Michael Roy, better known as Birdcap, has been an active street artist for the past four years, and over the years, he’s received an international following. Eclectic Eye was lucky enough to commission a piece, which graces one of the largest walls at our Midtown store.
Amazed by his talent and process, we sat down with Michael to learn more about his life, artistic process and the inspiration behind our Eclectic Eye mural.
You’re originally from Mississippi. What brought you to Memphis, and do you plan on staying here awhile?
I grew up in Escatawpa, Mississippi, and came to Memphis for college in 2005. After I graduated, I lived in Asia for about five years. Since coming back stateside, I find myself in Memphis a lot. I think a lot of it has to do with familiarity. I have a lot of friends here, and I’m at a stage in my life and career where I need all the friends I can get! I couldn’t have completed a lot of the work I have this year if I hadn’t had the support of my friends in one way or another. I’ve been staying with different friends for the better part of two years at this point.
I’m actually headed to Detroit in two weeks on an unclear trip to paint some more murals. But I’ll always come back to Memphis. My friends have their lives rooted here, so I’m rooted here in that way. I’m not a big regionalist, in that a city to me isn’t much more than the friends I have in it. Memphis means a lot to me because it has a lot of people I love in it.
Why are you interested in street art?
Street art is a billboard for individuality. It’s democratic in its viewership and its censorship. There’s no door filtering out particular audiences. It’s physical in construction. It has to be done with completion in mind. It just makes the most sense for me. I’m supportive of galleries, but the very idea of one seems to insist that art has to be isolated from the everyday by white drywall.
How did your street art career begin?
I got into street art seriously while living in Seoul, South Korea. I was walking through abandoned parts of the city that were being prepared for demolition and I saw that some people had been painting throughout the ruin. It just struck a chord in me.
How long have you been doing street art?
Seriously, only about 4 years. Before that, I illustrated for some magazines. But, I’ve been painting seriously for about 12 years.
Your handle is Birdcap. Why?
I used to draw Egyptian gods in a trapper keeper folder back in grade school. Sometimes I’d draw characters and give them a hat that looked like the face of Horus. I called those birdcaps. I think it just resurfaced when I started painting outdoors.
How many murals do you think you’ve done?
I’m not exactly sure, I’ve done a lot! I’d say over 100, but many of them might not be as involved as the Eclectic Eye mural.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by an international hodgepodge of religious and mythological themes in combination with a dedication to the nostalgic cartoons of my youth and the hip-hop goulash that allowed it all to simmer together. I take visual and narrative cues from places I travel so that my work retains a motivated passport stamp collection quality. Content-wise, I’m very inspired by those same mythologies and folktales of the locations I paint.
The name of the Eclectic Eye mural is Bait. Why?
That’s what the Eclectic Eye piece is about. Hopefully, the viewer can see the relationship. As the viewer, you can see both above and below the water line, which is sort of an omnipotent view that the actors within the mural aren’t privy to.
How did you come up with the idea for this specific piece?
I was reading up on regional folktales and the image sort of came together naturally from there, although it isn’t tied to any specific story I read.
Have you ever done a mural this large before?
I’ve done a few really big ones. The temporary mural I have at the Brooks Museum is around 150 ft long. I’ve done some tall pieces as well where I’ve needed scissor lifts or other likewise pieces of equipment such as platformsandladders.com and other websites could provide to get to those pesky heights! (Especially should you need to keep moving every couple of minutes!). The wall at Eclectic Eye is probably my favorite size to work on, though. It’s as big as you can get without having to invest a lot of finances into installation.
Is the theme of the mural tied to Eclectic Eye in any way?
Not in a way most people would expect. Robbie gave me a lot of freedom to make a piece I would be proud of, and I really am proud of this one. I had a really great time painting at Eclectic Eye and couldn’t be more appreciative of a commission. Robbie hired me as an artist, not a muralist, and that’s a faith that I felt a real responsibility to try to reward.