Founded in 2008, Dripped on the Road takes six artists on the road to paint public murals across America. Hoping to learn more about the program we caught up with ‘art-trepreneur’ Jonathan Neville, who co-directs this traveling artists residency, between trips to talk about the creativity that can be nurtured when traveling with total strangers.
What inspired this unique traveling artists’ residency program?
In 2008, Ramiro Davaro-Comas and a few friends bought a school bus and traveled across the U.S. for a month. Needless to say, it promised to be a memorable time that would afford the group an amazing opportunity to see the entire country! At the time, Ramiro was also working as a director at an artist residency program in upstate New York and as an active muralist in New York City. His work in the arts had connected him with Jonathan Neville and Denton Burrows, two other “art-trepreneurs,” who had previously formed a production company called Dripped On Productions. Ramiro approached Jonathan and Denton with the concept, and the two were immediately into it!
The initial goal of the project was to bring artists around the U.S. in an RV and expose them to new opportunities, communities, and life-changing experiences. The program would bring them to different cities to paint murals and camp in different national parks, all while creating new artwork that would be showcased in a gallery exhibition at the end of the month.
As artists themselves, they recognized how important it was that DOTR provide the artists with materials, a living stipend, professional development opportunities, and most of the food consumed on the trip. They also knew that the trip would be a beautiful story that should be captured in a professionally shot, documentary-style web series. Today, it is a truly nomadic artistic experience that takes the residents out of their comfort zone and into a non-stop wall-painting experience with wild adventures around every corner.
How does being on the road affect your creativity and art?
The road is an endless source of inspiration! No matter the setting, each and every day on the road is full of new sights and surroundings that make their way into our resident artists’ work. For example, alumnus Lauren Asta created a gallery installation consisting of portraits and conversations overheard in Walmart during our travels, and Ramiro collected small twigs to create unique frames for a series of paintings.
Not only are the new sights, smells, and people we meet on the road sources of inspiration in our art, the daily struggles of living in an bus with six artists for a month — waking up in the morning to paint a gigantic mural in a city you don’t know, hitting the road to our next destination, or creating artwork in the forest — expand our artistic talents and abilities.
Tell us about the process that goes into creating these large collaborative murals.
DOTR has a unique way of approaching collaborative murals that provides each of our resident artists the freedom to create a composition that highlights their individual style while still creating a work of art that is meaningful to the local community.
Since our goal is to create a mural for the community to enjoy, our approach starts with observing our surroundings. This means learning about each new community we enter through relationships with local nonprofits, art galleries, and community institutions, as well as conversations with local residents we meet along the way — whether that be on the street, in a restaurant, or at a bar. Each mural we’ve painted during DOTR is a reflection of our surroundings: mermaids and sea captains on the Miami River in Florida; firemen on a retired firehouse in Ithaca, New York; and steel factory workers in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for instance.
After getting to know the community, the process becomes very organic, as the concept has formed itself. We then just need to fill in the blanks, so to speak, and put the paint on the wall.
What are some of your favorite moments from your time on the road?
This is always the hardest question to answer because each and every day on the road provides a memorable moment. So, I like to split this into three categories: camping, cities, and on the road.
The most memorable experiences while camping are the nights when everyone is laughing. It’s an uncontrollable laughter that can be in response to the silliest of things that we would ordinarily ignore. Then, once the laughing fades and the yawning begins, we make our way to our beds and fall asleep to the coyotes crooning and hunting. Camping allows all of the problems in the world to fade away. “Season 1 Episode 3: Garbage Magic” has a lot of moments just like this.
My favorite city moment is probably from Atlanta. The local Pabst Blue Ribbon rep, Luis, hosted us and made sure we ate the best food and saw the best sights. There, we also met local artists, ate amazing Korean food at Gaja, and explored Atlanta’s incredibly cultures (thanks, Luis!).
Lastly, driving provides ample memories, some of which are quite freaky! One of our directors, Denton Burrows, was driving alumnus Below Key through a very rural stretch of the northeast during our August 2017 trip when they noticed an eight-foot-tall, slender, shadowy figure running through a field beside the road. Not believing their eyes, they turned the car around to get a second look. They confirmed what they saw and immediately got out of there. Needless to say, this turned into one of those nights of uncontrollable laughter as we all tried to figure out if it was some kids playing practical jokes on passing cars or possibly the New Jersey Devil or his Massachusetts’ counterpart.
