‘The Swiss Army Knife of artists’

Street artist NDA is changing the landscape of local art.

A piece is displayed near the Tattooed Mom, on South Street. | MICHAEL SOTTILE TTN

Philadelphia-based street artist NDA never had a babysitter as a child. Instead, he spent his days at rehearsals for “The Nutcracker” at the Oregon Ballet Theatre, where his mother worked as a ballerina.

With a stepfather who worked as a set designer, NDA grew up surrounded by artists.

After a move from New York City, NDA—who does not disclose his full name because of  his work—has lived in Philadelphia for the last year. He recently completed a mural on a wall outside of The Fillmore in Fishtown, his first collaboration with the Mural Arts Program. The yellow, pink and dark blue image features a head emerging from another caricature head, each facing opposite directions. The primary image of the heads is adorned with an olive branch, gold chains and a cherry on the top.

“I didn’t really know anything about street art until I moved to New York,” NDA said. “I never really thought about it, but once I did it, it was an obvious transition.”

His move to Philadelphia was influenced by the city’s established street-art culture.

“There’s already a really strong street-art scene here, and I’m looking forward to being involved with that,” he said. “I’ve always respected the work of Mural Arts. I’ve been trying to get in with them for a while, they’re the big game in town.”

In addition to Philadelphia, NDA has extended his creative vision to places around the world such as London, Norway, Portugal and Mexico.

His street work is primarily wheatpaste, a cost-friendly mixture created by artists to use as a canvas, but he considers himself a “painter, writer, sculptor and illustrator.”

“I just want to expand on all of these things, I’m looking to make myself more interdisciplinary,” NDA said. “I want to be the Swiss Army Knife of artists.”

NDA hopes to translate his skills over into his street work, which often includes painting and illustrating, mediums not commonly associated with the street art scene.

In his short year in Philadelphia, NDA has already amassed a following in the street art scene.

“Right when [NDA] came to town, you knew it,” said RJ Rushmore, editor-in-chief of street art blog, Vandalog. “His wheatpastes were going everywhere. He brought new energy to the scene in Philly.”

Artist NDA favors Philadelphia’s street art-friendly attitude. | MICHAEL SOTTILE TTN
Artist NDA favors Philadelphia’s street art-friendly attitude. | MICHAEL SOTTILE TTN

NDA creates gallery work in addition to his street art. So far, he’s participated in two exhibits in Philadelphia—a group show at Paradigm Gallery + Studio and a solo show at LMNL Gallery.

“I am trying to break down barriers in street art and gallery art,” he said.

NDA feels that street artists often get put into a “little brother category,” especially by gallery artists and patrons. In the future, he wishes to bring his style into a gallery setting, and have it receive the same respect as the work of more traditional artists.

“The thing that I love about [NDA’s] work the most is that it can make me smile,” Rushmore said. “A lot of times in street art you have an artist who can do that. Take Banksy, he can make people laugh but even then, he’s not necessarily a good painter. He has some technical abilities but they’re not mind blowing. [NDA] has both, he can me laugh and he also knows how to paint.”

NDA’s work has been featured at artist hot-spot, eatery and bar Tattooed Mom, located at 530 South St. The space is known for its second floor, where artists can come and put their work up on the walls.

“Sometimes artists will come to us and ask to do something a little bigger,” said Robert Perry, the owner of Tattooed Mom. “[He] was an example of that.”

“I was happy to have him. I really liked his work,” he added.

Currently, NDA is doing freelance work as well as commissioned pieces, which entails anything from painting sets for fashion shoots to large scale murals for prominent groups like Mural Arts. He hopes to have the means to work on self-funded, large-scale pieces as his career progresses.

NDA favors Philadelphia as a street art-friendly city, saying the medium is “permeated into the culture.” In his travels, he’s noticed that’s not always the case in the U.S., where it can be “hard to do public art,” unlike European cities, he said.

“Philly is a special city in that way because it has that European feel towards public art,” he added.

Because of that freedom, NDA said his career as an artist is finally progressing.

“It’s a short run and you try and make the things that you can make,” he said. “You try to make a dent as much as you can. I’m just now starting to feel like I can make good work. So why not push yourself? Especially if you feel like it’s what you’re good at and it’s what you enjoy doing. It’s almost criminal if you don’t.”

Erin Blewett can be reached at erin.clare.blewett@temple.edu.

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