Q&A: Winging It With The Bird Man

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.

Photos of the artist after the jump are from his MySpace page.

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.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2006/12/artist1-thumb.jpgQ: Anywhere else?
A: Yeah, San Francisco and Santa Barbara. And I’ll be in New York next week to put a bunch up. And then possibly France in March.

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.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2006/12/artist2-thumb.jpgQ: 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.

27 thoughts on “Q&A: Winging It With The Bird Man”

  1. Thank you for this interview! I’ve only seen one of the birds (never knew they were across the city) and always wondered about it. :)

  2. Michele, I don’t know shit about art much less which artist inaugurated the dangling concept, so all the who’s first is just I-don’t-know-third-base to me.

    All I know is that these birds have generated my interest along with a considerable amount of buzz and I’m just pleased to be the first (at least as far as I can tell, which is not very far) to throw up some semblance of an interview with him.

  3. Absolutely, Will–the interview is a total coup! And in terms of sheer volume and “getting up”, this dude definitely takes the cake. Plus, birdies are cute. :)

  4. Noooooooooo way!!!

    Will what a score. SO interesting. Thank you.

    My only question would be HOW he gets those up there? Just throws the padlock up and hope it wraps around? Some of those wires are super high up.

    Cool man.

  5. Funny you should ask Bernie! I just sent a small group of follow-up questions to him and that’s one of them. I’ll update the interview as soon as he responds.

  6. That’s cool, i love the birds on a wire. Can’t believe you didn’t ask him how he gets them up there. I’m also curious as to the power co’s reaction.

  7. Sorry for your disbelief and disappoinment Paul. As the headline defines and my art ignorance indicates, I was indeed winging it. My fingers are crossed in hopes that the artist will respond to my follow-up questions sooner rather than later and that he’ll reply with something other than “I can’t tell you that.”

    As to the city’s or utility company’s reaction to the birds, I’m pretty sure they frown upon them.

  8. Thanks for this information. I thought I was seeing things, similar to those “OBEY” posters all over town. What I’m worried about is one of those padlocks falling off and come crashing through my windshield (Murphy’s Law) then I know it’s all “Bird Man’s” fault!

  9. Wow, I have been wondering about the bird at Lincoln and Rose, most recently 5 minutes ago as I was driving home. I love the birds, and guerilla street art in general. Thanks!

  10. street spam? leave these birds alone– the real street spam is the ridiculous barage of advertisements on our walls, bus stops, benches, lawns (yeah, some asshole who sells real-estate thinks it’s ok to put his grinning mug out in front of my apartment building) and even inside our homes.
    berd is the werd– not sprite ads.

  11. um… sorry, but isn’t it an ad? An ad for his t-shirt?

    No. He’s not selling any shirts yet, and he didn’t create it with the intent to sell shirts. That’s like saying Munch’s painting of The Scream is an ad because they ended up making merchandise out of the image.

    And I can’t belive you’re seriously more worked up about a local guerilla artist’s work than you are about invasive and overwheliming consumer advertising. When’s the last time you left a comment about a billboard covering a huge section of a historic building or blocking a formerly scenic view? You need to get your priorities in check.

  12. You people are so boring. i hate those stupid fucking birds. they’re uncreative and just plain ugly. if you’re going to force people to see your “art” on their daily commute at least put more of an aesthetic and conceptual effort!

  13. Ah x, spoken like a true inconsequential troll. At least when you force people to see your maggoty blatherings there’s no more effort needed on your part.

  14. I saw some birds up in both Santa Barbara and SF two weeks ago and I just assumed it was a coordinated effort by several people.

    I’m happy to hear it is just the work of one dedicated artist.

    Thanks for this interview!!!

  15. i think the birds are a reminder of the commercialism that surrounds us everyday. i admire art that reflects our culture of today, it’s a nice creative reminder. i think that the guerilla style can be a acceptable way of making art because like everything else in this country, it is forced into our lives. Berd should check out Banksy and Shepard Ferry if he hasn’t already. The whole guerilla street art thang is really kickin right now.

    btw my stuff

  16. Will… just want to say thanks for the interview. Those little yellow guys give me a smile everytime I see one. Friends and I (all of us fans)had been wondering about them. I like that the artist has left their meaning a mystery.

    Again, thanks to both of you. The birds and the interview have spread a little joy.

  17. Thanks so much for the article. I can see one of the birds (a red one!) from my office window as I type this. I’m glad to know a bit more of the story and still maintain some of the mystery.

  18. The birds are dope. The first people to throw stuff up on the wire were these guys from new york who made wooden shoes and tossed them up. I’ll try to get their names. Big up to the Berd Man

  19. in the last 10 days i’ve been seeing these birds cropping up here in new york, particularly the east village. i sent a photo to a friend in l.a. who’s also interested in street art, and she pointed me to this page. what delightful synchrony, right down to the statement that he was coming to ny this month. thanks!

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