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Philly Street Art Interviews: Hanging With Wire Sculptor Reed Bmore

March 14, 2020

Welcome to Season 3 of Streets Dept’s newest series of street artist interviews, created in partnership with Philadelphia’s own unofficial official street art museum, Tattooed Mom. Each month, Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale will sit down with one local street artist to ask them about their work. Together, we’ll learn more about the incredible artists getting up around Philly. (Photos by Eric Dale and Conrad Benner.)

Reed Bmore doesn’t live in Philly, but you’ve probably seen his wire artwork here—if not on the street, then on this blog. For the past five years, Reed has been bending wire into all sorts of characters and hanging them from power lines and light poles in his home city of Baltimore, Maryland and elsewhere across the country. In many ways, he’s a pioneer. For one thing, how many wire artists do you know?

But Reed is also a pioneer in his devotion to street art as a medium for self-expression, creativity, and community involvement and improvement—even in a city that by his own admission is nowhere near as rich in public art as Philadelphia. That’s one of the reasons he finds himself drawn to Philly: our longstanding appreciation for street art.


 
My interview with Reed was unique—no other guest has created a piece to put up for the interview during the interview! But the whole time we were talking, “the Banksy of Baltimore” was bending away, turning the spool of wire he pulled out of his backpack into a fitting installation. He also demonstrated the latest iteration of the custom-designed apparatus he uses to hang his work in the street. It was a little more behind-the-scenes than usual!

Reed has talked about his background in previous interviews, so we didn’t spend much time on it. But it’s worth mentioning that he came up in the overlapping worlds of skateboarding and graffiti, and designs skate decks in addition to creating wire sculpture. He also helps run a collaborative artist space in Baltimore called Creative Labs. Through a combination of generosity and breaking the rules, Reed Bmore has sculpted his life to fit a very particular niche that only he can inhabit.

Streets Dept’s Eric Dale: Welcome! Thanks for coming up from Baltimore to do this!
Reed Bmore: Oh, it’s fine! Honestly, it’s just nice to get out of the city, or to have an excuse to go explore something else. That’s one of my favorite things—just traveling and only bringing a backpack and my skateboard.


 
SD: Your work has been described as “Calder meets Banksy.” Do you agree with that?
RB: I guess when I was introduced to Calder, [he wasn’t] who I really looked for when I was trying to go for inspiration. Definitely Banksy, but it wasn’t necessarily what he was doing—what really drove me is the fact that people were doing [street art] and doing it in their own way, and when I came out of school—because I came out of school doing design and architecture—I didn’t really have a voice. It’s like what’s that one thing that’s your thing?

I definitely have derived some styles or implemented some ideas from Calder’s work. There’s some videos of Calder’s Circus that I really enjoy—the playfulness of it. Calder’s Circus is a [crank-operated] circus that he did all out of wire. He did a video of just him playing, and I think that’s a very important aspect that people lose in art—all this stuff goes into what humans interact with and what play is on a very base level.

SD: You’re certainly not as anonymous as Banksy, and you’ve actually become less anonymous in recent years. Why is that?
RB: I don’t know. I just don’t care as much. As Reed Bmore, I’m trying to be a very amicable public figure that someone could actually reach out to. I guess over the years, when I kept finding myself, I just feel like I need to do something more to kind of help the community a little bit.

SD: And it’s hard to do that when you’re anonymous?
RB: Yeah. And it’s all in the little things that you don’t necessarily claim to be what you are. But if you’re gonna be at a certain point and have a platform, I think that’s really powerful to use that to help. Which is the reason why I’ve never taken away the Bmore part. That’s part of me. It’s why I love the city.


 
SD: Ok, so I have to know: how the heck do you install these pieces? I cannot visualize it.
RB: I used to use a prod. And a few times when I was younger, I would hop onto my friends’ cars in the middle of the night. And I have used a ladder once or twice for installing my first pieces that were in the center of the street. It gave me some leeway to actually put the ladder up and climb up and actually hang the piece.

But what I do now is I use a giant pole. But the most important part is—I brought this to use as an example—this is the design I’ve been working on for the past few years, where you can see how the apparatus works, and how it can kind of be [anti-removal].

When they take my stuff down in Baltimore, they have to hire a guy who has a bucket lift. So he has to actually go up and take my pieces down. People say that it’s kind of bullshit, but I at least like to think of it as I’m providing at least one job, you know?

