A Night with OCMC: Inside the World of a Street Artist

Two weeks ago we met Oh Captain My Captain at his apartment, where we hoped, at the very least, to get an inside look at an inspiring member of the New York City street art scene.  When we left over three hours later, it was clear that Captain was not only a dedicated artist, but he was one of the most sincere personalities we've met during our time in New York, not to mention a great story teller.

OCMC's street art is involved and deeply personal.  His works, which primarily feature the photographs of deceased relatives of his friends and family, as well as his own beloved grandmother, are a regular sight in Soho, Tribeca, and the Lower East Side.  'It's funny,' he remarks, 'people assume because these photos are pasted on the street that they need to be somebody famous...'  

That's what makes OCMC's work so cool-  by putting up his work, he's elevating the parents and grandparents of everyday people to a celebrity status, which of course they always were in the minds of their descendants. These people are real icons.

When we walked through the front door of OCMC's apartment, admittedly we weren't sure what we would find.  One look around was all it took to see that clearly this was the home of somebody that has a passion for street art.  Lining the walls were works by Miss Bugs, Aiko, Dain, C215, as well as early drafts of OCMC's own projects-  a fitting backdrop for our conversations for the rest of the night.

Captain didn't grow up in New York City proper, but he's been living in the city for a long time, and spent his free time skating it.  Though he's older now, the row of skateboards leaning against the back wall of his living room serves as a testament to his hobby.  We asked him, 'what's your favorite place in the city?' He took a moment to think, but then the response was, 'you mean other than Shake Shack?'  Clearly we're on the same page.

The story goes that OCMC was injured doing what he likes most, skating in an empty pool.  His recovery was long, and allowed him time to start doing art.  I interrupted, 'Well do you wear a helmet when you're skating down the street now?' Smiling, OCMC let us know that he still doesn't wear a helmet, 'I don't want to be that guy.'

While recovering, Captain learned to silkscreen from Donald Sheridan, one of Andy Warhol's own assistants - a fitting way to enter the art world.  It's no surprise then that his most recent show featured images from Warhol's Polaroid photography layered with over-the-top headlines from the New York Post.  With his new skills, OCMC started experimenting in his apartment with lacquer, spray paint and other things you probably shouldn't use in an enclosed space. He brushes that off quickly, remarking that he still finds clumps of paint from his early work around his place sometimes.

A great deal of inspiration for Captain came from 9/11, which happened literally right in his own backyard. In the days that followed the disaster, people had posted photos of loved ones on the walls surrounding ground zero, in hopes that someone would contact them and let them know that they were safe. One day while walking by the site, Captain noticed that someone had written the words 'remember me' on all of the portraits, which really stuck a chord. These images became his inspiration for everything that followed.

OCMC obviously has a great respect for family, and it's this respect and the combination of courageously placing their likenesses in a public space that makes his work so powerful. 'You can always see their photos in your house, but there's something about seeing the person in public that just makes you happy out of nowhere.'

From his early experimentation with photographs and paint, Captain's art evolved into its present form once he lost his grandmother.  His desire to be able to see and interact with her again on a daily basis led him to paste his work around the city, mainly on his path to work.  From there, OCMC reached out to some friends to see if anybody else wanted to work with him on the project, and have their loved ones put up alongside his grandmother. Interestingly enough, nobody responded.

Today, the story couldn't be more different.  OCMC has a backlog of ancestors he's been requested to work with, from people that understand exactly what it means to have their day brightened by the sight of somebody that means so much to them.   Aside from NYC, his work has been posted in Paris and Sao Paulo.  Captain says he loves his art being pasted up in more and more cities around the world, especially the portrait of his grandmother, who never actually had the opportunity to leave the country.  As we finished our conversation with Captain for the night, we took one last look around, noticing the drafts of other loved ones waiting to get their turn to get out and about, and become inspiring works of art.

Tweet a pic to @solifestyle if you see any of Captain's work around the streets, and learn about what he's up to via his Facebook page and website.  You can also see his work until the end of May at L'asso Restaurant at 192 Mott Street in Manhattan.