‘Pursuit of a Home: Contemporary Public Artist, Sirus Fountain’ by Marisel Salazar
Pursuit of a Home: Contemporary Public Artist, Sirus Fountain
By Marisel Salazar
“First things first: I’m an eunuch,” says Sirus Fountain after extending his hand in greeting at the appealingly disheveled and cluttered Bushwick loft (electrical wires crawling like snakes, dripping paint cans, meowing cats, crispy-edged maps – an artists’ bungalow so to speak) we find ourselves in.
“Joking, of course,” he says as an afterthought.
The long-haired, bleached blonde Fountain, with his round glasses, floral tank top and tattered jorts, is not what you would expect when you think of an up-and-coming public artist. He seems more appropriate behind the bar of a café that exclusively serves pour-over coffee fairly sourced from Costa Rica than as an anonymous urban expressionist who hides his face from the public to protect himself from his “unsanctioned” work.
But why be labeled by appearance when he is recognized by his art? His style – intricately detailed and line heavy faces – is his signature, his calling card. Most notably the wrinkled, elderly faces of Native Americans he met while on a reservation. Wheatpasted on building walls in Chicago, New York and Iowa, Fountain’s posters of powerfully creased and furrowed faces, heavy with folds and intensely detailed furred animals and symbols, are said to illustrate “the natural world and how it thrives when its complex web of interrelationships is honored.”
His backpacking lifestyle was profoundly influential on his art. Fountain started sketching as a hitchhiker in 2008, jumping trains and traveling in the southwest until he ended up on a reservation.
“I saw lots of wanderers who were drunk and lost and very disenchanted.”
There was a central and sacred native spirit on the reservation, which molded the defining mark of his paper installations: elderly, intricately wrinkled Native American faces. One of the core tenets his art is formed around is the Native American thinking that “aspects of the natural world that are not seen or directly experienced, but interpreted intuitively.”
“There is high contrast of character; the wrinkles give lots of information about the person,” says Fountain. But people are supposed to find the meaning in his work for themselves. He views himself as a vessel and his artistic aims are not purely personal. He aims for detachment, no consideration of the artist.
“My art is merely a culmination of the people, places and things I’ve experienced.”
Fountain is the product of a massage therapist and a roofer, born in central Florida to parents of Irish, German and Egyptian descent. The eldest of four brothers, he said he had “too much freedom” as a child. He is separated from his family. As an adolescent, Fountain needed to “question things for a while,” so he went on a pilgrimage in 2008, which led him to a life that can fit into a bag ever since.
“I am a kinesthetic learner; I need to experience something to question it and then figure out what it means,” says Fountain.
He hung out with graffiti artists and immersed himself in the graffiti artist culture, doodling in a sketch book, unemployed for 3 years, crashing on couches at “friends” places until he finally made an opportunity for himself: papering cities with his “wheatpasting” installations, like the flat bust of a heavily bearded Socrates. His work spread through word of mouth and the Internet. Since he travels so frequently, he doesn’t have a permanent studio.
But what is the question? What needs to be experienced?
The pursuit of a home. For Fountain, home is not a place, it is a feeling.
Home is where his friends are. He creates his art in a different way when he is not “at home,” that is, in an environment of love and comfort. Because of this, he forces himself to work that much harder to get back to that safe place.
Yet his nomadic lifestyle is inspiring: “I embrace what I want to do; I wanted to live an alternative lifestyle and make a living off of it.”
And so he has. Fountain is a student of psychology, philosophy and world religions. Using his education and experiences gleaned from a communal university, time performing social work and stretches on the road, Fountain says he has finally integrated into his “niche,” that is, urban expressionism, a simple yet profound artistic style which deliberately uses the medium as a tool of communication which rebels against rising social and political changes. His work has been seen at the NewBo Art Festival and as a part of the Bushwick Collective, among other gatherings.
Despite his rising success, he admires the talent and genius of others. This admiration inspires him to persevere in his art day in and day out, in addition to continually studying and seeking mentorship. While other artists may be clouded with becoming the next Banksy or Basquiat, or questioning whether they should have stuck with a life from nine to five, he chooses not to be contaminated by money, notoriety and believes in a “sharing” way of life.
True to the heart of urban expressionism, Fountain doesn’t want to get “too big” or “privileged,” which would defeat the original roots of his work or his roving past.
“I want my work to be common and relevant, accessible to all,” says Fountain.