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Arts & Culture

B-Side Artists Sell Out

Local street art crew takes root and bears fruit

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Germinating underground like a seed dropped on a city street, the B-Side Artists grew out of cracks in the urban sidewalk. While other artists complained and left Orlando for more clever cities, this informal collection of street artists rooted and thrived, weathering storms, and this year they're bearing fruit. Back from last December's Art Basel Miami, the crew has matured and new branches are sprouting.

The B-Side collective is loosely led by artist and musician Asaan "Swamburger" Brooks, although fuzzy, in-flux collaboration, not hierarchical rule, is the key to this group's spirit. His eyes flash and a ready smile lights his round face (partly obscured by long dreadlocks) as he talks about B-Side and "the constructive power of art to liberate, as opposed to so many destructive forces at play in the street today."

Swamburger, who studied traditional visual arts at Columbia College in Chicago, says, "Artists abhor a sellout." (Think Thomas Kinkade.) "So we spoof this term, because like most artists, we want to see the show sell out!"

Their name, B-Side, is also a spoof. Old 45-rpm vinyl singles carried a band's pop radio hit on the A-side, but the B-side, basically blank space to be filled, generally bore an unknown, often much more interesting song.

From the seven original artists, the group is always expanding (and sometimes contracting; there's no set number of members); most have street monikers as well as their given names. Sell Out includes work from Swamburger, Tobar, Tr3, Peter Van Flores III, Peterson Guerrier, G Lemus, Neosoe, Steve Parker, Julio Sanchez, Skip, Morgan Wilson, Halsi Helfrich, Lucy Furs and more.

The group's soul is its looseness, with only one law: Make art, get better and show the work as much as you can.

"There are more places to show and sell; we are setting up on street corners and public lots," says Christopher "Tobar" Rodriguez, a slender Chicago native and one of the group's main men. Of course, they've also been showing quite a bit at CityArts Factory, the city-sponsored gallery conglomerate that's about as far as throwing up a piece in an alley as you can get. Co-evolving with downtown's tentative moves toward a developer-friendly "bohemian" vibe, B-Side was in the right place at the right time.

Tobar jumped the curb – moving from the street to the gallery – here in Orlando, just like Swam and most of the other B-Siders did. Resonating with each other over informal meetings and gallery hops, many have day jobs and pursue their own art careers independent of the collective. "We stick together," said Tobar recently, "because we see each other's work, it makes us reach higher and think more. After this show, I'll probably push harder."

A turning point for many of the B-Side artists was the Thanksgiving 2009 shooting of Palin Perez Jackson. After the loss of one of their own members, the urgency of their work deepened and many still talk about the incident with poignancy and regret. Jackson's death was a rallying point, renewing B-Side's commitment to their art and their crew. Most turn somber at the mention of Jackson's memory, which serves as another uniting bond.

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