and the battle of good and bad things that have happened or will happen never ends. These moments are inevitable, but you can be a victim or take the strength in knowing that when you are uncomfortable, you are growing in unmeasurable ways.
MF: We’re in an unprecedented global moment — from coronavirus to the protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement to climate change. What do you think is the role of art in such challenging times?
Originally during quarantine I worked so much, almost as a distraction, but then I hit a dead end. I felt like the moment in time we are in had me questioning my role, and what I am really providing for the community. I have always created artwork that’s inclusive of a lot of different cultural backgrounds. I wanted to keep culture alive; that has always been my goal. I believe art has the power to bring people together or to express an idea without the use of words, making it universal. Art has the ability to transform spaces. Art has the ability to make people who may feel unseen or unheard feel welcomed and remembered, to amplify others’ voices, especially in my mural work. I want to continue to do that for the community.