When I first moved to New York City I couldn’t help but notice the immensity of the “rodents” that crossed my path. Animals that exist off of human waste – rats, pigeons, squirrels – are all overweight and flourishing. Yet, unless they directly interfere with our lives we still seem to willfully disregard the underground creatures existence. That’s one of the reasons why I also found myself entranced by a recurring graffiti artist whose work brings this overwhelming issue above ground. His art is scattered around Brooklyn, the most apparent work being a giant paranoid squirrel on North 5th and Berry. I started to take mental notes every time I saw a similar style on the roof on 475 Kent, in between Morgan and Bogart streets or on the wall of a floral shop on Wythe. As it turns out, this is all the work of Belgian street artist, ROA.
ROA has a recognizable style. His work is usually black and white, featuring disparaged (or often dead and decaying) animals in previously disregarded urban spaces. ROA’s pieces show the local underdogs of the natural world – the less celebrated, more urban adaptable animals. He steers away from painting proud, majestic, regal creatures like lions and peacocks, and focuses on putting the “99%” of the animal kingdom in the spotlight. Each piece is site-specific and anatomically proportionate. The beasts, although compelling, seem aloof and un-phased by the situation. They appear compliant with their less-than surroundings, and there is an underlying feeling of shame the onlooker experiences for humanity‘s exploitation of the environment. This unsettled feeling is fueled by the animals’ stalking, uninterrupted gaze.
Perhaps ROA is trying to inject some life into the space or simply prove the notion that art has no bounds. Perhaps the unsentimental expressions on the animals’ faces reflect the working classes’ feeling of both resentment and acceptance towards their monotonous day-to-day patterns. While still having underlying social and environmental commentary, the exact meaning of his work is project-based and debatable.