Randall Frank met Cera back in September of 2016 during his visit to Milwaukee for the Black Cat Alley Mural Project. Since then they stayed in touch.
Recently they had the opportunity to spend a couple of day with him in Philly.
Below is an interview with Cera from 2016.
Cera graduated from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 2012 with a major in printmaking. He has exhibited across the country in Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Houston, and Philadelphia. He’s also exhibited work overseas in South Korea, including solo projects, as well as a collaboration. The artist is currently operating out of Philadelphia.
Randall Frank: I heard that you graduated from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. What was your experience like studying at MIAD? In what ways has it prepared you for life after graduation?
Cera: MIAD was a great experience, and I was extremely lucky to have been accepted. I didn’t think I was going to be able to get into a private art school after my performance in high school, but I took a year at MATC to get my GPA in working order, which helped me get a scholarship that would help open that door to MIAD.
I started with a focus on Communication Design, but quickly realized that I was far more interested in the fine art aspect of the schools program. So, when I switched majors to Printmaking, things kind of took off. Rina Yoon (head of the printmaking department) was extremely supportive of my interest in graffiti and street art in correlation to illustration and graphic design. She pushed me hard for about 3 years, helped provide me with the opportunity to travel to Seoul for a major collaborative mural project with South Korean pop artist, Dongi Lee.
MIAD prepped me for life after graduation with the idea that, if I consistently challenge myself and I take my art practice seriously, opportunities will eventually present themselves. One thing that I think is really crucial to understand, is that no matter what program you might attend, you’ll only get out of it what you ask for.
RF: Where are you currently residing?
C: Philadelphia, PA.
RF:: What does Street Art mean to you?
C: Street art has a plethora of definitions, typically varying in definition from artist to artist. My own interpretation of street art has also changed over the years. Initially, it represented a more freeing way of producing artwork, or a less restrictive platform for exhibiting artwork. I never wanted to confine myself to a canvas, or a print on paper, because I believe that the most accessible artwork is artwork made on the streets and for the streets. It’s the difference between a painting hanging in a gallery, to be exhibited to a select group of trained artists and critics, and a painting made on site, about the site, and for the site. I believe that this inherently widens the viewing demographic, or provides a more inclusive way of creating artwork.
RF: We met you in 2016 at the Black Cat Ally Mural Project in Milwaukee as one of the featured artists. How did you hear about the Black Cat Mural Alley Project?
C: I heard about Black Cat through John Kowalczyk (on social media from Milwaukee friends), and I was interested immediately.
RF: What attracted you to submit a proposal for this project?
C: Honestly, I miss the Midwest. My girlfriend and I left Milwaukee for the East Coast about three years ago, and we’ve had the opportunities to work on some great projects across the country, but the more time I spend away from the Midwest, the more I find myself missing the communities there. Sometimes I think that because Milwaukee is a smaller city, it’s built on camaraderie, or communal success. I spent a lot of time making artwork on the streets of Milwaukee, and I feel like since I’ve been gone, I’ve had the opportunity to grow as an artist and maker. I’d like to revisit this site with a whole new library of personal experiences, and create some artwork that reflects this growth.
RF: What was your proposal? What is it about?
C: I actually only sent in reference images of prior works, with the plan of cultivating a batch of drawings to work from. But I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what I’d like to bring to Milwaukee, and I think I’d really like to create something that not only reflects my growth since leaving, but illustrates a sense of appreciation for the place I miss so much. I like the idea of pairing a few portraits, and maybe creating a composite image from multiple faces, multiple skin colors, male, female, maybe something androgynous. Maybe I can help represent the incredibly special aspects of the community, represent Milwaukee’s incredible work ethic, challenges the city has faced in the past, or challenges the city is facing right now. I have my work cut out for me.
Photo courtesy of RFCAC
Photo courtesy of RFCAC
RF: What motivates you to create?
C: I make artwork because it helps me understand the world around me. The world isn’t easy, and sometimes things are so complicated that I feel like I can’t breathe. Each piece I make gives me an outlet to address the more difficult questions I might have.
RF: Where do your ideas come from?
