The word priest conjures visions of robes, incense, and sermons. But if you’re talking about the graffiti artist Priest, you’ll need to imagine a completely different set of accessories.
Priest’s blasphemous stencil and wheatpaste art has adorned streets across the southern United States for many years. But he isn’t just a rabble-rouser for the sake of it. Beneath its cynical surface, his graffiti carries a bold and often serious message.
Want to learn more about this fearless artist?
The Story of Priest
Priest is originally from Mobile, Alabama. The artist is often met with surprise from others when he informs people of his southern roots.
In an interview with the website CYFE, the artist says cheekily, “Sometimes they don’t even believe I own my trailer home outright.” He currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Priest says in the same interview that his love of graffiti began in high school. One day he found a stencil reading “trash” while exploring an abandoned oil refinery. Priest used the stencil to spray paint the word onto a wall. The rest, as they say, is history.
What Is Priest’s Art Style?
Priest is a graffiti artist who works primarily with stencils and wheatpaste. Although his aesthetic isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the themes he utilizes are often surprising and provocative.
Much of Priest’s work features famous and infamous 20th-century politicians. As is common in the graffiti world, his art frequently contains cultural and political critiques. Other pieces, however, are unserious or just intended to make the viewer laugh.
What is Stencil Graffiti?
This art form refers to any type of graffiti created with a stencil as a guide. Stencils are often made from paper or cardboard but can be designed using any material.
Paint is then sprayed or rolled over the stencil to create an image. Many graffiti artists use multiple stencils in their pieces to create a layered or three-dimensional effect.
The earliest known stencil graffiti appeared in the 1960s. One such piece, by a French artist, depicts the silhouette of an atomic bomb survivor.
What is Wheatpaste Art?
Wheatpaste is a liquid glue formulated with water and vegetable starch. For centuries, people used this formulation for other purposes, including book-binding, paper-mâché, and collage.
Graffiti artists use wheatpaste to paste cut-out paper shapes and fliers onto walls, telephone poles, and other outdoor surfaces to create art. The glue also allows the artist to paste multiple layers of paper and create different textures in their work.
Wheatpaste is a great medium for graffiti art, thanks to its incredible staying power. Once the pasted paper is dry, it’s almost impossible to remove it from certain surfaces.
What Are Some of Priest’s Art Pieces?
A piece by Priest might feature two politicians playing dice or a bear stalking a Playboy bunny. His art oscillates between anti-authoritarian commentary and a dry, often edgy sense of humor.
Let’s look at some of his work in depth.
Bomb Sawyer features a young boy holding a can of red paint and a roller, posed in front of a stenciled white picket fence. Like the famous Mark Twain character, the boy has no interest in whitewashing. He is willing to paint the fence red, however.
In graffiti art terms, to bomb an area means to put up many tags or small pieces in quick succession. Priest’s reimagining of Tom Sawyer as a young graffiti artist sticking out his tongue adds a subversive twist to a classic character.
Bird On A Wire
One of Priest’s more overtly political works, Bird on a Wire, shows a bald eagle trapped in a gilded cage. A small sign reads, “Please do not tap cage–NSA.” A small microphone hangs above the eagle’s head.
The posted sign works as a pun, especially considering the National Security Administration’s history of its covert surveillance of the American people.
Isn’t the cage already “tapped,” thanks to the microphone? Priest’s clever wordplay allows his audience to make up their own mind about the eagle’s fate.
Flight Risk is a stencil art piece depicting Superman and two airport security officers. The beloved superhero wears his trademark blue suit, red cape, and yellow belt as the officers search him. One officer waves a metal detector between Superman’s legs, a tongue-in-cheek reference to his Man of Steel nickname.
In addition to being funny, Flight Risk asks a good question: what makes Superman a flight risk? Is he really a risk at all, or are the officers just searching him because he threatens their positions of authority?
Priest’s unserious side really shines through in a piece called Stage Fright. This stencil piece features a cameraman wearing a balaclava-style mask and holding a large camera on his shoulder.
The image seems simple enough until you hear the story behind it. Priest explains the background of this piece in a caption on his Flickr page. He states, “A friend of mine can’t piss if he knows anyone is in a 10-foot radius. So I put a camera crew in his favorite bar’s restroom.”
Good luck to the other bar patrons who use this bathroom!
Where Can I See Priest’s Art?
Priest’s work can be seen all over the city of New Orleans. Additionally, he held a solo exhibition in New York. But, thanks to the Internet, you can find tons of his stencil and wheatpaste art with a quick online search.
Priest’s Flickr account, which is under his pseudonym, is also a great place to view his pieces. The gallery contains dozens of high-resolution photos spanning nearly a decade of his work.
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore more folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!
Rebel With A Cause
Given his boundary-pushing sense of humor, it might be easy to write Priest off as a provocateur. But this artist is more than just his edgy side.
Take the time to absorb and digest his work, and you might find something in one of his images that takes you by surprise. Whether or not you think Priest’s art is tasteful, one thing is clear: he’s a man of the people.
Do you have a favorite piece of stencil or wheatpaste art by Priest? Let us know if you prefer his humorous or serious side in the comments.