"Reinventing Memphis pride is Important to Us."
#Birdcap #ArtistSpotlight #UAC
By: Hope Hudson & Grace John
When I was asked to interview Michael Roy (aka Birdcap), I was star-struck. He is one of the most prolific public artists in Memphis, and his crisply, whimsical figures stand out among all the other awe-inspiring murals in the city. My nerves were immediately frayed when I met him; his personality matches his warm, goofy murals. I got to talk with him at Phuong Long Vietnamese Diner, where his newest mural is underway. (I also brought my friend and coworker Grace John, because she is possibly his number one fan.)
Hope: How’d you get the job to paint this mural?
Michael: I’ve always enjoyed eating here a lot. Over time, Scott [an employee at Phuong Long] figured out that I paint and started talking about having me do a mural here. I think I said something like, “Ah, yeah, I’d do it for some more food!” We joked about it for about six months, half-serious, and then Scott went over to the Brooks Museum and saw the installation we [Roy, Brandon Marshall, and Lance Turner] did. I got a phone call from him that same day saying the mural was a go. So, I’m being paid in spring rolls and bubble teas… I’m homeless, but I drink really nice milkshakes.
Grace: How did y’all [Roy and Marshall] meet?
M: Well, Brandon already told the story on Creative Memphis. It’s a bummer because I was wanting to make up some, like, real superb story about how we met…
H: Well, you can make it up now.
M: No, haha, my mom would cross-reference, and I’d be in some trouble… We met on Facebook. I was posting a lot of graffiti pics from Korea, and I guess he saw it through mutual friends. When I got back stateside he sent me a message asking if I wanted to go painting. He picked me up one day, and his truck was just absolutely covered with mud on the inside from playing with his dog that day, but I didn’t ask about it . Later he said, “That’s when I knew we’d be friends; you never mentioned the mud.” We’ve been working together on most projects since.
G: How long had you been making art before you realized you wanted to get into street art?
M: I went to an arts high school, and that’s when I really started doing art seriously. I went to MCA [Memphis College of Art]… but it wasn’t until I went to Korea about five years ago, and I was living in a small, Asian-style apartment. When you have that small of a space, you realize exactly how large each of your paintings are. So I went to sketchbooks and I made really bad art. I was post-college, doing mostly academic narratives, referencing art history. But the thing about that art is that it isn’t fun or interesting or entertaining if you’re not around other people playing the same game. So I had to workshop my art and make it a thing that I could enjoy without that academic community. That eventually led to street art.
H: What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve made in Memphis?
M: I’m really proud of the newest piece I did at Eclectic Eye. The owner gave me full flex, so I really got to map out something, and it wasn’t wrapped around a previous idea. It’s fun to do the things that people want, but just selfishly I guess, that one was the most fun. I also did a rooftop piece on Broad Avenue I had a good time making.
H: What advice do you have for Memphis about public art?
M: The thing with doing public art in Memphis is that so many people who are willing to invest in it want the artwork to quote Memphis. It’s pretty redundant to be in Memphis and look up at a mural that’s basically prompting Memphis tourism. That’s cool and it has its place, but the only time artists are in national radar is when they are given more free range. No matter how good a piece is, if it only relates to one city’s interests it has a limited power. I think the best way to make Memphis relevant is to make it compelling to the international community. The Eclectic Eye piece got a lot of national attention compared to my other pieces, but by far the most well-known piece I have in Memphis to Memphis is the Marc Gasol piece on Airways. We basically just took that image from a photographer; it was for a commercial. But it’s the most famous here. It’s understandable I think, but maybe not super fulfilling. I think reinventing Memphis pride is important to us.
|"Clip Art Sunstrokin" by Lance Turner X Birdcap | Chelsea Ave|
|"Bait" by Birdcap | Eclectic Eye|
Michael Roy’s newest work includes the piece at Eclectic Eye on Cooper, the work he’s doing at Phuong Long on Cleveland, and a collaborative piece for the Brooks Museum’s “Art of Video Games” exhibit. UAC collaborations in the “I Love Memphis” mural on Broad Ave.