I spent a week pretending to be a traveling artist, and it made me want to quit my day job and live on the road—sort of. (Don’t tell my boss I said that.)
Artist residencies usually take place in one locale. Not the case for Dripped on the Road (DOTR), an invite-only artist residency that brings muralists from all over the world across the United States in an RV. Prior to their fourth and most recent residency program, DOTR had already traveled 8,000 miles to 20 different cities painting over 30 murals.
In October, artists McMonster from Portland, Oregon, Trasher from Mexico City, DOTR co-founders Ramiro Davaro-Comas, Denton Burrows, and Jonathan Neville, and their videographer Lisa Bolden departed from Brooklyn for a month-long journey to Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Philadelphia, then back to New York City. (Their incomparable canine companion Yuki was also along for the journey.) The trip culminated in a gallery show and DOTR teaser-trailer screening at the Living Gallery Outpost in New York’s Lower East Side. In those weeks the artists and co. slept in tents, oversize mansions on the outskirts of cities, hotels, and in close quarters in the RV. They partied late and woke up before sunrise to transform sides of buildings into works of art, using vibrant color schemes to inspire and breathe new life into communities. This is the travel advice I learned while tagging along for the first leg of their journey.
Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
Over the last year or so I had been living vicariously through videos documenting DOTR’s excursions. The troupe seemed to forgo creature comforts in lieu of adventure when they hit the road for a full month. This kind of travel is not for the faint of heart, and even this resilient group of artists faced challenges along the way, yearning for the warmth and ease of the lives they put on hold. In exchange for falling asleep to the sounds of each other’s snoring, infrequent showers, and lack of beauty sleep, they were rewarded with the sense of accomplishment of bringing lasting public art to various communities, learning about cities through the lens of the locals they met, and forming lifelong friendships. So when I was invited to come along for part of the ride, I happily piled in alongside brand new friends to see if they were having as much fun as they appeared to be.
Talk (and Listen) to the Locals
Part of DOTR’s mission is to bridge socioeconomic gaps that could bar access to art. Street art is viewable by any member of a community, regardless of finances, and this is the ethos that drives the muralists to create. For their first stop, the artists painted the side of Warrington Beer in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood, which had a sign boasting beer, cigarettes, and pop. The sign and the neighborhood’s existing murals, mostly depicting the Pittsburgh streetcars, represent another era and an older generation, and even the owner of Warrington Beer himself was eager and ready for a change. The new mural, meant to refresh the neighborhood (and be inherently more kid-friendly and inspirational than beer and cigarettes) is made up of wizards and snakes and tigers painted with vivid reds, blues, and yellows, an homage to the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the artists painted, locals sat with them and admired their work, noting the use of Steelers colors, and telling them stories of their own artwork.
When Traveling in Groups, Take Time for Yourself
When you’re sleeping, eating, and working, and traveling together, alone time is paramount. It’s a spoken rule that during a DOTR trip if anyone needs alone time, it will be respected by the other group members.
Travel Opens the Door for Cultural Exchange
Muralism essentially started with Diego Rivera, and today, Mexico has the strongest muralism and street artist presence in Central America. It’s only logical then that Trasher, a full-time muralist from Mexico City, would bring his art and painting techniques to the US. On this trip in particular, he was determined to paint the best he ever has in his life because so many friends and fans at home were closely following along via Instagram.
DOTR allows the artists in residence to unearth new locations, exploring a city in ways that a conventional tourist-driven trip would never allow. It also allows the artists to connect with other creative communities in cities across the world.
What to Do and See in Pittsburgh
A city that puts more emphasis on art than infrastructure, Pittsburgh is a juxtaposition of tenement housing and art museums, hipster cafes and local dives. There’s much to be explored in this culturally rich place with so much heart and local pride.
Onion Maiden: This heavy-metal themed cash-only vegan spot is a must-try in the Allentown neighborhood.
Apteka: This vegan, eastern European spot also serves great cocktails in Bloomfield.
Gaucho Parrilla: You can BYOB at this Argentinian restaurant, which often has lines out the door.
Maiku Sushi: This eatery is a no-frills spot serving pho and banh mi (a great casual option for when the lines are too long at Gaucho Parilla nearby).
Black Forge: Your go-to coffee spot in town, this cafe was the catalyst for the death metal theme shared by the businesses in Allentown. The staff is personable and they host shows for emerging artists almost every night.
Banjo Night at the Elks Lodge happens every Wednesday at 8 pm, and it’s well worth stopping in at for a unique experience.
The Park House is the spot for PBR and an excellent resident bluegrass band after dinner.
Belvedere’s hosts the occasional theme night, like an all-Drake dance party.
WHERE TO STAY