A wooden bear is watching you from the side of the road. It is watching you with the same eyes as the slice of pizza that was smiling at you when you ordered at Grand Central in East Atlanta Village. It’s those same eyes smiling at you as you stroll along the BeltLine. Those eyes (and the creatures attached to them) are the creations of local artist Kyle Brooks. Or as he is more commonly known, Blackcattips.
A painter for 13 years, Brooks has become a mainstay in the Atlanta art scene. While his work follows in the folk tradition by speaking to contemporary issues, his influences are as varied as the locations you find them hanging in. His commissioned pieces hang in storefront, in restaurants and homes; but chances are you’ve seen one of his paintings nailed to a tree or utility pole. His “FREE FRIENDS $400” sign that hung in Reynoldstown made me chuckle every time I passed it. A laugh, a smile, and a few minutes wondering—these are the reactions Kyle hopes to foster using a paintbrush and piece of wood.
CommonCreativ asked Kyle about his influences, Atlanta and where he got that weird name.
CommonCreativ: Tell me about the start of Blackcattips.
Kyle Brooks: I started painting around 2000 in my free time—a little here, a little there. Now I paint all the time—drawing and painting everyday. I was always a doodler and art-minded, but it has taken over my existence in the last couple of years. It has become who I am—the creating of things and the thought and planning behind it.
Blackcattips was simply a made-up name of three nouns I kind of picked randomly. I needed an online name a long time ago. Then it became an email, then my website. Now it is me. (I do not even have a black cat!)
KB: Folk influences would be Howard Finster, R.A. Miller, Willie Jinks and Katherine Michael. Some other influences are El Greco, Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Ray Johnson and 3ttman.
CC: How does Atlanta influence your pieces?
KB: My relationship with Atlanta is love-hate. It’s always been my home, yet I wanted to escape. I hate the humidity, but I love the history and the familiarity of town. I love the soil and the trees. I don’t like a lot of the ongoing strife and issues tied to the South. I like all the nice people I meet.
The Free Hugs/Free Friends signs were made as a response to all the junky signs on corners that say “$300 JUNK CARS.” I decided I would take them down and paint a similar but different message on the back and re-hang them. Instead of “$400 for your junk cars,” I wrote “FREE FRIENDS $400.” Seemed perfectly normal to me.
CC: Where do you see folk art fitting into our technology-driven culture, especially when many artists have incorporate more digital components in their pieces?
KB: I think it’s very human and accessible. I think the simplicity of it attracts people. Bright colors and happy feelings will always be attractive. I didn’t start out to make this kind of art, but given my supplies and mindset, this is what I’ve been creating.
CC: Your work can be found throughout Atlanta and in surrounding areas. Where else can your pieces be seen?
KB: My roadside art is pretty limited to the North Georgia area. There are some bear stickers on signs, bike helmets and bumpers on the west coast as well as a few in Europe and Australia. I have a friend who travels a lot with his government job. He took bears to Turkey and Kenya and had locals pose with them. That was great for me to see. I’ve thought about taking a trailer of folk art crosses and bears all over the country, making a film about my travels and posting art for people to experience all over the nation.
KB: It can be restrictive. When you do commissioned work, people have certain expectations. I find I never feel as happy about that work as I do about something that just develops out of nothing. Those naturally developed paintings always make my soul much happier.
CC: What message do you want your art to convey to people, say, 20 years from now?
KB: I would hope they would smile and think about life—all the parts and pieces that make up things around them. I hope they would be able to see the beauty in simple things: a splash of color, a basic message of friendship and love to others.
Work by Kyle Brooks’ work can be found on a tree or in a restaurant near you. He can also be found online at www.blackcattips.com.