C: Ethical injustice. Racial inequality, domestic abuse, political corruption, greed and manipulation, police brutality. I believe that humans can be better to each other, and I think my work reflects my notion of a strong underdog, someone that was designed to lose, but chose instead to succeed. I think it’s the representation of a strong female lead, a she wolf, or a powerhouse of a human being that, despite being told “NO”, has continued to work for their well being and the well being of their family and friends. Anyone that has the strength to wake up and fight for their life every day is beautiful to me.
RF: Please describe your creative process.
C: My creative process varies so much from piece to piece. I think the best way to explain this, is to separate my practice into two categories, one in which I work for a client, and the other in which I work for myself.
I’ve found that it’s crucial to be able to adapt to each client’s individual needs and interests, so I might end up doing extensive research and image sourcing to meet those needs. I like to work this way because I can kind of take a back seat, so to speak, and listen and learn about someone else’s story. For example, I’m currently creating a mural for an extremely motivated Vietnamese business owner, and it took us weeks to settle on an image, and it’s become a story we get to tell together. We share experiences and viewpoints in the construction of the image, and it helps us create a piece that neither of us would do on our very own.
My other outlets include wheatpasting, or large posters glued to a surface, and painting derelict or abandoned spaces. This practice can be a little more freeing, or I don’t necessarily have to filter myself as much. For example, I painted a piece a little while back that had some pretty violent aspects depicted. I had created this image of two people, shamelessly, aggressively and violently wrestling with each other over money. I haven’t felt comfortable translating this kind of work into my commissions yet, as I can’t imagine most business owners will be stoked on something heavy like that. So, for now, I have two majorly separate practices at any given time, but I like bouncing around like that
RF: You are now one of several artists selected for this project. Congratulations! What does it feel like to be back in Milwaukee?
C: I used to live a block away from the mural site while I was going to MIAD, so it will really feel amazing to spend some time making artwork in my old neighborhood. I miss the morning coffee and quiche from Collectivo. It was like a ritual.
RF: Do you prefer to be called an artist or muralist? Is there a difference?
C: I probably would lean towards artist, but part of me feels like it doesn’t matter. I love painting murals, but there are always other ways of producing, and I know that I’ll always want to challenge myself to new things. “Artist” kind of covers it all, whereas “Muralist” can be a pigeonhole term, honestly even “Street Art” limits your opportunities, your outcome or process.
RF: What three art making tools are most important to you and why?
C: Computer/tablet for sourcing and altering images. Acrylic spray paints for their consistency in color. Acrylic paints for the colors that spray companies haven’t made yet.
RF: What artists/muralists do you look up to?
C: There are so many, I’ve got a list of 30 to 40 visual artists and musicians that I follow pretty seriously. In the past five or six years, mural artists and street artists have been making some serious waves across the world. Some of my favorite artists are the ones that refuse to take a break. Gaia has been hugely influential for me. He’s unapologetically addressing major ethical issues like gentrification, displacement, divestment. I have a lot of respect for that kind of work, because it brings light to issues that we might not always want to acknowledge. I’m also a huge fan of Tristan Eaton’s portraiture. His fragmentation of typeface, pattern and shapes are so active and playful. Chance The Rapper, from Chicago, spits gospel influenced hip-hop and spoken word that addressed major ethical, cultural and social issues that plague American cities.
RF:: What advice would you give to aspiring artists/muralists and future MIAD graduates?
C: If you have dreams of success, or if you feel like there is a market niche for your practice, do not give up. You might catch flack from peers along the way, but you’re doing exactly what you love. Be honest with the artwork you make, or don’t make your work simply because it’s on trend, because you’ll only be answering to yourself at the end of a long day in the studio. Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, no matter how daunting or scary they might be. If you’re worried you can’t do something, you’d be surprised what you can push yourself to accomplish.
RF: Where can people connect with you online?
C: I’m probably most active on instagram.com/cera_streetart
About the Randall Frank Contemporary Art Collection (RFCAC)
The mission of the Randall Frank Contemporary Art Collection is to foster relationships that support local, regional, and national artists through acquiring art, sponsorship, and providing financial support through our artist grant program. In addition, producing an annual report highlighting selected works and events aimed to expose, educate and engage others to a variety of contemporary art and street art throughout the East Coast and Midwest.
Photos from our visit to Philly