Street artist Bandit said his goal is to make the comfortable feel uncomfortable – to raise awareness and start thought-provoking conversations about topics facing society today.
“There’s a few in here that will do that, I hope,” Bandit said on a recent day while working in a San Clemente warehouse that was being transformed into an art installation for what will likely be his last live show in the beach town.
Bandit, like most street artists, is veiled in mystery and anonymity. He doesn’t give his name, or even his age, or pose for photos showing his face.
But his paintings are well-known in the surf town, where he grew up riding waves in his younger years and still has strong ties today.
Bandit, also a tattoo artist, grew up skating abandoned spots and started out doing “mindless graffiti” at empty pools and other remote locations, he said. But in 2011, his art took a turn and he started using his talent as a visual voice about issues he felt strongly about, he said.
While most of Bandit’s art can be found in bigger cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Austin, his mark can be found throughout the small beach town.
Walk the popular beach trail along North Beach and there’s a painting of a young girl sitting on a wilting sunflower on a concrete slab in the rubble of the hillside that collapsed a few months ago.
“It adds beauty and character to something that was destroyed, and hasn’t been taken away by the city, yet,” Bandit said.
On Avenida Del Mar, a painting he did of a young girl holding a tattered Ukrainian flag, a dove flying above as a symbol of peace, generated a buzz around the small town. That piece of art was torn down as construction got underway for a new restaurant.
But that is street art, Bandit said, “It’s different from any art form. It’s not made to last.”
He kept the stencil, as he does for all his work, and has added that piece and others to the abandoned warehouse walls for his upcoming show.
The event will have a mix of his art and live installations, images taken by friend Julie Faith and the showing of a short film called “My Ride or Die,” shot at Salton Sea. Kids are welcome, he said, with an area planned for young budding artists to spray paints and create their own pieces.
As the warehouse space morphed into an art gallery, Bandit gave a glimpse at some of the work that will be on display. Many images are meant to be thought-provoking pieces to make people contemplate societal issues of today.
In one installation, lifeless bodies float in a deep blue ocean, a sea of people drowning in drug paraphernalia and bottles.
“This is a darker, heavier one,” he warns. “I’ve lost a lot of close friends to drugs.”
Just as jarring is a little girl standing next to a tall wall of guns with the names of schools where shootings have killed children – a piece originally painted in downtown Los Angeles that Bandit has continued to update to through the years.
Next to it is a painting of older teens, their faces down looking at cellphones as a bomb behind them explodes.
The subjects touch on everything from climate change and pollution, to plastic surgery and its influence on young girls and sex trafficking.
While the artwork can take on heavy, serious topics, the goal for the one-night-only event is for people to come with an open mind.
“We want everyone to have fun,” he said. “You take what you want from it.”
Street art, while it can be controversial because it straddles a thin line between art, political statements and graffiti, has has become more accepted in the mainstream in recent years.
In 2011, the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Los Angeles showcased a large exhibit, “Art in the Street,” helping to solidify what used to be considered graffiti as a contemporary art form.
The Laguna Art Museum is currently running an exhibit, “Facing the Giant – Three Decades of Dissent: Shepard Fairey,” an instillation about the founder of clothing brand Obey, who became one of the world’s most popular street artists.
Bandit’s work has also been seen by a wider audience, in 2017 he was commissioned by the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach to create a mural. “Message in a Bottle” showcased marine life stuffed into clear bottles bobbing in the ocean.
Later this year, Bandit said he plans on traveling to Ukraine to make his mark in the war-torn city of Kyiv. This will likely be his last show in San Clemente, he said, as he moves on to paint in other parts of the country.
The event starts at 6 p.m., with the movie showing at 8 p.m., on June 8 at 309 Calle de Los Molinos San Clemente.