My awareness took flight last September when I spied the danglebird pictured at right hanging from the corner of Sunset and Maltman in the junction zone of Silver Lake. It wasn’t the first one I’d seen, but it was the one that piqued my curiosity, and I posted about it here. The same curiosity from the blogger at MontyHeights predated me by a couple weeks.
I’d hoped my post would yield some info on who the artist was and what his or her motivation might be, but that didn’t happen and so I resigned myself to being content to find the new ones that would occasionally pop up around the way and just enjoy them in all their colorful whimsy — until last Friday when Mike over at Franklin Avenue refreshed my memory and inquisitivity. Responding to inquiries from some of his readers, Mike reported that the fine folks at L.A. Brain Terrain had had some luck finding some clues in a post made coincidentally on the same September day I’d made my original one. Apparently the artist had a MySpace page identifying himself as “Berd” and a blog titled Flipping The Birds. Reference was made to attempting an interview but that hadn’t happened.
Figuring what the hell I clicked over to the former and sent “Berd” message suggesting it was time to spread his wings and let Blogging.la help shed some light on the subject. To my pleasant surprise the artist responded postiively in rapid fashion and after some email tag we chatted on the phone Tuesday afternoon. Though he was markedly guarded about certain aspects such as his first name (“I don’t have one”) to how much he’s spent on this project (“I can’t tell you that”), the 24-year-old L.A. native with a studio in Venice was wide open about a lot of other things. Make the jump to listen in.
Q: Give me a little background as to how this project came about.
A: I’m not sure of the exact date, but I first worked with the bird icon in 2002. It didn’t manifest on the wire until late last year.
Q: Where did the first ones appear?
A: A: The first ones I threw up were in Venice and then I started making more birds and spreading it out.
Q: How many are there in L.A.?
A: I’ve thrown up about 200 here.
Q: So the birds are going global?
A: Maybe. Nothing’s totally set yet after the new year.
Q: What were you doing prior to this venture?
A: Before this I had my own company silk-screening and printing t-shirts. When I started getting larger accounts I knew that was going to drive me nuts so my plan was to outsource everything but that fell through because I didn’t have enough funds. Then I just started fooling around with doing more artwork because with printing shirts, you don’t have time to do anything because you’re constantly worried about coming up with graphics, printing and selling. It’s a good creative outlet, but it’s just stressful and finally I sold my screening equipment and everything. Pretty much when I ended that I got into working on the birds more.
Q: It seems the birds have taken on a life of their own.
A: They have and it’s really weird because that was not my initial goal.
Q: What was your goal?
A: My whole thing is — and I don’t know if it sounds selfish — it was really about me just having fun.
Q: So there’s no meaning or message there?
A: I haven’t really released or told anyone the meaning of it. The thing is I’ve heard so many different interpretations. People think they’re about “peace” or they’re this and that. And I’m fine with that. Let them have that. I’m not going to dispute it. I don’t like to use this example but it’s like when a kid finds out there’s no santa. Why should I take the imagination and mystery away from somebody?
Q: What’s the overall reaction that you’ve experienced about the birds?
A: I haven’t heard anything negative about it. It’s all been positive and that right there makes me feel even better. This is something that I enjoy and other people are freaking out over. It’s awesome.
Q: How do you decide where to install your birds? Do you have any help?
A: No, it’s all me. I do everything myself. When I first started since I know Venice fairly well I knew what the key intersections were and went from there. As far as the rest of the city, I’ll find myself driving sometimes just going to get something to eat in the Midcity area or around Museum Row and I’ll see a wire and either write it down or remember it. Other times I’ll be out and I’ll say “Let’s do this one.” Other times it’s a full on night mission. It all depends. Maybe I’ll start at like 12 and sometimes it’ll end at like 6 a.m.
Q: Given their growing popularity have you ever seen one of your birds taken?
A: I didn’t see it taken down so I’m not sure what happened, but the fastest I’ve ever seen one removed was in Santa Monica. A day — possibly two — after I put it up it was gone.
Q: How do you feel about that?
A: If someone wants them then that’s just insane because I don’t know how they’re getting up there. I don’t mind so much if someone takes them. That’s just going to happen. If someone does that I’m not going to get bent out of shape, but I would hope that they would consider how much time and money has been put into it.
Q: Let’s say you’re out on one of your installation missions and someone rolls out of a bar and says you in action and yells “Hey! That’s the Bird Man!” What happens if you start getting recognized?
A: [Laughs] I haven’t had that happen. That would be really weird and honestly I’d probably finish what I was doing jump in my car and leave. I’m certainly not going to go shake any hands or any of that kind of stuff.
Q: With the birds I’ve seen in my neighborhood, there’s a padlock at the other end of the string they hang from. What’s that about?
A: The padlock is part of the meaning of the bird and also a counterweight. So it essentially has two functions.
Q: And you won’t tell me the meaning because…?
A: I can’t really tell you the meaning behind it because no one knows.
Q: What are the birds made of?
A: They’re made out of plywood. With a sheet of 4’x8′ I get a decent amount out of each. I use a jigsaw to cut them.
Q: Are you specific about the colors you use?
A: There’s a certain palette because of the paint that I use. This is all factored in with cost and stuff, right down to like the brand of paint that I use. It’s turned into like a total business.
Q: Have you defined an endpoint for the birds?
A: I’m getting the impression that the birds are hot and people are really digging them but I’m worried that everyone will associate my artwork only with the birds. So what’s going to happen is that the bird will basically be one of a group of characters and they’re all going to play a part in my art.
Q: Are you ever going to go back to printing shirts?
A: I’m going to be making shirts again, I just don’t know when. And I’m going to be doing a collaboration with a streetwear clothing company out of my area and we’re going to be doing a t-shirt that’s going to have the bird logo.
Q: What should I call you?
A: I don’t really know yet. For right now, just anonymous I guess. There’s no real rush to tell anybody my name.
Q: Well, for the sake of the article I’ll just call you the Bird Man.
A: That’s cool.