The graffiti artist and painter, ROA, claims entire buildings as canvases for his gorgeous animal murals. Relying on monochromatic colors and a healthy obsession with nature, he creates incredible portraits of creatures in various stages of life, death, and everything in between.
Sure. His fascination with blood and guts might seem disturbing at first. But in reality, the artist’s murals are love letters to the living beings that make Earth a beautiful place.
How did one painter from Belgium manage to leave his mark on almost every continent on the planet?
Let’s find out!
The Story of ROA
ROA is from Ghent, Belgium. In his childhood, he aspired to become an archaeologist, zoologist, or any other type of scientist. He was fascinated by animals, even starting a small collection of found skulls from birds and rodents.
As a child of the 80s, the artist also was fascinated by American pop culture, especially the growing hip-hop music scene. These combined interests eventually led ROA to explore graffiti and street art.
He completed his first pieces on walls and under bridges in industrial areas. Because Belgium didn’t have an established graffiti art scene at the time, he was able to experiment with a wide array of styles and approaches.
ROA eventually developed his unique style. His work today consists of murals done with spray and acrylic paint in neutral colors.
What Inspires ROA’s Art?
ROA’s lifelong fascination with animals is a huge source of his inspiration. The artist explores numerous creatures’ life and death cycles through his large-scale murals. Much of his work features animal bodies seen from a cutaway view, exposing blood, bones, and organs.
Although his interests may seem morbid, his art is more thoughtful than macabre. As the artist explains in an article on Streetartbio.com, “Organs are the vital substances of our body and they represent a lot of the symbolism which I like!” Like a true scientist, ROA is less interested in shocking people and more interested in making them think.
Why Did ROA Tour Puerto Rico?
In 2021, the artist combined his art and love of animals by taking on an ambitious public mural project in Puerto Rico. The project called #PRLove highlights the island’s vast array of animal species while raising awareness of the importance of conservation.
#PRLove features more than 15 large-scale public murals. ROA visited nearly a dozen Puerto Rican cities and villages, painting different animals in every location. One mural in Isla de Cabras depicts a baby manatee swimming away from an adult manatee skeleton.
Another mural in Utuado shows a parrot that appears to have poked its giant head through the side of a wall.
The project was co-sponsored by several environmental agencies and charities. In addition to celebrating Puerto Rico’s animal life, #PRLove also celebrates the scientists and volunteers who work to preserve the island’s ecosystem.
Is There a Book About ROA’s Art?
His work doesn’t just exist on the sides of buildings anymore. He released his first book, titled Codex, in 2020. The book features more than 350 pages of photographs of ROA’s murals. Codex also includes personal insight from the artist about his life, philosophy, and journey as an artist.
In an article on Colossal.com regarding the book, ROA explains, “Exploration of nature, more specifically of the animal world, can lead to increased empathy.” Codex is the result of his lifelong exploration of that world.
What Are Some of ROA’s Art Pieces?
ROA is known for creating his pieces freehand without guides or stencils. The artist chooses the location of each mural carefully so that the painting can coexist with its canvas, whether that canvas is a multi-story apartment building or a run-down boathouse.
Take a look at some of his most stunning murals below.
Buffalo appears on the side of a two-story building in Lexington, Kentucky. The grayscale mural depicts the profile of a buffalo with an intact head and a skeletal body.
The buffalo appears to be sitting or perhaps crouched in a fetal position. Its expression is thoughtful, almost contemplative. Although buffalo aren’t native to Kentucky, this creature seems right at home on its exposed brick canvas.
Owl is another of ROA’s large-scale murals. This piece appears on the side of a multi-story brick structure in Hasselt, Belgium.
He positioned this owl so that it appears to be perched on top of one of the building’s windows. The black and white paint juxtaposes beautifully with the building’s red brick. A thin black painted cord wraps around one of the owl’s talons, tethering it to its wall. This subtle detail gives a forlorn feeling to the otherwise peaceful painting.
Californian Still Life
One of ROA’s most ambitious murals is Californian Still Life, featured on the side of the Manual Arts High School building in Los Angeles. This massive piece depicts several different animals, including raccoons, squirrels, and skunks, all resting together in a pile.
Despite the multitude of species represented, there’s no sense of conflict or tension among the animals. Each creature seems to be at peace with the others in the group.
He created Californian Still Life for Art in the Streets, a multi-artist event held in Los Angeles in 2011. The event’s purpose was to catalog and showcase street art from both a historical and contemporary perspective.
Art in the Streets included a museum exhibition featuring graffiti legends like Banksy, plus several new commissioned pieces such as ROA’s Californian Still Life.
Where Can I See ROA’s Art?
The artist manages to maintain the air of mystery held by a lot of graffiti artists. He doesn’t have a website or social media accounts, making his work feel elusive.
However, ROA has created murals on almost every continent, most of which are in public spaces. His paintings are in major US cities such as Los Angeles and New York City.
Despite not having an Instagram account, Instagram is also a great place to see his art. Check out the hashtag #roaartist for photos of his murals taken by art lovers worldwide.
Life and Death in Black and White
Although his work might seem grisly at first glance, ROA’s art is a heartfelt exploration of what it means to be alive. His striking pieces invite audiences to consider our mortality and attitudes toward death.
His paintings also remind us that it’s our responsibility to coexist peacefully with our animal neighbors. After all, their habitats aren’t all that different from ours.
Which of ROA’s murals would you like to see in person someday? Let us know in the comments!
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!