“I try not to take on jobs without creative freedom. Anything less feels like slavery to me.”
You’re probably a Merk fan, whether you realize it or not.
The enduring Greater Boston painter and muralist’s distinct work covers innumerable buildings and brick walls, plus he has been moving art to the region’s creatives and influencers since before they were called that.
If you’re anything like yours truly, then you have probably fallen in love with any number of well-endowed characters born from his imagination and inspired by the beauty around him.
Though you can sometimes catch Merk (aka Merkaveli, aka Merk Those) at art fairs in the area, he’s a sought-after internationally-known artist, which means his pieces often sell for significant dollars. Lucky you, he has a one-night-only show in Boston this Saturday where works will be “priced to sell for the home town.”
We asked the spray paint icon about this weekend’s spectacle and a whole bunch of other stuff. Be sure to read to the end, he drops something big on us.
The last time I saw your art in a gallery setting was in Quincy in a building that has now been completely demolished. Was that your last public gallery? And also, do you have any comment on the role of arts in Quincy’s new rapid development?
Naw, we stay busy over here. Just did a mural and group show for Sprayseemo in Kansas City, and will be heading down to Miami for Basel in a couple weeks.
On Quincy, there’s a lot of new stuff and beautiful architecture popping up. Thankfully, Brand Rockwell and myself have a mural directly in the middle of Quincy Center and are planning a new mural for that same wall since it’s been up a couple years. So yeah, we will be a part of that art scene ’til all the buildings come down.
What are some of the shows and even popups you have been able to do through the pandemic and more importantly how have you adapted as an artist overall to be able to pay the bills through strange times?
Solo show Boston in February weeks before lockdown, All the Silver and Gold group show with Adam O’day and Pete Cosmos, showings by appointment and all that. Mid-pandemic in Abington, that one was awesome, needed the human contact and collaborating with those guys is always fun. People really responded to it.
This will be my second solo show this year. Thankfully people need art and I work a lot digitally, so adjusting was almost automatic. On the mural side, I got to do a support mural for first responders through Pow! Wow! Worcester and create a piece addressing Asian hate for a locally produced documentary we premiered last week. Got to adjust to the times, be water my friend.
Your characters are recognizable. There is no mistaking a Merk piece. As much as artists hate describing their work, is there a way that you define your specific style? There are gorgeous women of course and I believe some colors that you love, but even beyond that, what makes a Merk piece?
Twenty-plus years of twisting and turning lines, believing in yourself, and the message you want to leave behind and most importantly, Do what you love and have fun doing it? My style I’d say is a mixture of those sacrifices and motivations.
On the mural front I feel like I have seen a lot of your pieces, even in commercial spaces, and they are still very much in your style. Is that just kind of how it works for you? Like, you will do some commissions but they’re still going to be Merk pieces?
Yeah man, I try not to take on jobs without creative freedom. Anything less feels like slavery to me.
Over the years, you seem to have a solid foothold in the underground scene but also on the emerging gallery scene. Do you make any such distinctions? Or is everything kind of just a mishmash now, one big flat open space where everybody just gets in where they fit in?
Strength and consistency. I like to stay active in the streets with my happy style and bring that positive energy with me across the globe with my murals. The positive energy gives back; more importantly, work hard and create your own lane. Just do the work, the rest finds its way
Tell us about the motivation for and the work in this particular show that you have in Boston. Big pieces? Small pieces? Certain themes? Little bit of everything?
I teamed up with Takeuchi Network to do a close out the year show about a month ago, two days later my social media got hacked and they tried to ransom it back to me. That made me realize, especially in the past 10 years, the success and accomplishments I’ve made through art are 100% real, and all this computer love is not.
That being said, I raised that hacker’s bet and decided, Fuck it. I can walk away from this and start over from a whole different angle like deniro in Heat. So here’s 10 new works in seven days in my signature style mixed with a collection of popular prints and older works.
After Saturday night, Merkaveli is officially dead. I’ll come stronger with something new in the new year.
Merk Aveli @ 535 Albany St., Boston. Sat, Nov. 20, 7pm – 11pm. Free. More info and tickets on Eventbrite. merkthose.com
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.