Artist Profile: Eddie Colla

All images by Eddie Colla

Eddie Colla is coming correct with composition and strong stencils. His body of work sort of speaks for itself, and his scathing commentary speaks volumes to what is happening in this country to a population that is becoming more and more of an afterthought in the minds of those running things. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Oakland we go…

Gozamos: So you’re in Oakland, CA now. Where are you from originally?
Eddie Colla: I grew up in Jersey actually. I came out here to go to school at the California College of the Arts. I went back and forth studying visual arts in New York for 10+ years.

What’s your favorite thing about Oakland and the West Coast?
First of all, the weather. It’s a little bit smaller, so to some degree it’s easier to get things done. There’s a cool history to Oakland. It’s a little bit like one of the Ugly Sister Cities, not alot of facade to it. It’s like Brooklyn in a lot of ways how Brooklyn was what it was and not really trying to be anything then got gentrified. Where I live has no imminent threat of gentrification though…

What is Oakland’s Arts Community like?
It’s different in a lot of ways from New York. There are a lot of artists making good work. There’s not a lot of money in galleries though, so the motivations are different. There’s not that looming possibility of celebrity or becoming an art darling. It’s a much more real possibility in New York where it’s a fairy tale in Oakland. New York and Los Angeles produce art stores. Things aren’t created out of that expectation. People create because they want to. In LA, kids think they’re going to be the next big thing and get picked up by a talent scout, etc. People should do art because they love art. If you happen to become famous or well known though, I certainly don’t begrudge anybody.

Tell our readers about the ninetyninetoone stickers and how they came to be.
(The Occupy Movement) started happening, we started hearing about it around the end of September/early October, and it’s something I can support. Eight months later, it’s gone in many different directions. There’s a growing inequity in this country. I made a real quick design, put it on flickr with a note if you want one for your town. I’d get emails: “Can you make one for Tulsa or Sante Fe?” Our first run was 4,000 stickers. Send me an email with your address, and I’ll send you some stickers. We did 8-9,000 stickers total in 43 states and 14 countries.

Most big things are made up of a bunch of small things. We first started doing it before Occupy Oakland went down; we’d go to San Francisco. The way the city handled it caused alot of problems. Their use of force was unnecessary and over the top. The Oakland Police Department has a long history of using force, and this was no exception. A federal judge issued a warning to the department nine years ago for reforms to be made. Still nothing, so they have 6-12 months for those reforms to be made or The Feds will take over the department.

Then the overreaction. There was a predawn raid. The Mayor hired auxiliary police and said through City Hall that they couldn’t let Occupy go on because of sanitation reasons, it’s unsafe, it’s creating crime, hurting business, bullshit.

Nothing ever happens on this grassy field where we were. People were finally using this public space to talk about public issues, and we were told it was illegal. They were like a paramilitary group with helmets, shields, tear gas guns, Kevlar. They were doing crazy shit, just throwing tear gas at groups. People live in those neighborhoods!

Oakland, Chicago, Wall Street. We seem to be united in the underground from coast to coast. How do you feel the Occupy Movements have influenced American society? The world?
It remains to be seen. That depends on how much faith you have in people. They’ve calmed down because they were forced to. I’m kind of happy they calmed down, because you can only treat a population with violence for so long before they start fighting back. Alot of people would get hurt in this quasi-Martial Law.

My hope is that the agenda of The Movement, the original doctrine that was produced on Wall Street which was fairly reasonable, become critical issues that get addressed and considered during the upcoming election season. People got euphoric off Obama after 8 years of Bush, and now they’re considering that either:
1. The system is so fucked regardless of who Obama is or 2. People came to the conclusion that Obama isn’t who he said he was.

I love your commentary, “If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission.” Have you found in your experiences that it is, indeed, easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission?
People react to that two different ways. Either they get the sentiment of self-empowerment or they take it literally as an Anarchist slogan. It’s about self-empowerment. Nobody ever made history without someone telling them not to. Problem with progress is that at first it seems crazy until someone actually does it. Then come the applause.

Have you seen Mad Men? He informs me that a friend just turned him onto Netflix the other night, and coincidentally Mad Men was the first show he watched. There’s a line from Don Draper: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” What does that mean to you, if anything?
One of the reasons I do art in public places is to start a visual conversation. Utilitarian signage and consumer products: that’s the conversation. I’m not trying to say I’m right or smarter than anybody, because I don’t think that I am. There are just other issues in the world that are important (We go on to talk about how if a complete outsider with no prior knowledge of this country were dropped in the middle of any major city, they would be baffled at our consumerism and buy buy buy culture).

Every once in awhile I get an email: “Why do you put up this crap? I don’t want to look at it.” While everyone might not like street art, we have a better success rate than advertising. I walk into a bookstore and see books about street art. There are no blogs about how great billboards are. No flickr groups dedicated to billboard posts like, “Hey, did you see that fucking billboard?”

Why do you do what you do artistically? And how long have you been at it?
I’ve been an artist my entire adult life. I went to art school, but I’ve worked construction, worked with sheet rock. I was a photographer for ten years. I got a little bored, not that photography is boring, but if you do a certain thing long enough, you need a change. I’m doing graphic design, screen printing, painting, and I just never went back to photography. For now, I’m having fun with what I’m doing.
Are you hiding your identity intentionally?
I try to, but not because of law enforcement or for mystique. The thing is this: I’m REALLY good looking, strikingly so, with chiseled features and piercing blue eyes. I just want people to judge my art on its own merit and not be drawn to it because I’m so God damn handsome. It’s like a curse…

Any favorite marketing campaigns over the last twenty years or so?
It’d be hard for me to name one, because there have been so many brilliant things done. The Banksy campaign with Paris Hilton’s CDs, Olek is amazing, TrustoCorp’s signs, purple footprints that I saw in New York as a teenager. Stuff like that really sticks with me.

What do you want to be known for when it is all said and done?
I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about it. The implication is that we will be known for something. Most likely most of us will go and no one will notice at all. I love stories that make me feel like I accomplished something. If someone sees my work in their neighborhood and say, “I see your stuff on my way to work and it makes me happy.” Or “It’s fun to see your piece on my way t work.” I’m not trying to change the world, per se. If you can connect with one person in a casual way, I think that’s important. That is sort of evaporating. In 2008, gay marriage became legal in California, and we were all, “Good for us!” You don’t always want to do protests. Sometimes you want to celebrate…

How can readers keep up with your work and your hub?
I’m on facebook. My blog, but I’m bad at blogging. There’s an anticlimactic nature to something being explained and over-explained.