How do you feel these journeys change the artists involved?
I think these journeys impact everyone and change each of us for the better, both artistically and in our day-to-day lives. Daily life at home becomes a routine. Living and working on the road turns that routine upside down and forces you to overcome new challenges every day. You can’t use an app on your phone or call someone to come and fix something; you need to figure out how to handle a situation to the best of your abilities. On the road, there is something to learn each and every day.
The artists’ growth is simply amazing. Creating an incredible amount of work in a limited time while living on the road with five other artists is a catalyst for creative expansion. You are literally forced to learn and advance your art at a rapid pace while finding conformability in a new setting each day. This uncertainty and the new experiences rapidly accelerate our artists’ ability to grow their talents.
How do you feel the artists work changes the communities they visit?
It is of the utmost importance that our murals positively impact the local community we are painting in. As outsiders coming into a new town or city, we want to create a work of art that the local community will want to see every single day. Painting a mural on a derelict wall that would otherwise just be another blank space to walk by transforms that area into a focal point for the community. It provides something to think about, or simply smile at, when you walk by. I first got into street art to help my local residents regain a feeling of ownership over our community, by painting murals on construction containers and in a local city park on my street, and I still believe that’s its greatest power.
It is an amazing feeling to have a group of local residents or a local school bring the students by to thank you for painting a mural for their community. Season 3 Episode 2: “Ithaca” has an incredible interview about why murals are important for local communities.
What are some of the challenges you and your fellow artists experience while on the road?
Traveling and living in a vehicle while painting murals across the U.S. with five other artists is extremely challenging. For each person, these challenges are very different. We have had resident artists who grew up in the wilderness camping and others who grew up in cities and have never set up a tent before. We’ve also picked up artists who have not painted many murals before but are incredible illustrators, but they’ve signed up to travel thousands of miles to paint more murals in a month than they have in their life!
That said, the challenges that pop up on the road are fun and a part of the learning experience. The goal of DOTR is to promote growth, both as artists and as people. Being able to overcome the challenges that come with living and working on the road is translatable into everyday life. Don’t let a bump in the road steer you away from your goals!
How do you connect with the artists who go on these trips?
Right now, the program is invite-only, and we have worked with artists from across the U.S. For the most part, each time we begin this journey, the artists are strangers to us as people, though we are fans of their artwork. The street art community around the world is very tight, so we try to help and meet each other when traveling. With all of these social media platforms, it’s easy to reach out to artists that you are a fan of and see if they want to meet up, point you in the direction of cool happenings while you’re visiting their city, or maybe even collaborate on a mural. It helps that we are based in New York as well, where we get to meet amazing artists from around the world on a daily basis.
How has the series changed from its beginnings?
The program itself has stayed true to its beginnings, but our series is constantly adapting and evolving. We have an amazing videographer, Lisa Bolden of Elixir Motion Picture, who blows our minds with every episode. We had never met her before the first trip, but she was an amazing addition to the program from the moment she showed up.
The first season is an introduction to the program, so the episodes are a bit longer. It captures the emotions that come with the program, and by the end of the series, you can see the life changes each artist experienced during the trip and how impactful it was for them. The second season focuses on the cities we stayed in. It explores why traveling to different communities is important and how this impacts us as artists and individuals. And the third season is all about collaborating with local artists and communities. So, while they’re all different, they compliment each other and help tell a collective story.
What’s next for the community of alumni resident artists, and what can we look forward to in the future for Dripped on the Road?
We provide our alumni with work opportunities via Dripped On Productions, our partners and sponsors, and we plan to continue to work closely with them in the hosting of their art in gallery exhibitions across the U.S., participating in live painting events, and so much more. DOTR is an experience that creates life-long bonds, even among our alumni from the different trips.
As far as future projects, Dripped on the Road has a lot of exciting programs in the works. We are currently planning three trips for the fall with some talented artists and also have a few other incredible projects we can’t wait to announce — so stay tuned!
To learn more about Dripped on the Road and to follow along with their journey click here.