Growing up just a few blocks from 6th Ave., I’ve watched every single alleyway on that street explode with art in the past few years. A few weeks ago, I got to see one of the Ave’s newest decorators in action.
About a year ago, Chris Richey (@chrisricheystreetart) painted on the side of Dazed and Reused Artworks. His work began as guerilla art, but he wanted to expand it. He returned with authorization this time to finish up his piece. Rainbow lines spill over ledges and teleport through the brick. Golden vines twist together and entangle shimmering animals. A multicolored bullseye ripples from the corner of the building.
Richey’s distinctive style incorporates structural elements of the surface he is working with into his pieces, to really make it look like it’s part of the building. Or, a portal to another dimension, as he likes to think.
All together, Richey has eight pieces up around Tacoma. Some of them jump out at you, like the developing “Color Spectrum,” which he’s painting in collaboration with Spencer Grey (@spencergreyart) on 6th Ave. Others are a little less obvious.
Richey is sneaky despite his art hiding in plain sight. He often conceals his creations inside, or around already existing pieces, such as this fella peering out from a crack in a Mindy Barker mural.
“I like to play games,” Richey told me, laughing.
For the sake of this article, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I wanted to find his seven other installations. So, Richey sent me on a scavenger hunt. The day after I met him and saw “Color Spectrum,” Richey sent me a list of coordinates and some basic instructions.
With my compass and camera in hand, I went art hunting.
Just a few blocks down from Dazed and Reused I encountered the Creature. Peering down at passersby through more than a standard set of eyes, “Tacoma Creature” stood guard of the alley between Half Pint and The Alleycat. I followed its fierce gaze to the opposite wall, and was surprised with another Richey installation.
After skulking in the alleys on 6th, I headed downtown. I was welcomed to the city by an orca, stalked by Bigfoot, and awed by a turquoise octopus. I took a trip to the Animal Garden, and viewed the ferocious critters safely behind a fence.
Even armed with Google Maps (my “compass”) I didn’t always find what I was looking for right when Siri announced that I had reached my destination. When art hunting—an activity beloved by many Tacomans, thanks Ms. Monkey and Beautiful Angle—look low and high, behind walls, in the conspicuous and in the shadows.
My second to last stop brought me under the Murray Morgan Bridge. Instead of a troll, I found a message underneath an anatomical heart. “Art > Hate.” It’s what Richey’s tagline would be, if he had to pick one.
All his pieces are themed around positivity. He wants to send uplifting and hopeful messages through his vibrant creations. When we were chatting the other day, he told me about his dream commission. He wants to paint a mural on the pedestrian path of the Narrows Bridge, in hopes that it will deter people from taking their own lives. To paint something that could give people hope, and maybe even save lives, would be his greatest achievement.
In all of his pieces, Richey wants to connect with the community. He likes putting art in places where there’s a lot of foot traffic; so people can see the art, yes, but also so he can have conversations. Standing in the alley at 6th Ave., lots of people stopped to watch Richey work. It’s hard not to be distracted by someone on a 20-foot ladder painting golden animals on a wall.
When I met him, Richey was wearing an unbuttoned denim shirt, aviator sunglasses, and a customized Castro cap. Even if he hadn’t been covered in paint, you could still guess he was an artist. This is not normally what he wears to install his pieces, though.
He will often wear a hard hat and neon clothing, articles from his day job as a construction worker. Passersby think he’s working for the city. Sometimes he’ll set out cones to block off the area where he’s working.
“Most people wear neon to stand out. I wear it to blend in,” Richey told me mischievously.
Many of the smaller, medallion-like pieces are completed before he hangs them up. That way, he can get in and get out as quickly as possible. He always tries to pick up trash and clean up the area too, generally leaving the each space better than he found it.
Richey even came up with a name for this undercover operation. If anybody asks, he’s part of the “City Vigilante Graffiti Abatement Crew.”
He’s used to criticism and pushback, though. Richey grew up in Tacoma, and attended the Tacoma School of the Arts. While there, he learned how to push limits and take criticism. Both lessons come in handy when you’re in the street art biz.
“You could say the most positive thing, and someone is always not going to like it,” Richey told me. “That’s the thing with street art.”
He’s had pieces taken down before, but it doesn’t bother him too much. It’s not going to stop him from art-bombing. But it does make him wonder, what does the city do with the art that they take down? Is there a room somewhere filled with illegal art?