For Baltimore-based muralist and studio artist Gaia, beautifying dark places is a calling. In fact, it’s been a life-long passion for him and one that we appreciate.
From the streets that inspired the HBO series, The Wire to Rome, Gaia’s nature-filled paintings have one message. Only together can we make the world a better place for everyone, and each of us deserves that.
We’ll look at the man behind the art and the singular focus inspiring him to create richly colored love letters to the planet.
Let’s dig in!
Who Is Andrew Pisacane?
Andrew Pisacane, whose artist name is Gaia, grew up on the Upper East Side in New York City. As a teenage artist, he felt the existential dread many in his generation felt. Climate change deniers challenged the reality that things were changing. But the young Pisacane knew there had to be something he could do to affect change on a small scale.
So, he started putting up prints in public spaces with wheat paste in high school. A classic technique for street artists, he learned by printing from his own carved linoleum blocks. Then, using homemade glue, he made sure his art got public viewing. He put pieces up all over his neighborhood and also in the city’s Bushwick, Chelsea, and Williamsburg areas.
His work at that young age already contained one of the features he’s known for today: plants and animals. He attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. In short order, his work found receptive audiences worldwide with exhibitions in Italy, Turkey, Washington D.C., and New York City.
A Rising Artist
Then, in 2015, Forbes named him one of the 30 under 30 to watch, and more people noticed his work. In addition, commissions poured in, and Gaia continued developing a body of work on streets, in galleries, and corporate offices. But his focus remained the same as he brought nature into urban environments and focused on the communities he worked in.
Recently, he created a significant project in Baltimore, Maryland, that connected four walls in an urban area. Dedicated to the community, Gaia spent several days gathering ideas before this latest piece went up.
The walls are bright spots of color and light in the grimy, broken-down neighborhood. He also added four poems to the top of the painting that speak of hope, joy, and the challenge to see the good.
Where Does Gaia Find Inspiration?
Gaia’s first images involved animals, children, and his own family. Initially, he created posters that featured horses and boars with human hands and torsos. His images of children had distorted features and otherworldly quality. For Gaia, the cruelty and beauty of nature serve as a potent reminder that we are not permanent.
As he developed into the international artist he is today, Gaia began using nature as a tool to beautify spaces. Using the techniques he mastered as a young man, the artist incorporates cut paper into his murals to deconstruct his images. In addition, he frequently involves pictures of people in his work now, from his grandfather to locals, as a means of connection.
When he creates a new piece, the main inspiration comes from the people in a given area. With a small team, he conducts interviews, takes photographs, and digs into the history of a place. Then he generates ideas and focuses on themes connecting different community elements. As his work evolves, community and nature continue to come up as inspirational ideas.
Does Gaia Work With Multiple Mediums?
From the beginning, Gaia used paper and paint to make his art. He continues to use these same tools, though the way he does it changes based on the work. For example, he’ll often paint using brushes and spraying techniques and make traditional tools do new things.
Approaching art with an open mind, the artist uses mediums like canvas, styrofoam, and paper. In fact, he used all of these mediums together for an installation at Rice University, and the effect is impressive. Three-dimensional objects increase the impact of Gaia’s work, but he also uses text to speak directly.
While not a different medium if applied with paint, poetry features in his Baltimore murals and makes the community feel seen.
Evocative Art by Gaia
Gaia creates work that speaks to the Black experience in America and fills his paintings with emotion. One of his goals is to make his audience feel something. And, in fact, after viewing his artwork, we think he’s effective.
We picked out three of Gaia’s paintings to introduce you to his work.
Hattie Moseley Tribute
Completed in October 2022, the Hattie Moseley mural in Springfield, Ohio, pays tribute to a local activist. Moseley fought against segregation in the 1920s, and her work kept Fulton Elementary integrated.
Gaia created the mural with help from Moseley’s family and used a tiny picture of her to base the mural on. Moseley, dressed in rich purple, smiles down on the community she helped protect, surrounded by flowers. Commissioned by the public art committee in Springfield, the painting is a tribute to a warrior of justice.
Inspired by Baltimore’s native son, Edgar Allan Poe, Double Raven started its life as an illegal piece of street art. But, pasted up on the walls of an abandoned building, Gaia has seen the work take on new life. Two ravens, mirror images of each other, are spread across the side of the building.
Originally installed in 2010, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum used the piece as the focal point of a fundraiser the following year. More recently, the HBO show We Own the City featured the print, and it took on a third life. The show focuses on the true story of police corruption in Baltimore, and for Gaia, it’s a subject worth exploring.
Calling back to his days creating hybrid animal/human work, Settler Surrealism tells the story of the American west in a new voice. A cougar head with human hands overlooks people mining uranium, chopping down trees, panning for gold, and posing.
The artist combines these images to reimagine the mythology of westward expansion. This piece combines nature and modern man in a powerful exploration of our impact on the environment.
Where Can I See Gaia’s Work?
Over the last ten years, Gaia’s work has shown up worldwide in both public and private settings. His Instagram account has over two-thousand posts, and his website has images and process videos.
Open Walls Baltimore
Open Walls Baltimore (OWB) is a unique approach to street art. Gaia curated this project in 2012 and 2014, inviting street artists to create in Baltimore. Supported by locals, artists’ work is tagged in a Google Map of the area. Some of the best-known street artists in the world have participated in OWB.
Gaia also included one of his own pieces in the project, a white dove held by a hand. The piece is a little disturbing because the figure’s other hand appears to be turned upside down on a facing wall. But, classic Gaia, nature and human elements carry through.
By far, the best sources of his work are online. His Instagram page includes photos and videos of his career. In addition, he’s active on the platform, answering questions and interacting with fans. One of our favorite finds came from his website, gaiastreetart.com, the other great source of his work online. Several longer-form videos allow a backstage pass into the artist’s inspiration and work.
Is Gaia’s Art Featured in Any Books?
Yes, it is! In fact, Gaia’s art shows up in a couple of books on the subject of urban and street art. Beyond the Street, a book edited by Patrick Nguyen and Stuart MacKenzie, gathers interviews from 100 movers and shakers. Published in 2010, the interview with Gaia is a fascinating look at the artist as a young man. It also includes several images of his work, and is a must-have for collectors.
Outdoor Gallery: New York City by Yoav Litvin collects the street art of New York City in a lush coffee table volume. It includes the work of 46 living artists and hundreds of images cataloging the legacy of street art in NYC. From long-time artists such as COPE2 to more contemporary artists like Gaia, the book is a love letter to the streets.
An Artist With True Passion
For Andrew Pisacane, the moniker Gaia refers to the Greek goddess of the Earth. And he takes that seriously. The artist makes dark places beautiful by creating work that connects people to each other and nature.
Gaia continues creating work that challenges viewers to feel, imagine, and understand the legacy of their past. And for Gaia, building community and nurturing creativity is the greatest calling. That’s an idea we can get behind.
What’s your favorite Gaia piece? Let us know in the comments below.
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore 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!