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Outrageously Subtle: Graffiti Artist Berk Gibbs

Originally from Virginia Beach, he has established quite a name for himself in the Murfreesboro music realm (as DJ Tanner of the Full Hows Crew and as a member of the since-extinguished Spooky Johnson), but he is probably more famous for his work as an artist.

His art, known by many as “BerkWork,” is a great mixture of bold and spontaneous graffiti with a sort of tribal, in-your-face urban flavor.

He calls it “outrageously subtle,” which is certainly true.

The first piece I ever encountered was a painting hanging on the wall of a random house on Second Avenue. I remember being captured by the piece for several minutes because it was so apparently chaotic that I just couldn’t decipher its meaning. After meeting Berk, I’ve realized that his work is actually very meaningful. His paintings, in a deliberately vague manner, deal with an intense range of emotions, including heartbreak and love, or personal struggles he’s dealt with, even the mistreatment of animals and vegetarianism.

As he works he tries to stay separated from each painting because, as it evolves, he says he is moved by the painting itself.

Berk finds inspiration in everyday life, hip-hop culture, and music.

“Music and art are the same to me,” he said. “I don’t do art without music.”

As far as favorite artists go, he likes Dave Kinsey, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Jackson Pollock.

Berk’s finished products fall under the category of mixed media, as they are created with acrylic and spray-paint, marker, and often found objects including, but not at all limited to, stickers, postal service labels, bad or interesting advertisements, and photographs. Wood, and sometimes canvas, serves as his support.

There is a distinct

energy in his pieces which is probably attributed to the media he uses.

“You have to use everything that’s in front of you. With spray-paint you’re always battling the paint. But I try to let it run and do it’s thing. I try not to fight it,” Berk said.

When I asked Berk how long he’s been an artist he said: “I’ve always been a doodler, and I started painting graffiti when I was 15. I just did it because it kept me sane. In the school lunchroom I used to trade pictures that I’d done for extra lunch money.”

From such a mild start he’s come a long way. Berk has had his work displayed at the Mercy Lounge, The Brothel, various shops in this area, and the Mellow Mushroom in Nashville even bought a piece from a consignment shop. He has designed tattoos for friends, websites for Pnuma, Spoken Nerd and Fluent Dialects, and posters and album art for Fluent Dialects, Kamoshin, The Cryroom, Smallhead and others.

Berk has also sold his work at various music festivals and shows, including Bonnaroo, Wakarusa, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and Phish. He would create a piece and attach the date of the show and name of the band or festival to the work and sell it on the underground circuit as memorabilia. This led to his meeting a lot of great bands and somewhere along the way he was asked to paint on stage with acts like Dubconscious.

He even painted at a sold out Sound Tribe Sector 9 show at the Exit/In. Berk calls the pieces from these shows “live paintings,” which are acrylic on wood. He was able to sell a lot of paintings doing this, while traveling around to different places like Atlanta, North Carolina and Virginia Beach.

This fame obviously hasn’t gone to his head.

“I’m up there painting and these people are shouting my name,” Berk said. “This is unfair, this is not supposed to happen for a painter.”

Almost 25 years old with a recording industry degree he’s acquired a decent amount of local attention for his paintings.

“The more work I have out there is success to me, not how much money I’m making,” he said on his unique views on success.

Berk has been teaching art to children at the Discovery Center on Broad Street once a week, but no longer does this since he is in the process of moving back to Virginia Beach, where he has taken a job DJ-ing three nights a week at a club and plans to stay at least through the summer. With four free days each week to paint, though, he will likely return with plenty of new paintings for Murfreesboro’s art community to appreciate.

I, for one, am very eager to see what sort of technique he’s using at summer’s end. One of his great qualities is the ability to evolve and grow within his work.

If you would like to purchase a piece or view more of his work, check out berkvisual.com or contact Berk at myspace.com/berkvisual.

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