SD: Have you ever met that guy?
RB: No, but it was funny—a few of my friends convinced him at one point, like, hey can you just give me that piece? Because I installed it in front of a friend’s house and they caught him while he was doing it, and they ended up getting it. That was a nice little thing. But the way that I designed this is that it’s more just high-class littering. I’m wasting time, but the thing is with stickers and a lot of things is you have to repaint it or rip it off, and there’s no real easy way to get it off. It’s not that you’re destroying the article by putting a sticker on, but people just don’t know how to do it, so they destroy it getting it off. So something like this, it’s not hurting anything! And I try to make it that way, especially for my earlier models that I’ve found to be extremely primitive, like literally just a hook. So this has come from hundreds of random design things. Even when I came here to install my first piece, I wasn’t using this system. I was using something else.

I’m still trying to grow as an artist. But through the five years just experiencing so many different things, and being able to meet so many incredible people, but not necessarily feeling that happiness that you would feel once you reach a platform… I think it’s really important to share knowledge, you know? Especially now—what I’m trying to do with my platform is be more concise…

SD: To Bmore concise?
RB: Haha yeah, just Bmore concise, and stay wired while you’re doing it—

SD: Haha!
RB: —to show people that this is something that I have found to do by getting a six dollar roll of wire and just using pliers. There’s so many techniques that you can use this material to do, or fix. It’s super useful. And people are interested in it, so I feel like it’s almost in my title right now to share with people. Over the past few years, I’ve been away from it. But like, I just got done having an intern, and having another intern who’s actually charismatic and really is very interested in the process and how I do it [would be great]—just teaching that stuff.


 
SD: Have you ever been stopped while installing?
RB: A few times. I like to play this off, but for me, I just try to come off as non-confrontational as possible. So if people are just like really up in arms about something, I mean fuck it, I’ll take it down, but then I’m just gonna go a block down and install it again. So there’s been a few times.

SD: Your Instagram captions reveal that many of your sculptures have a very specific meaning or message. I would guess that most people who encounter your work out in the world find it pleasantly surprising but miss the deeper significance. How do you feel about that?
RB: If you have a [pointed] message [and] they don’t get it, then it’s fine. I mean, a lot of the residents don’t necessarily get references to a lot of the weird crap that I watch, or cartoon things that I make, and I get it!

SD: Not everyone recognizes a Totoro.
RB: Most people do! I love the whimsicalness of that. But if it’s not the message that they get, the one thing that I want people to take away is that you can do this. It doesn’t take that much. It’s not rocket science. And if you work at anything, you could end up making a weird career out of something as awkward and transient as wire. It’s taken me to some weird places!

SD: What’s the weirdest place it’s taken you?
RB: Well, I guess one of the most humbling experiences but also crazy places, is hanging out with Tony Alva—he’s like a godfather of skateboarding. Meeting him and also Tony Hawk and a bunch of other random people because I got invited to do the Skateboarding Hall of Fame a few years ago. Getting flown out for something was like this is weird. Just getting a reaction from people.

And when I first started doing wire, I guess my feeling about putting it up was more so validation, you know? It was really important for me in my first step to do something that was inherently me, but see where that took me. Which is why [I do] something as stupid as wire. I’ll say it! It gets kind of stupid sometimes. I stab myself a lot.

SD: One pointed installation that got attention in Baltimore about a year ago was a sculpture of a character called “Healthy Holly,” who I of course was not familiar with. How well known in Baltimore was the scandal this piece was referencing? And do you think it had any impact on the situation? (If you’re not familiar with the Baltimore Mayor’s “Healthy Holly” scandal, you can learn more here.)
RB: No… I think it definitely brought some satire to the situation, of just how shitty our government works in Baltimore—and I’m not afraid to say it. There’s a lot of underrepresentation, and there’s a lot of police brutality, and inaccessibility to simple things. Baltimore is a giant food desert, and in some places it’s just a desert where it seems like there’s not a lot of opportunity that you could get from there. A lot of people end up traveling outside of Baltimore to take jobs, and it leaves a lot of the communities very desolate and—I wouldn’t say hopeless—but you’ll see in further generations there’s a lot of trauma.

With the whole Healthy Holly thing… I stole a children’s character that was by our ex-mayor—I think she’s getting five years for this whole thing. It was almost important for me in my own sense—I’m not gonna cure cancer or anything with this—but to have a message out there that was inherently me. And yes, it is selfish, but [if] you have a voice, you just have to say it. And I guess what I was trying to say was I’m kind of tired of all this bullshit. Baltimore it seemed like could not catch a break. [What it really comes down to] is the traumas that are imposed generationally. It really does start with our kids. And I feel like… you really are taking advantage of children for the gain and disparity of what future Baltimore has to offer.

