A creature of the night, Oakland-based street artist Nite Owl has embraced the dark hours to give the gift of color to the citizens of the city. With spray can in hand, the artist brings life to the blank slate of our streets and the interior of galleries across the East Bay, namely Loakal and Chopsticks Urban Art Space. His iconic tag of a vibrantly painted owl distinctly markthe work of this artistic do-gooder.
A New York native, Nite Owl has been producing street art since he was in the third grade. He defines his work as, “Just owls. It’s pretty simple.” To his growing fan base and passing pedestrians, however, his multicolored creations add a splash of character to the blandness of city life.
Nite Owl has taken the beautification of Oakland into his own hands. In 2012, he raised $846 via a Kickstarter campaign to create an Oakland mural alongside “The Others,” a group of street artists including Nite Owl, Onedr, Reggie Warlock and Basic Lee.
Currently, he is holed up in Oakland warehouse NIMBY, an industrial workspace for artists to explore and expand their practice. NIMBY has become home to Nite Owl’s collaboration with Onedr, where the pair is producing a large-scale aerosol mural featuring numerous replications of the iconic owl.
Keep your eyes peeled for stop signs, wallsand gutters plastered with small-scale owl stickers. If you are lucky, you’ll get to see the real thing (check out 25th Street, where Nite Owl tells us there is a mural “in a cutty little trash enclosure next to gallery Zero Friends”).
The Daily Californian met up with Nite Owl to discuss his aesthetic, influences and purpose.
Daily Cal: Aside from Oakland, in what cities can we expect to find your work?
Nite Owl: I’ve got pieces in San Diego, some in San Francisco and a few in Berlin.
DC: Are you planning to bring your street art elsewhere?
NO: I would be fine if I don’t, but at some point, it will happen naturally.
Every time I visit a new place and travel, I try to bring a few slaps (street slang for stickers). I try to paint. The slaps are all about being fast, repetitive and efficient.
DC: How did you get started with street art?
NO: Back in elementary school, it was just what you did. When we’d come home from school, we would go to the store, steal markers and tag the entire way home. It just evolved into something bigger and better, getting cans of paint.
DC: How has your artistic style and aesthetic changed over the years?
NO: I have a few owls I repeatedly go back to, but I am always making new ones. My aesthetic does expand and change. It goes in and out of other styles.
Once you do one thing, you actively try to do something different. You slowly, over time, grow, and your things change without you noticing until you look back. The work I do now is a lot cleaner and a bit more technical. Earlier, my work was much more free.
DC: I heard that one of your biggest influences is Dr. Seuss.
NO: Damn right. He was a huge influence in his ideas of the “realm of the fantastic,” not being so based in reality. He really emphasized colors and forms. I’ve always been a huge fan of the way he drew.
Every now and then I go back and look at his artwork, especially when I lived in San Diego. I would pop into the Dr. Seuss museum from time to time.
NO: I just try to brighten up the world and the streets using nice colors. I love that lots of kids love my artwork. People hit you up on Facebook and Instagram; sometimes people make artworks for you based on my own work. It’s always cool to see how others interpret my work.
DC: Any current projects of interest?
NO: We have a sticker show at Chopsticks Urban Art Space in March and a group show in June. Also, I just did a mural for the Alan Blueford Center for Justice in Oakland. They deal with police brutality, specifically the killing of young minorities. It’s a very somber place. There are a lot of heavy heads and tortured souls here. I just wanted to create something that would offset this heavy tone in the air.
The understated message inside the mural is the opposition of the community (the owls) against the police (the dogs). My idea was, “Take flight to fight the injustices around you.” There is a grand owl, releasing many other owls from his stomach that stretch across the wall to combat the dogs.
When Alan Blueford’s parents came in and saw it finished, they were touched. It feels good to do good for others.
Contact Peggy Beim at [email protected].