KEXP Q&A: Mural Painter Jonathan Wakuda Fischer

photos courtesy of the artist

If you’ve passed by KEXP’s building recently, you’ve likely noticed the change: stacks of speakers painted in white, black and bright orange wrapping around our previously drab exterior walls. It’s so striking you can practically hear the music emanating from the bright, big-scale mural! I had a chance to catch up with the artist, Jonathan Wakuda Fischer, and talk about his inspiration for the work, his experience painting in Seattle and why he decided to draw a smashed guitar on our parking lot.

Tell me a little bit about yourself: How did you get hooked up with KEXP? How long have you been doing murals in Seattle? What was the inspiration for this one?

Seattle will always be special to me because this is where I discovered myself as an artist. It’s where I learned that I could combine my cultural heritage with spray paint and stencils to create modern work that also explores traditional Asian art.

I work both in galleries and, more often now, on the street. I painted my first large mural in Seattle’s Chinatown last year, and since then I’ve been lucky enough to travel and create art around the world. In fact, that was actually the start of KEXP mural: I was in Europe after a commission in Sicily when I realized that I booked my return flight through Reykjavik during the Iceland Airwaves music festival and I knew KEXP would be broadcasting live from my hostel. After arriving on a redeye from London, I introduced myself to the some of the crew and started talking up this grandiose scheme for a KEXP mural.

How did you come up with the idea for the broken guitar on the parking lot?

While my personal artistic style is closely related to my culture, in creating the mural for KEXP, I knew I wanted something that was accessible and universal - not a specific tribute to one particular band or genre. I love exploring modular design and repetition, so the idea of stacked stereo speakers was both simple and flexible. The best street art is all about location, and using the environment as part of the work. There’s a famous story about Kurt and the station (and his broken guitar), so I wanted a subtle reference to that. A smashed left-handed Stratocaster over a crack in in the cement was just what I was looking for.

How did you go about choosing the color scheme for the mural? How many hours did it take you, how much paint?

While the design and logistical planning took weeks stretched over many months, the actual painting only required six days. There were a couple rainouts at the end of the Summer, of course. The color scheme was limited based on the KEXP swatch and a monochromatic palette. When I’m designing murals, I’ve learned that a little goes a surprisingly long way. That said, it was still 10 gallons of latex paint and over a dozen spray cans.

There are some great artists doing work in this city and and we need more large scale public art. I’m always looking to do new murals and welcome conversation with anyone who can provide a location. It’s striking to see before and after images of the building - I’m happy to say it’s a better representation of what the station means to Seattle.

What and where are some of your favorite street art pieces in Seattle? Are there artists in town you particularly admire? 

Unless it’s done as a legal mural, street art is ephemeral and temporary - over time, even the best pieces will be buffed, covered, or torn down. So it’s more a question of where to go. Post Alley in Pike Place always is changing with new pasteups, while there are other hotspots on Capitol Hill, underneath the Ballard bridge, and other pockets around the town. If you don’t want to go on a treasure hunt, I highly recommend the ‘Seattle Street Art ’ photo book series by August Tarantino.

There are many terrific artists working to make Seattle a beautiful city, too many to name here. But in the end we all have the same goals in mind - to make beautiful art and let the rest of the world know there’s something going on here in the Northwest.

What’s next for you? Any new projects in the works? 

I’ve got a show in New York at Gallery Brooklyn in the Spring, and I’ve been recently working on an exhibition for Artxchange in Pioneer Square. Other than that, there’s always chasing the next artistic idea and planning the next journey. Hoping to travel to Japan again next year.

And it is always my goal to paint more high visibility spots and show the world what kind of arts scene we have in Seattle. Please say “Hello” if you love public art and have any resources to help me paint murals (Paul Allen, I’m looking at you).

Sam Beam of Iron & Wine poses with the mural / photo by Renata Steiner

Watch a video of the mural’s creation here:

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