The Alibi speaks with Albuquerque’s most controversial public artist
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Every time I get on the Rail Runner in Downtown Albuquerque, I look across the platform at a rainbow dripping down the side of a building just across Broadway. Occasionally, I hear people point it out to their friends, but it largely goes unnoticed by my fellow commuters. About a month ago, a similar rainbow appeared on the Anasazi Building at Sixth Street and Central—that’s the abandoned high-rise recently taken over by the city after developer Vincent Garcia and two others were charged with 19 counts of fraud and money laundering.
It's like a secret message for the viewer, or a puzzle that invites solving. Like any good piece of art, it begs to be looked at over and over again, to be discussed by its fans and detractors.
Some think of it as a love note, others as a lesson in letting their eyes leave the urban landscape. It seems to cleanse the Anasazi of its reputation, transforming it into something wholly other. The people I know love it. The cops, not so much.
Chief Public Safety Officer Darren White told KOAT news on July 9, “The only person who thinks it's great is the person who did it. We don't.”
On Friday, Aug. 6, Albuquerque police arrested a suspect, Ernest Doty, in an an investigation into the paintings. The city's graffiti removal team is trying to figure out how to erase the rainbows, which have been dripped from the rooftops of several Albuquerque buildings. The same day as White's appearance on KOAT, signs appeared on the Anasazi stating “this building is unsafe for human occupancy.”
Two days prior to the arrest, the Alibi spoke by phone, under the condition of anonymity, to someone claiming responsibility for the artwork. As of press time, Doty was still in custody and we could not confirm whether he is the man with whom we spoke.
The rainbows you painted seem to have pissed a few people off.
It seems that I have; but not very many people. A couple key people, I suppose.
What inspired you to put up rainbows?
About three or four years ago ... I was feeling really depressed and I had this notion that if I went out and painted a rainbow, maybe someone would see it and feel what I was feeling or feel anything as intensely as I was. The first one I did, I just literally dumped the paint over the side of a pretty ugly, abandoned, alleyway building. It came out OK but not like any of the ones I’m doing now.
I wanted to direct that negative attention and show that sometimes something ugly can be beautiful, too.
How many have you done?
I did four and then I stopped doing them because it didn’t have the response I wanted. Then about a year ago I met somebody who asked me if I was the one that had done the rainbow a couple years back. They said when they first saw it, it made them cry. At that moment I knew it did have the effect that I wanted, that people were feeling something. I think I didn’t hear any responses because nobody knew who to respond to. I just wasn’t around when people were seeing it. That triggered me to do more. I’ve been doing them for, I guess, 10 months, maybe a year now, and I’ve gone from here to San Francisco.
Why do you think the one at Sixth Street and Central has gotten so much attention?
The building itself is already kind of in a weird standpoint. It was in the news. It’s just this ugly, eyesore, half-completed building that’s been that way for years. I think because it was already in people’s minds, they saw this ugly building with these ugly connections. I chose that one because I’ve been looking at it since they stopped construction and I knew it was going to be just another building in Albuquerque that was going to sit until it fell apart. I chose it because it already had some attention, and some negative attention, and I wanted to direct that negative attention and show that sometimes something ugly can be beautiful, too.
There’s been speculation that it’s some kind of gay pride symbol.
If you’re gay and a rainbow stands for pride for you, I’m glad that it does, I’m glad that you get a positive from it. But at the same time, I remember being a child and being able to wear a rainbow to school. It was just a rainbow. It symbolized future and promise and dreams. Imagination. I kinda want to just give that back to people. When they see that, maybe they’re having a rough day or a rough year or life and they can just look at it and find peace for a second and remember what rainbows meant when they were a kid, or when they could look up at the sky and see one instead of seeing billboards and half-finished buildings. I want to let anyone find enjoyment in the rainbows.
Shouldn’t the majority of the people get to decide if it stays?
Why do you choose to do street art?
I want to inspire other people. That’s part of all my art; it’s always positive. I think I chose street art to inspire somebody else in a way that’s outside of the box. Like somebody who wouldn’t normally be exposed to street art, somebody who would just walk past it. Street art really saves a lot of people who are down in their lives and on their luck. This is their one and only outlet. Plus, you get an immediate response from people. A lot of times it’s just, Look at that graffiti on that freeway wall. But maybe the graffiti on the freeway isn’t the ugly thing, maybe that’s not what they’re angry about. Maybe they’re angry about how for the last 10 years you’ve been driving through this prison freeway with these big ugly gray walls and it just took the graffiti to point out the ugly that was already there.
The rainbow on the Anasazi draws attention to something that has been there for years but people have learned to just walk by.
If the building is in limbo, why would you spend taxpayer dollars to remove something that people find beautiful? Shouldn’t the majority of the people get to decide if it stays? Why are we spending millions and millions of dollars painting the ditches? Graffiti removal is part of Waste Management, and they’ll go into a ditch and walk over a couch, past a homeless man and over some broken bottles to buff over some graffiti. Why not pick up the couch, sweep up the bottles and feed the hungry? That’s what we should be focusing on, not painting an arroyo where dirty water is washing into our rivers and polluting our water supply.
What do you say to the people who don’t like your rainbows?
I painted it for anyone who wants a moment to themselves, or a moment to remember or imagine. To the people that have responded negatively, I challenge them to come and look at it. Don’t look at it on your TV or online or in a newspaper; come see it. Don’t look at it knowing it’s graffiti. Just look at it for what it is. Who can hate rainbows? The rainbow [itself] is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, all you have to do is look for it.
I’m curious: Why are you speaking publicly now?
I guess, a lot of people have questions and assumptions. I wanted to let people know it’s not just me, it’s them. I wanted to explain why I did it. Part of the reason I do the rainbows instead of typical lettering is because every sign we see is left to right, and this is up and down. Automatically, your eye wants to follow the line, so you look from the ground up to the sky. It doesn’t have a name and it doesn’t have my name on it. It becomes the viewer’s. That’s part of the reason I want to stay anonymous: It’s not my rainbow, whether you love it, hate it, don’t understand it or wish you had one down your building. It’s for everyone. It’s not for any specific group or genre. It’s for whoever is seeing it at whatever moment.