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Baltimore-based street muralist Gaia has created dozens of murals in cities around the world, but locals probably know him as the hand and chicken guy. Gaia’s D.C. paintings have incorporated a lot of both. Take his largest work in town, an enormous painting on the side of H Street NE restaurant Smith Commons: It shows a rooster-headed man opening his robe to reveal an Albert Bierstadt Yosemite landscape. His now painted-over work behind the Logan Circle Whole Foods depicted a regal chicken flanked by human hands.
In late April, Gaia came back to town to create two new murals in the span of a week. No chickens this time; in one, he branched out to fish. But hands reappear in his latest local work, a portrait of development at a Benning Road NE building.
“Overfishing” Location: Tash House of Kabob and Nooshi restaurants, 524 8th St. SE
The restaurants’ owners commissioned Gaia to create the work based on a vision they had for the side of their space. Gaia came up with an image of a Japanese woman whose hair mingles with a school of fish, and executed it with the help of his fellow street artist and friend Nanook. He called it “Overfishing”—a pointed title for a work that shares a wall with a sushi restaurant—but he says it doesn’t take a hard stance on the issue. “It’s a very topical comment,” Gaia says.
The mural almost got derailed by “some outspoken members of the community who didn’t necessarily want such a flamboyant piece on the side of this new restaurant,” Gaia says. But the small group’s opposition didn’t go anywhere, and he wrapped up the piece on April 28.
“The Three Stages of 1817 Benning Road” Location: 1817 Benning Road NE
Jamaal Claggion, the owner of an office and a new four-unit condo building at 1817 and 1815 Benning Road NE, was looking for muralists who “were doing stuff on a different level.” He caught a news report on Gaia’s Barracks Row piece and thought he’d found his guy. When Claggion contacted Gaia, he wasn’t sure what concept he wanted, so Gaia came up with something for him: an image of Claggion’s hand carrying 1817 Benning Road through three stages of its life. (Gaia recently completed a mural for the Do Art Foundation in Montreal that uses the same idea.) “I didn’t get it at first,” Claggion says. “I was like, “Really? Use my hands? OK.”
Gaia began the piece on April 29 and finished the next day. Claggion was thrilled. “It came out perfect…and it actually gives the kids in this neighborhood something to look at,” he says.
Photos by Darrow Montgomery