ST. PETERSBURG — Tattoo artist Chris Roberts, who goes by the moniker Brain Storm, is hoping to etch his own permanent mark in the world of art. Since first picking up the paintbrush last July, the 34-year-old St. Pete native is attracting notice in the local art scene and is the feature artist of the current “Kings on the Deuces” exhibit at Gallerie 909, at 909 22nd St. S.
Along with a partner, he runs the Madd T’s and Tats tattoo parlor at 3018 Central Ave. where he has been providing lovers of ink with unique, indelible and wearable artwork for about seven years. But if this budding artist began by using skin as his canvas, it was only recently that he discovered another outlet for his creative side, in quite an unexpected way.
“Around last May, me and my family came back from a Disney trip,” recalled Storm, a husband and father of three, “and I was just sitting on the floor, coloring with this colored pencil and a marker, and that’s how some of the pictures started out. And then around July was when I really started painting with acrylic paint.”
It was around this time that Carla Bristol, owner of Gallerie 909, connected with Storm.
“He was recommended to contact me by the owner of The Art Supply Store on Central,” Bristol said. “The gallery has sold three of his original pieces, including his very first piece of art sold. From the first time we connected I found him to be talented, dependable and somewhat of a perfectionist.”
Storm looks to pop culture for much of his inspiration, with singular, eye-catching portraits of Michael Jordan, Eddie Murphy’s characters in the film “Coming to America” and Pookie from the gritty, neo-gangster film “New Jack City” in his oeuvre.
“The Michael Jordan one I would say is iconic,” Storm said of his painting of the famed athlete, which depicts Jordan—victory cigar in his mouth—directly after one of the Bulls’ championships. “That’s what I grew up with, something I always liked—Jordan shoes.”
Though the painting of the triumphant Jordan may be an image people might expect to see, Storm just as often strives to present the unexpected and keep everyone guessing. His painting of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. depicts the reverend in a police mug shot, booking number and all. And though tattoo artists must exercise control and precision, in this work Storm gives the impression of a cultivated chaos, with Dr. King’s clear, austere face offset by a maelstrom of bold strokes seemingly slashing into the canvas all around King’s head and on his body.
“It just showed another side of him that some people wouldn’t want to put out about Dr. King, you know, at that instance,” Storm explained. “So I wanted to paint the opposite but let them know that he is human just like everybody else, he can be arrested just like everybody else.”
Though he counts past masters like Picasso and Dali among artists he admires, Storm always has his eye open for the up and coming in the art scene.
“I like a lot of new artists,” he attested. “I may just go on my Instagram and look up any type of new artist because there a lot of new artists that have a lot of good work. Most of the new current artists, no one specifically.”
Of his own paintings, Storm stated that his personal favorites always seem to be whichever ones he’s currently working on, but he did admit that he was partial to the lighthearted “Coming to America” works, which feature Eddie Murphy as various characters in the barbershop scenes from the 1988 feature comedy.
“Because that’s something that no one would ever paint!” he said. “So when people see them, it automatically brings a smile to their face and that’s just what I wanted to do—to have some type of emotion from it. I can paint the normal stuff that I know people would want to buy and put up, but my personal take [is that] I like to paint stuff that no one would ever paint in that type of situation. Like the Pookie piece from ‘New Jack City.’ I’ve never seen that painting before, and I don’t think anybody would want to paint that situation.
Bristol understands the unique attraction that Storm’s work might hold for anyone taking in his work at Gallerie 909.
“Brain Storm represents the reason that I opened this gallery: to expose locals to the black art scene nationally and to uncover the talents right here in St. Petersburg,” she averred. “I love the urban influence of his work that I believe appeals to a broad audience and will certainly inspire many young people here in St. Petersburg.”
For Storm, the reaction and response of anyone viewing his work first hand is a reward in itself.
“I like to see people’s reactions,” he said. “The feeling that people get when they see it, not even from people that are normally into art. I like to cater to the people who have no clue of ‘art,’ they just like it because of what it’s saying, it reminds them of a certain time.”
Currently a student at Full Sail University for cinematography, Storm also has ambitions of breaking into filmmaking someday. Yet whatever his creative outlet, his philosophy and life goal is simple: “To influence others in a positive way,” he said. “That’s it. That sums it all up!”
The “Kings on the Deuces” exhibit at Gallerie 909 runs through Feb 8. Contact Bristol at (727) 565-3930 or visit www.gallerie909.com for more info.
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