So, yeah. That’s where the hog-tying Healthy Holly came from. It was a shitty children’s book. It was just really, really bad. Even the first copy… I don’t know who edited it, but it’s not like they even did spell checks.

There was some fire that I received after that, but it just seemed like a lot of people supported Pew through the end of it—the ex-mayor. So I just said fuck their opinion. I’m gonna do what I want, and I think that’s, like, the resolution to street art—public opinion.

SD: Another piece that got attention was a sculpture of a child protestor you hung by Baltimore City Hall during the Freddie Gray protests Hey 2015. How did it feel to create and hang that piece?
RB: Well, that was just an insane time. I never really feel a lot. Alongside with walking and doing all the marches for months on end… As much as I could contribute, it didn’t really feel like enough, you know? And I guess you always try to do something with your artwork that will feel like enough, or like a resolution, but it’s just a little bit of work that you put in.

I felt like that piece really tried to share a sentiment that people were having, which is the same sentiment with the Healthy Holly piece—like, a lot of kids were deemed as thugs… The tension between police and Baltimore [happens in many places because] there’s a lot of crime because there isn’t a lot of opportunity.


 
SD: Let’s switch gears and talk about Philly! You come here fairly regularly to put up work—is that just because we’re close by, or do you have a specific connection to Philly?
RB: I love Philly! I think Philly’s cute as fuck! Just skateboarding around? I have friends who are here from school, and visiting them, my first few trips coming up here… I can’t help but fall in love with it. It’s a great space. There’s pockets of everything, and it reminds me a lot of Baltimore, and just how people are interacting. Yeah, Philly. I fuck with it.

Also, Conrad’s been super supportive of the art, and the city has shown a lot of love. I can’t not put a piece in a city when it rides, like, seven times longer than it does in mine. People fuck with it! It’s not just my art. People fuck with art here in general. There’s art everyyywhereeee. I think one of the important aspects to the city is that it’s very widely accepted, so when I come up here, I know that when I put it up, it’s not gonna just last for a week…

SD: Wow, your pieces get taken down in a week in Baltimore?
RB: Yeah, I mean I’ve had pieces get taken down in hours.

SD: Wow. Yeah, that would be nearly unheard of here.
RB: It’s tough, because for me, even as we’re doing this interview, if I don’t concentrate and make pieces, then there’s no way that I’m gonna be able to catch up. For me, as an artist working with a three dimensional medium, I can’t make a thing and then go to an art printing company and print it five feet by seven feet and wheatpaste it up. It doesn’t resonate. This is my art: sculpture. It’s really not transferable, unless I just had an army of interns.

SD: Or some machine that bends all the wire into the same shape over and over.
RB: Something like that, to copy a pattern would help me a lot. Otherwise, I’m just there day in, day out, working on pieces… I guess it’s good. I’ve found some techniques to shorten a lot of the process for myself, but it still gets tiring. My hands hurt! It’s a lot of gripping.


 
SD: How do you choose where to install in Philly? And is there anything different about hanging in Philly versus Baltimore?
RB: What I’ve found with my art practice is a lot of it is done in the studio or a lot of it is done sitting down, and it’s like… someone bending wire is less eye-catching than someone spray painting on a wall, so I have that to thank [for not getting too much attention when I’m installing]. But the whole process—it sometimes can take me as much as two minutes to put something up, but sometimes it takes me five seconds, and then I’m just out of there. And it’s funny, because when I’m there, I always think fuck yeah, Maryland! Cause our state sport for some reason is jousting. It’s not even lacrosse—I think lacrosse is team sports, but for solo sports, it’s jousting. So being a Marylander, I’m really taking in that medieval energy in some weird way.

When I go and find somewhere to install in Philly, it’s mostly just places where I know people will see it. Or my friends! I’ll go install in front of friends’ houses. But mostly where I just know people will use as the main arteries in and out.

SD: What are the biggest differences between Philly’s street art and Baltimore’s?
RB: Baltimore is definitely way more graffiti.

SD: Really! Cause there’s a ton of graffiti in Philly!
RB: Oh—no—sorry! In its own terms.

