As commuters head down Wyckoff avenue to the L train each morning, they are greeted with vibrant murals done by the Bushwick Collective. Psychedelic portraits and fantastical colors line the streets, serving as the iconic backdrop often associated with Bushwick’s landscape. The latest addition to the strip of murals, “Seize the Day,” by Los Angeles-based artist Kai, however, is slightly different from its neighboring works. The cartoonish narrative featuring Imaginary Friend (better known as IF) resides above Sea Wolf, serving as “a reminder for people to get out of their routines and do something they love,” Kai, the artist, explained to Bushwick Daily.
Kai started making art when he was only 14 as a way to get his dad to stop smoking. “I would hide his cigarettes, throw them out, but nothing worked. I figured that my dad, being a creative director, might pay attention to something more artistic,” Kai said. He ended up making a poster that resembled a Marlboro box in which he relabeled as Morons.
“When my dad saw it, he was so impressed that he quit instantly,” Kai said. “He then gave me $200 to use for materials to make more art that speaks to people. I’ve been doing street art ever since.”
From then on, Kai began making posters with cheeky sayings, serving as little life reminders to those who saw them. “All my art has to be digestible and understood by everyone,” Kai explained. However, when he went to school at L’ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris, he “realized how language-based [his] art was.” That is when his now signature character IF was born. “IF is a characher of no color, sex or race, no physical or distinguishable traits, which breaks all societal stereotypes and cultural divides,” he describes on his website.
Using IF, Kai creates visual situations of universal issues that can be understood by everyone across the globe. “Seize the Day” comments on the inevitable hole we end up in when we get stuck in our daily routines. On one side, IF is following the steps of their routine, from getting coffee to typing away on their computer. On the other side, IF is shown doing what they love: connecting with others around them.
“When Joe (of Bushwick Collective) reached out to me, I was excited to come out here and work on something that wraps around the corner,” Kai said. The continuation of the narrative around the corner is unique and really calls for people to stop and make sense of what’s going on. In conjunction with its particular placement, “Seize the Day” also stands out because of its animated qualities.
“The character reminds [me] of cartoons I used to watch as a kid,” a bystander told Bushwick Daily, “There’s a sense of familiarity to it.”
Though IF is a universal figure, there’s no coincidence that people relate to them on a personal level. “All of my works convey a universal message, but they might be perceived differently by everyone,” Kai said.
One of his most famous works, “Love vs. Money,” depicts IF holding a heart balloon in one hand and a money bag in the other.
“For some people the money may represent work and the heart may represent family, but for others it could be the choice between your passion and your job,” Kai said.
Kai’s work is not limited to just street murals: cement, painted canvases, and sculptures are all mediums he incorporates into his world.
He even creates merchandise like hoodies and shirts featuring IF, all of which are for sale on his website. Despite the commercial reality of these products, Kai assures that he draws a fine line between art and product. “I know how expensive art can be, and I want my work to be accessible to everyone,” Kai said, when explaining how he feels about commercializing his art.
“Seize the Day” is a permanent addition to the street art family and is located on the corner of Wyckoff Avenue and Troutman Street. To see more work from Kai, check out his website or his Instagram. IF can be found all across the globe, if you look carefully.
Editor’s note: Kai’s sculpture “Love vs. Money” was corrected from “Love Story.”
Images courtesy of Kai Art.
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