Tearing up the Deep South with an eerie realism, a biting wit and an impenetrable sense of alienation, Priest ties innocence, corruption and pathos into his extraordinary talent and unleashes an uncomfortable mirror onto a broken, bare society. He took some time out from his own brand of preaching to speak to us
Did you stumble into art or was there a driving compulsion
Some people look as art as fruits of their labor, for me I find the opposite to be true, the excrement of my time between a job I don’t enjoy and a school I loathe. This is further validated when I hear people say, “look at that shit slapped up there on that wall.”
Because every time I try to paint the lobby of the banks I frequent they don’t seem too receptive, the homeless are less attentive and easier to payoff, especially if they just got laid-off from a bank.
Can you give us some insight into the religious references in your work
I hold certain things sacred, religion being the only thing. I’m obsessed with the idea of Guardian Angels. I was sitting at a stop light and the light turned green, I hit the gas and my car conked out, 2 seconds later a dump truck going 60 mph blew through the stop light, had I not had someone looking after me (or my car not being such a piece of shit) I would have been dead. The next day I put up a wheat paste of an angel. I got an email a couple days later that a woman and her husband had been involved in a horrible accident 500 ft. from a wheat paste I did named “The Guardian”, looking back she had no idea how they survived, but wanted to make sure I fixed her arm and wing that was coming loose.
Kids are a product of their parents. Their parents are products of society, and when I want to make a statement about the society I use children; but instead of filling their backpacks with dynamite and sending them into marketplaces, I just paint them on walls.
How do you feel your work frames the American Dream
Cheaply, the American dream is about coming from nothing and becoming something. Sounds more like a nightmare to me.
Did Katrina impact you and your art?
I didn’t lose anything in Katrina, besides three weeks of electricity and air conditioning in 102-degree heat and 100% humidity. My friends in New Orleans and Mississippi lost their homes, cities, friends and family members, and complete way of life. So compared to that I got pretty lucky. I was talking to a friend who runs Nola Rising, which is a non-profit to turn the 9th ward levee into a country’s largest mural. I pitched him an idea of maybe having the little Dutch boy with his finger in a crack where the original levee broke. He basically told me the levee is the biggest tombstone ever attributed to the people that lost their lives in Katrina, and the problem is that it should have been built before the storm and if I felt like joking around about that then their would be plenty of people willing to put me in my place, which apparently is face down in an alligator infested swamp.
I did one doorway across from a lawyers firm, which I’m sure they’re wondering when that cop is going to stop talking to that hooker so she can find representation. I also try to paint in places cops are afraid to go. Working in the worst parts of the city is great because not only are the buildings the perfect mixture of harshness and beauty, but also the people you meet would give you the shirt off their back, as soon as they steal it off of yours first.
How reactive is your art to world events
A pretty good bit of it is. I was going to do a stencil of Ted Kennedy in a wheelchair with a 40 oz beer as a oxygen tank trailing beside him and a sticker on his chair that said, “I support everyone having healthcare when they arrive at hospitals, If they arrive.” Which is dealing with that girl he killed back in the day, but then he died so I was like well I don’t wanna go to hell because then I’ll have to explain myself when I see him down there.
What impact does using folkloric imagery like Tom Sawyer have
I don’t really like to explain things like that because I think each piece has a different meaning to each person. When I originally did the Bomb Sawyer piece it was meant to be representative of how radical our generation is compared to the kids that were around in Mark Twains era. Today I think kids would be trading their parent’s prescriptions instead of nickels.
I’d say so, but come 20 years from now I think it will be commonplace. Kids smoking cigarettes, Cops talking to hookers, and America bowing to Saudi Oil are all things that have happened, are happening, and will continue to happen unless we put up a bunch of HOPE posters.
How important is anonymity to you
Most of the time I don’t even know who I am.
Why the 100 dollar bills
Originally, it was part of a bigger picture of a famous artist burning a stack of money. After the great flood of tears and hate mail from Bristol I took it down.
How do you view the media
Just like everyone else, with glazed over eyes, a shut mouth, and a loaded pistol
I wanted to do a piece while all the Obama, “Yes We Can” stuff was up with an asterisk that said, “Paid for by the People’s Republic of China” but laziness got the best of me. There’s always next election, I’m sure that him and who ever he is running against will be as equally ineffective as before. I don’t know who is scarier, the politicians, or the people who put all their faith in them.
Wow aside – what reactions to your art have truly touched you
I was wheat pasting a self-portrait under an overpass at like 3 am when I heard someone coming my way, all of a sudden I heard, “Whooaa!” I then stepped out of the shadows to see a drunken hobo on a bike. When he saw me and the likeness he said, “How in the fuck did you do that?” To this day I consider that the best compliment I have received. To be there to see and hear the reaction of the first person who ever saw the piece has and will always remain special to me.
Friendly with the police are you?
Of course, I get a free ride every time they see me.
Define selling out
I would, but someone might sue me. Oh shit, I probably said too much.
Why is street art so important
Because if walls didn’t exist, people would just spray the sugary smells of Montana Gold straight into their nose.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about today’s level of consciousness?
I saw a billboard that was advertising diamonds that said, “Sometimes it’s okay to throw rocks at girls.” Being from the south I’m sure it appealed to some “loving” husband.
What’s the dream today
Pay the trailer home off, and watch the Saints win the Super bowl.