SD: Oh, like the percentage?
RB: Yeah. there’s like 5000 murals per block, seemingly, here, and it is the most murals in a city in the world, so I think Philly is better than Baltimore at keeping up with those things. In terms of authenticity, and I’m only deriving this from the people who I know, but my friends who do graffiti in Baltimore just do not give a fuck. You know? Anything and everything is a target. It’s funny, because the skating scene and the graffiti scene are so small. If you came up for like two months, you would already know most of the writers in the city, because we all go to the same bar, and talk about, like, did you get your skate part in? That’s kind of how it is. But they definitely don’t give a fuck, and they’re all really good at skateboarding. I can’t really say much in comparison, cause I don’t know anybody here in Philly.

I wish that there was a more concerted effort to do more street artwork in my city, cause it’s probably just me, and aside from a wheatpaste that you’ll see every once in a while from someone, there isn’t really anybody. It’s me and probably like six, seven—less than 10 who are active out there now.

SD: Lead the charge!
RB: I know! Gotta lead the charge! And that’s why I think a lot of my friends went to corporate mural-making. That’s usually where it goes to. People install artwork for the longest time illegally, and then when it clicks, they go out and they get gigs doing indoor painting and stuff like that.

Hopefully with this next generation, people will come to the city. But that’s also why I feel at home, because it is so tight-knit, that if something were to really pop off, it’s not hard to get a bunch of people behind something and come together. It all feels like an episode of Cheers.


 
SD: It seems that nostalgia plays a big role in your work. Why is that?
RB: I had an amazing childhood…

SD: Yeah, I heard that your dad let you paint a graffiti piece in your bedroom?
RB: Yeah, he let me paint a few graffiti pieces in my bedroom! And he was just like put something down cause I don’t want it to get on the carpet, and then I got some on the carpet and he later changed his tone to ah fuck it, that carpet was ugly anyways. But he was really cool. He just wanted me to make sure that I left a window open and I had a good vent mask.

Yeah, but I dive into nostalgia because it always seems like that’s the one thing that we all have connecting us, as humans. Depending on where you’re from or what age you are, everybody has some emotional connection to pop culture references, where everybody just gets it. So I use those as a tool to forward a message that I’m getting out there. A lot of things in my childhood—it was very humorous and comedic, and the idea of play and power struggle—it all comes together in a very nice tight package, which could be carried over through nostalgia. Memories are very powerful, and that’s the one thing that connects all of us without having to describe a moment.

SD: You’re kind of like the wire sculpture equivalent of a sticker artist—your work is character based, and I’ve read that you carry small pieces to hang as you walk around the city. One of the major appeals of sticker art is the low barrier to entry, and it seems like that would apply to wire sculpting as well. So how come nobody else is doing this?
RB: That’s another reason I want to become more public with it, because it’s just such a foreign material to use for this type of thing!


 
SD: So you want to start a movement!
RB: I’m not starting a movement—the movement’s been there in the craft world for a super long time. There actually is an artist I very much enjoy, Spencer Little… He doesn’t necessarily do the traffic lights, but all of his studio work and what he does in terms of bringing knowledge and technique to the wire world is astounding. There’s a few other people like that. Recently, I was able to connect with a huge inspiration of mine—not very well known, this dude named Arthur Ganson. He uses wire in a very mechanical sense to make small machines and crank things that clack. It’s very immersive and playful. You can do anything with this material! It is a very accessible medium, and I hope that in the future, people catch on and start using it, even just to do illicit things.

SD: You also give workshops, right?
RB: Yeah, I’ve been hired to do some workshops. A lot of the time, it’s lectures about my work followed up with a workshop. Which is nice because you never really get how much people care about it until they show up to a workshop, because they’re paying to learn something. It’s like school—the people who are there that are serious about what you have to offer. So I love doing workshops. Sharing knowledge is a gift.


 
SD: What’s your lunch order at Tattooed Mom?
RB: I’m so excited to get a sammie of some sort! My friend—it’s just so stupid—but my friend and I are admins to a sandwich group on Facebook? We just literally post troll-y photos about sandwiches, and it’s really dumb, but it got like 2000 followers over the past week.

SD: Wow! Haha alright. Well thanks for coming by.
RB: Hell yeah, dude!

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Read past articles from our Philly Street Art Interviews series by clicking the artist’s name… Season 1: Hope HummingbirdFaithsFunnnBob Will ReignTaped Off TVLow LevelVoid Skulls… Season 2: Kid HazoUnder Water PiratesSymone SalibSEPERMorg… Season 3: As Above So Below, Hysterical Men!

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