Thomas Christopher Haag, Fill-in characters
Thomas exploded in my mind the first time I stepped out of Cato’s Pub. A bit buzzed as per usual, I found his monumental mural in the alley that Cato’s shares with The Rare Bird staring me down. The Rare Bird, a nominee for my own private “cutest-little-shop-in-the-world” award, will be hosting Thomas Christopher Haag‘s work this Thursday evening in conjunction with Piedmont Ave.’s Third Thursday Art Walk. I tracked him down at his studio in The Compound in North Oakland.
Obi: Your palette, figurative style are all very much set and branded. Have you always painted in this way? How did it come about?
Thomas: I’ve been painting in this style for about 6 years. The style comes from a street art technique I used in my aerosol days. I would find a severely tagged-up, wheat-pasted wall (the messier the better) and I would use the existing mess as the fill-in for my characters. I basically do the same thing on panels. I create a patterned, complicated background layer with paint and pasted paper which I then use as the fill-in for characters, painting out the negative space which becomes the new background. It’s a lot of wasted time and effort, like 75% of the original layer gets completely painted over, but that’s how it’s done.
I mostly use all recycled materials in my work. Found wood to build the panels, old books for collage, and the paint I use is reclaimed latex house paint from liquid chemical disposal facilities. So my palette is totally dependent on the colors people in the area use inside their homes. In New Mexico, my palette was mostly earth tones and pastels. In Oakland, the colors are brighter and more primary.
Obi: How did you come to be working in Oakland? Where do you come from?
Thomas: I lived in New Mexico for 4 years, having moved there from San Juan Island, Washington. I missed the ocean. Plus, Oakland is awesome, and the art scene here seemed more my style: community-oriented, friendly and DIY and close to San Francisco and L.A., which have very active art scenes. I’m originally from Wichita, Kansas…which has a less active art scene.
Obi: I love your giant mural next to Cato’s on the wall outside The Rare Bird. How did that come about and how long did it take you? Did you have it all drawn out first or did you improvise? Did you need to use scaffolding?
Thomas: Very soon after I first moved here from New Mexico (8 months ago), I was sitting at Cato’s enjoying well-crafted local ales and I noticed the blank wall across the way. I walked into The Rare Bird and asked Erica if they were into having a mural done. It turns out that they had been talking about doing a mural there just the day before. She showed the building owner my portfolio and website, and a few days later I was painting. The whole thing took 9 days, working about 10 hours a day, on a rickety aluminum ladder. The owner wanted to see a sketch of the mural before I started, which I almost never do. I gave him a quick sketch and he asked me to leave out the genitalia. The finished product looks absolutely nothing like the sketch and there is genitalia hidden all over that mural.
The Rare Bird is located at 3883 Piedmont Ave, Oakland.