When it comes to making art, following a specific formula may seem like an outdated way of expressing yourself, but is there any other way out? Philadelphia based artist NDA mastered the art of feeling the environment in order to change it, mainly through expressive, intimate and challenging artworks. Born in NY and raised in Portland, NDA finished his BFA from Brooklyn College and found public art by accident. He was able to expand his illustration background into the realms of monumental murals and bright paintings, always encouraging whoever stumbles upon his work to take a deeper look and let their minds do its job. What you will find below is a friendly, highly articulate (no, but seriously) and such an under-rated artist. Find more of his work here and here.
Thank you for talking to me today! As I told you before, I’ve been fascinated with your work for a while now, and every time I stumble upon one of your murals in Philadelphia, I feel like there’s a strong force that makes me stop. It doesn’t matter if I’m late to get somewhere, or if I have to cross the street before even checking if there are any cars coming. I just stop and stare. Does that sound like a compliment? Or does it make you feel like you accomplished something?
NDA – Ha, come on, of course that sounds like a compliment! In a town where murals are so innocuous and prevalent I think people can sort of take public art for granted and forget to look up. If you’re telling me that my stuff causes you to do that then I feel like I’m doing something right. That’s definitely part of the goal as a public artists so I’ll take it!
I noticed that your work range from highly expressive and figurative forms to more surrealistic and abstract ones. Tell me a little bit about your creative process – how do you pick a certain theme?
NDA – Something that I’ve come to accept about my art practice is that I get bored doing things one kind of way too consistently. I used to feel frustrated by this. Like it was some kind of flaw to be so spastic. Now I just work on several different things at once so when one is feeling stale or I’m getting frustrated by one, I just switch over and keep going. It’s been a new thing and a bit of a break through for me. In terms of deciding when to use one style over the other, there are a variety of reasons. Sometimes if I’m doing a commission I can tell from what the client has expressed that a certain style is a better fit. Sometimes with public work (and this may sound corny) the space sort of tells me what it wants me to do. It’s not always so definable. I have to trust my feelings.
New York City
I saw on your website that you traveled to several countries including Norway, Portugal, Mexico and many others. Do you feel like there’s some sort of adaptation to your work depending where you are?
NDA – A lot of the stuff that goes up in other parts of the world is made back in my studio before hand. So in that case it’s more of a matter of what works for the space. You try to do your best to make connections and create a scene that fits with the environment. But other projects are site specific and require some pre-planning on the space. I’ve definitely also noticed color palettes shifting when I’m working in different environments. It’s a tricky balance to maintain your voice but still honor the space you’re creating work in. It’s something I’m still working on.
Your Instagram bio says “the most under-rated artist of our time”. Even though it’s pretty self explanatory, could you walk us through this thought a little bit more in depth?
NDA – That’s just me being silly. I’ve had a few artist friends tell me I should take it down because it sounds like I’m being down on myself or I’m not too confident in what I do. I actually think it’s the opposite though. To me it’s kind of like saying, “I’m the best and you just haven’t figured it out yet!” I think a lot of artist straddle the line between their Ali moments of “I’m the greatest” and then back to self doubt. This is kind of that nice, sweet spot for me. Ultimately, it’s not really humble at all and it’s not really meant to be read as such.
I see Philadelphia as this vibrant city when it comes to the arts filled with so many incredible artists everywhere… What’s your favorite thing about being an artist living in a city like Philly?
NDA – I haven’t been here that long but what I really love is that artistically, and probably other ways, Philly is a town of self-made artists. First off it’s an affordable metropolitan area which already provides you with some breathing room to be creative and not stress as hard about where the rent is coming from. Secondly, it doesn’t feel pretentious at all. There are plenty of people that are doing what they set out to do and not just talking about it. That’s super refreshing. Also, from a non-commissioned public arts perspective it’s great too. Unlike NY where there are a million bored cops ready to pinch you or ticket you for any number of little bullshit things, Philly isn’t as cop heavy and they have real shit to deal with. Knock on wood but they generally seem to leave street artists alone.
Are there any artists, musicians or maybe movie directors that makes you want to push yourself harder when it comes to being creative?
NDA – This is a great question! There are too many visual artists to list. I feel so fortunate that the public arts arena is pretty open to the point where I can generally say that a lot of my friends inspire me both nationally and internationally. With social media you’re able to stay connected to their process and let that inspire you. Plus watching people I respect stay on their grind helps me to push my limits. It’s friendly but it is competitive. More interestingly though for me are the outside influences. I’m always drawn to raw, sincere voices so people like Vince Staples in the music world get me going and help me feel like there’s some new life being breathed into hip hop. Miles Davis used to say, “Be wrong, strong” and so he’s definitely in there for me. I just think of all these musicians that saw things differently and accomplished so much so early. It’s nice to be inspired by artists outside of your field because the pressure is off to compare yourself and you can just enjoy the process. Film is huge for me too. Recently I’ve felt that film might be the only medium where truly unique ideas can still happen. I just watched that movie “Boyhood” where they follow a kid one year at a time and we watch him literally grow on the screen and I was struck by how I’d never seen that before but it seems so obvious. Altman always gets me jazzed because he pushed boundaries and was so prolific. Paul Thomas Anderson usually blows my wig back and if I’m ever feeling like art is stupid and pointless I’ll watch a Fellini film and it sets me straight. I can go on and on but I think I’ll leave it there.