You never really know what you’re gonna get when a street artist agrees to an interview. It’s always a pretty tricky situation to finally meet an artist you’ve admired, sitting face-to-face with you across the table.
When most people think of street artists, they likely have a set idea in their head of some sort of rebellious tagger who ventures out into the night dodging cops in search of the perfect blank canvas. So naturally, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I agreed to meet one of my favorite wheat paste artists, TMoney, in a River North coffee shop that specializes in the “Quinoa Feta Burger.”
But if I’ve learned anything from interviewing these artists, it’s that each individual artist is distinct in their own right—and TMoney is no different.
Known for his animated style, which depicts a dinosaur character that could fit in just as easily on a Saturday morning cartoon lineup as it does on a dingey brick wall, TMoney’s art has the ability to stop you in your tracks. Often found side-by-side with fellow street artist Penny Pinch, TMoney’s animated character expressions and corresponding text show an artist who has definitely figured out what he wants to be.
When he walks in and shakes my hand, TMoney definitely fits the bill, covered in colorful tattoos lining up and down his arms and a tall, wirey frame representing someone who spends his nights burning calories as he gets his designs up on city walls. It’s easy to be a bit intimidated when you meet someone for the first time, especially someone whose art you follow so closely. But TMoney’s boisterous demeanor and occasional “Hey girl, heyyyyy” yelps as his neighbors strut past us during our conversation quickly puts me at ease.
I had the chance to talk with TMoney over a cup of coffee to discuss his animated style, his “bromance” with Penny Pinch and aspirations of having a career in street art.
Could you tell me a bit about your art background?
I actually didn’t draw for a long time and a friend of mine encouraged me get back into it. I wasn’t really thinking about art at the time, because I wasn’t in a spot in my life where I had a lot of art going on and I left it behind when I was in high school. But I started seeing people put up stickers from the post office with drawings on them and I thought that might be a pretty simple and cheap way to keep my friends happy, ‘cause they’d always be like, “Are you drawing?” and I’d have these little things to show them.
Your designs have a feel that’s very distinct. How did you decide on your specific dinosaur character?
I would collaborate with other people to get ideas and work together on projects and it was becoming too difficult because my mind was all over the place. Like, I’d draw this and one day I’d draw that and I had to figure out how to consolidate what I was doing. I ended up whittling it down to the dinosaur design, because if you really want to get better at drawing something you have to work at it and really hone in what I was doing one step at a time.
The way you do your art is really interesting in that most of the supplies you use to create are all found or recycled.
Well, everything that you make is either gonna be taken down or ruined at some point. So, you have to think about every minute you put into it and every dollar you put into it. You want to try to save and be creative and thrifty, but at the same time, I’m really into recycling and reusing things. So, pretty much everything I use is 100 percent salvaged or recycled. Like one day Penny and I painted some guy’s garage and he said he had a whole bunch of extra paint from when he redid his house and gave us 12 gallons of different paints. You just have to use what you can get sometimes.
Speaking of Penny Pinch, you guys have a bit of a “bromance” thing going on. Your wheat pastes are usually found next to one another and “Bromance” was even the name of your Galerie F show together. What is your relationship with him like?
I just saw his stuff on the street and I really wanted to meet him. Somebody finally introduced us at an event and from there we just started working together. There’s a bunch of different people in Chicago and at some point you eventually cross paths. Some of them you get along with and some you don’t. The one’s you make those connections with—like artists like Penny and Glass Cuisine—you can kind of tell right away.
A lot of your more recent designs feature your dinosaur character in Calvin and Hobbes illustrations. Did you grow up around that comic strip, or what was the attraction to those characters?
I had a friend—the one who encouraged me to get back to drawing—and they loved Calvin and Hobbes. So when I first started, I would just draw an image with my dinosaur and Calvin put it up as a way to thank my friend. They sort of pushed me to create and people started to like it. Actually, I was never really a person who read Calvin and Hobbes growing up. It all really just started from that respect and giving a little shout out to my friend.
In addition to your cartoon character, most of your wheat pastes feature large blocks of text. It seems like a lot of them have a deeper meaning that come from song lyrics. What is the thought process that goes into choosing the right text for a design?
The words on my designs can really come from anywhere. There’s one story where a friend of mine asked why I was making all these posters about women, and I was like, “What are you talking about?” I was like, “Well, can you explain that? Because that’s not what I’m doing, but if that’s what you’re seeing, I’m interested to see how that’s affecting you.” So I said, “Look, I can make one of these designs about anything.” The next time they were at my house, they were wearing a Mötley Crüe T-shirt and I drew the two characters together with some of the band’s lyrics and sent it to him in a text. It just comes from wherever. Depending on how it came to me, I have to figure out a way to include that into the design. If it’s something that just organically came up, it doesn’t always translate onto a poster. You just have to really figure out a way to make it into a few words people will stop and look at in passing.
It seems like a lot of the time you’re doing your wheat pastes—on your Instagram at least—you’re putting them up during the night? Do you have to sort of be coy when putting these designs up because there are still technically legal issues surrounding street art and vandalism?
It really all depends on where you’re putting up your posters. If you’re putting it up in an area that you think it’s not going to be completely loved or that people are gonna complain about it, you might want to think twice. But, that’s not really for me. Maybe some people have a lot of chutzpah and they want to go up and do that, but not me. If I can go up and do it, I don’t really want to get in any arguments with anybody. If it’s really that big of a deal, I’ll just take it down instead of getting into a dispute with people over a piece of paper.
When I’ve spoken with some other artists, we’ve discussed how the views on street art is changing over time and a lot of artists are doing more commissioned work. In your opinion, does this take away from the rebelliousness of street art when artists are doing these big designs for large companies?
At one point or another, that’s just part of art in general. If somebody’s playing music i
n their garage, I’m sure eventually they want to take that somewhere else and get bigger. I don’t think they want to play for themselves forever. I’d be interested to meet anybody that if someone were to walk up to them and say, “Hey, if I pay you this much money to paint,” they’d say no strictly because they want to keep it to themselves. That’s not a judgment, but everyone’s different. But also, everyone wants to make a little money and eventually get better at their craft. Just in terms of learning, if somebody asks you to do a mural, there’s a lot you get to learn from that and experience with your craft. That’s a learning process in terms of who you are and how you’re growing as an artist. If that’s what they want to do, then that’s their own personal choice.
So do you see street art as a full time career anywhere in the future?
I don’t even consider street art a job, really. This is just something I like to do on the side. If make a little money from it, then that’s great. But I don’t consider a way to pay the bills. With art, you can have a hotspot where one month you have a bunch of sales and the next you have nothing. It’s not always a consistent way to make money. I’m not aspiring to become a full time dinosaur drawer anytime soon.