Don't Call Him a Street Artist

Cram Concepts talks to a woman walking in the park about his paintings for sale.  Shannon Luibrand/NYCityLens

Cram Concepts talks to a woman walking in the park about his paintings for sale.  (Shannon Luibrand/NYCityLens)

Cram Concepts wears a gas mask and a black baseball cap; he holds a cup filled with black paint in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. He steps back and examines his mural coming to life in front of him. Then he gets back to work.
Two weeks ago Concepts was painting in Paris, this week he is back home in New York. “I work wherever I can,” he said. “Houston Street is my studio.
Concepts is working on a mural in First Park in the East Village. At one time this area of New York City was the hub of life for street artists and their creative likes. Though times have slightly changed, here in First Park, they seem to have stayed the same. He works alongside a few other artists paintings murals on sections of a large green plywood wall, though it seems the mural space Concepts has been designated is the largest of them all.
Concepts is one of about a dozen artists who won the “Mural Open Call 2014,” for First Park in order to be allowed to paint the murals in the park. The contest, sponsored by First Street Green with the assistance of the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation, encouraged local artists to submit their mural ideas to paint in the park. According to the First Street Green website, they choose their favorites from the entries and then offer spaces for about eight artists. The murals remain in the park for two or three months after they are painted.
Concepts has two weeks to finish his mural, though he thinks he will finish sooner than that.
He pulls out his iPhone and sifts through his photos, coming to a picture that shows what his mural will look like when it’s done. It’s the original proposal, he explained, that he had done on canvas.
“So it’s just the basis of something like this,” he said, pointing to the colorful iPhone photo that won him a spot. “There will be more added to it, more colors.”
The design for the mural is abstract with sharp black lines. The lines jut out in different directions forming jagged shapes that are filled in with color, mostly dark blue and light blue, but some red and yellow too.
Concepts said he does mural painting partly to make a living and partly as a hobby. He is vague about his personal life; and questions at times seem bothersome to him. He wears a wedding ring, but he won’t give his age. “Old enough to know better,” he said. He is wearing a button up blue shirt and black cargo shorts. A set of keys dangles from one of his belt loops.
On his website he describes himself as having more than 10 years experience and as a, “Creative Director providing alternative branding, fashion and graphic design services to select clients.”
Concepts seems most comfortable when talking about the art in front of him rather than himself. In front of his mural are around twenty smaller paintings on canvas. They are all also abstract and include bright colors, pinks and blues, greens and reds, and swirling lines.
“I have a good price for you if you want,” he joked.
While the street artist concept has not always been widely accepted or encouraged in New York, it is a part of the City’s history—and maybe its future. Parks like First Park seem to understand this as they now seek out street artists like Concepts to paint murals for them.
But Concepts becomes uncomfortable with the word “street artist,” shifting back and forth on his feet and laughing awkwardly as if it is a dirty word. He prefers “mural painter.”  He said his inspiration for these murals is simple.
“The interaction with the public,” he said. “You get your ideas out.”
Concepts moves down the large green wall that has become his workspace. His brush strokes glide with him. The beginnings of the mural are still fresh; he has a ways to go before the plywood wall reflects his style, before the colors pop and people come to stop and stare.
“I certainly won’t finish today, not by a long shot,” he said. “You know this is just the beginning.”