If you’ve been anywhere around Downtown, NuLu, or Clifton, then you’ve probably seen the word “Brrr” or his little bug chillin’ on a street sign or the side of a rundown building. Somewhere between street art and a simple tag, Brrr’s art has virally made its way into the hearts and curiosity of most passersby.
Sure, there are shop owners and citizens who frown upon any form of vandalism, and rightfully so, but what’s made Brrr so visible is his canvas of choice. Working mainly on architecture that has seen better days or unobtrusive public utilities, he maintains some sort of tagging code of ethics that has allowed his work to stay pervasive, whereas most tags are cleaned up daily. With exposure in areas of town in which the masses frequent for coffee, lunch meetings, and unique shopping, it was only a matter of time until the question became vocalized: Who is Brrr?
In 2003, I took a short trip to Paris and London with my close friend Adam Breitenstein. With no destination or purpose in mind, we walked the streets and learned what the cities were all about. As most tourists flocked to world famous art galleries, I soon found that the art I was interested in was stenciled on the sidewalks or pasted to the sides of buildings. That was the beginning of my obsession with taking photos of graffiti and street art. Since then, I’ve tried to capture any interesting sticker slap, stencil, or wheatpasting I’ve come across throughout my daily grind. With the tech gods gracing us all with cameras on our phones and the ability to share with like-minded communities, photographing graffiti and street art has become an art form of its own, ranging from casual Instagram posts to professional documentaries.
One afternoon in mid-March of this year I was walking down East Market Street when I saw a weird little spider-like character for the first time. I’m not sure exactly what attracted me to this creature that was drawn on the back of a street utility box with a paint marker, but his endearing grin and quote – “I GOTCHA!” – froze me in my steps. I took a photo and walked off thinking how nice it was to see someone take the initiative to create a unique tag that was more than a scribble claiming territory.
The following week I was on East Washington Street, headed to work, and I saw that little bug again. This time it was bigger and without a clever phrase. It stared back at me with a lackadaisical smirk, mocking my precaffeinated visage. It was becoming something bigger to me, something that I wanted hanging in my house or cast in vinyl, like a designer toy that I’d pick up from Kidrobot or Ultra Pop.
Over the next month or so I saw this little guy, who I decided was a party spider in a top hat, more and more. This creature showed up on the side of the highway, on the back of street signs, and on the windows of half-demolished buildings on Main Street. The pieces had slight variations from time to time, but what was really changing was his message, featuring inspirational quotes like “4 THE KIDS,” “SUPPORT THE ARTS, YO!” and “EDUCATION OPENS DOORS.” His art was becoming something I wanted to take my daughter or mom to see, something that really made his work stand out from the vulgar incoherencies of adolescent turf wars. The most important message, to me, was that this person had been tagging his or her name: Brrr. Giving the artist a name made my experience and search feel much more personal.
As I took more and more photos, I posted them online to my Path feed, Instagram, and Tumblr. Some of my friends and co-workers caught the bug, as it were, and documented their own discoveries. I soon realized that Brrr struck the same personal chord with many other people. Even though my own territorial instinct was kicking in, it felt good to share this gem with others. I wondered how far his reach went. I started to search online and discovered a few other fans, a few people on Tumblr who had documented just as I had, and even a local artist who had created a Brrr Spotting Google Map. Part of me was excited to find other fans, but I was still haunted by my internal sleuth who was thirsty for an answer to the question: Who is Brrr?
I found leads here and there, traces of his online presence, other artists who mentioned him, and even bartenders around town who gave me a heads-up on fresh tags. I attempted to contact every person who had ever mentioned him, but no one knew anything, or they weren’t talking. At this point, friends were calling me Brainwash to his Banksy. As much as I wanted to meet this guy, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to start digging around the train yards at night. I went as far into the scene as I was willing to go. I didn’t want to reveal him to the public, I didn’t want to hurt his credibility, and I sure as hell didn’t want him to get caught.
As it stands now, I remain a huge fan, maintaining hopes that one day I’ll get a lucky break for that chance meeting. I’m always looking for the next Brrr tag that pops up, as is his growing and diverse fan base. Brrr, if you’re reading this, keep it up. As for Brrr’s fans and friends, continue to tag your posts and photos with #Brrr and #WhoIsBrrr, check out MissHappyPink on Flickr for photos of Brrr’s work around the city, and view the Brrr Spotting map on Google Maps.
-Chris Hawkins, @MFCH