Muralist Taylor Reinhold’s dynamic push for public art gains speed
For muralist Taylor Reinhold, art is more than a talent or a trade. It’s a lifestyle.
Nearly everything in his small home in the Soquel hills is the product of someone’s artistic ability, from paintings that cover every inch of wall to the ceramic cups he drinks from and the screen-printed T-shirts hanging in his bedroom closet. Mixed in with pieces that belong to Reinhold’s own portfolio of vivid, street-art-inspired paintings are contributions from his robust network of artists. The crew of local creatives, which officially launched in 2009 but whose members go back much further, is known as the Made Fresh Collective (MFC).
The troop of painters, clothing designers, skateboarders and other inspired souls is on a mission to motivate, facilitate and collaborate—one of many alternate meanings they apply to the acronym MFC. “Our message is to … spread creativity everywhere you go,” says Reinhold. “Paint the Earth.”
The 26 year old is busy realizing this vision. His schedule is as lively as one of his characteristically vibrant paintings—bursting with color and movement.
A whiteboard calendar hanging by his front door chronicles his many artistic commitments. Thick dry erase-marker lines span entire swatches of the month, indicating when he will be out of town. “I haven’t been home for more than two weeks at a time in more than six months,” says the artist, who wears dark-rimmed glasses and his curly hair in a ponytail. “And it will be like that for the next five months.”
When we meet in mid-January at his house/studio, Reinhold is freshly returned from a weeklong mural job in San Diego, which was preceded by live painting at the Sea of Dreams New Year’s Eve party in San Francisco. Seated on the couch—an easel behind him, commissioned paintings of African animals stacked against the kitchen counter to his right, and another MFC member working on calligraphy in the corner—Reinhold lights up when talking about his next trip, to Hawaii in early February. He participated in POW! WOW! Hawaii, when he says muralists from across the globe converged on the industrial section of Honolulu’s Chinatown to coat its derelict exteriors with beautiful art.
Reinhold is spending the interim periods between trips teaching art to youth in Watsonville and pumping his work into the local visual landscape. Current projects include a lively mural of birds, butterflies and bees at Live Oak Elementary and an ongoing, three-story ocean-themed scene at the Aqua Breeze Inn, to name a few.
Once spring hits, his life will be thrown into the festival orbit, vending and live painting at around 10 festivals, from Coachella to Reggae on the River.
“The music is changing from musical instruments to electronic sound, where there is just a DJ on stage,” he notes. “Who wants to watch a guy sitting with a laptop? That is why artists are so much more involved in the electronic music scene: we pretty much are the performance.”
His annual festival tour—which he calls “magical”—culminates with a pilgrimage to Burning Man in late August, where he and collaborators contribute art to the kaleidoscopic offerings.
“To be doing what I want to do is such a beautiful thing,” he says, remarking on the size of his “To Do” list. “I have to always remember that and respect that.”
His is a life in constant motion, propelled by the compulsion to create and inspire. And as his career builds, Reinhold is trying to leverage it to effect change: through the MFC and beyond, he wants artists to have more opportunities to support themselves; youth to have artistic skills nurtured with better arts education; and for public art to flood the streets as a way to raise awareness about important issues.
So watch out Santa Cruz County—he’s coming for your walls.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
With celebrated glass artist Annie Morhauser, of Annieglass, as his mother, Reinhold was surrounded by art since the beginning. His artistic gene and drive to paint can also be traced to another muralist in the family. His great-great-grandfather, Rocco Andrisani, painted murals professionally in the south of Italy until he fell from scaffolding, sustaining a broken arm that ended his career. Without a professional outlet, Reinhold’s ancestor took to painting each room in his house over and over again.
Unbeknownst to him, Reinhold took his initial steps toward becoming a prolific artist as a teenager. As a skateboarder and graffiti tagger (“artist” would be a strong word, as he claims he “wasn’t doing anything productive or beautiful or good” at the time), he was laying the foundation for his artistic style, which remains strongly rooted in underground and DIY street art.
“Skateboarding is the foundation for all my creative energy,” he says, adding that it is also how he met most of his closest friends and crewmembers.
As skateboarders, they gained a unique perspective of the world: one where the neglected morsels of our landscape become places of possibility.
“Skateboarders, just like graffiti writers, have basically been exiled into the places nobody wants to go, like drainage ditches, tunnels and under bridges,” he says. These visually underwhelming, overlooked pockets were playgrounds for expressing themselves in a society in which they felt marginalized.
Reinhold began expressing his creativity through other mediums thanks to an influential art teacher of his, Katie Harper, at Santa Cruz High, and then a string of mentors in the art department at Santa Clara University, where he started on a business degree and quickly switched to art.
But everything was flipped upside down when, during his sophomore year of college, his father, Michael Reinhold, passed away.
“I became extremely depressed for two years and didn’t do anything but do graffiti and get in trouble,” he recalls. “I was expressing my art through a pain I had inside.”
His home’s back door is open behind him, sending fresh air in to mingle with the incense he has burning. Exotic depictions of monkeys feature prominently among the canvases, decorated skateboard decks, and lanterns that fill the space. They were his father’s, or pieces he shared with his father. Together they collected “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkey imagery.
While in art therapy with Hospice of Santa Cruz County following his father’s death, he began painting monkeys again and again.
“The only thing I wanted to do was paint these monkeys,” he says. “I put them up around my room. They reminded me of him. They protected me.”
From jungle beasts to ocean critters and forest dwellers, animals are a signature theme in Reinhold’s work. But primates remain his flagship image, appearing in many of his pieces. Even his MFC logo—perhaps his most recognizable creation—is a monkey, mid-yell and donning a baseball cap with the lid flipped up.
By the time Reinhold graduated college he was serious about painting. But it was 2009. The Great Recession was in full swing, and an entire generation of recent college graduates came to a halt.
“I saw fellow classmates and students … nobody was going anywhere,” he says.
This fired up the misfit frustrations he had been grappling with since high school.
“I felt that anger toward the society we live in—feeling it’s unfair and unjust that I can’t do what I want, or be accepted as an artist. Wondering, ‘why isn’t it easier to get a good job? Why is it so hard to survive?’
“I felt really down and out,” he goes on. “I didn’t know what I was going to do for a career or with my art.” So, with the DIY sensibility instilled in them from skateboarding and graffiti, he and two friends took matters into their own hands and carved out their own opportunity. That year, Reinhold, lifelong friend Ben Faris, and Jasper Marino formed the Made Fresh Collective.
Reinhold bought a four-color press and the trio set about printing their work onto slews of T-shirts. “If you have a message, a T-shirt is the best way to get it out there,” he says.
During that time, Reinhold took off to see the world. From the Egyptian pyramids to ancient temples in Cambodia, he absorbed an abundance of rich culture, history, art, architecture and symbolism. He met international graffiti artists in Bangkok and painted trains in Europe. Throughout Spain, Italy and France, he plugged in with street artists and graffiti writers.
“Twelve year olds were walking around with bags of spray paint and doing modern-day Michelangelo aerosol art,” he says. “It was amazing to me. I couldn’t believe it. There were legal walls where you could go paint in the middle of the day.
“After that, I realized that my life revolves around art and that everything is art to me,” he continues. “In that sense, I could think outside of the box and devise my own way of trying to create a lifestyle. I came home and surrounded myself with artists. And that’s my day to day.”
The Made Fresh Collective has ballooned since, now with too many collaborators to name, according to Reinhold. With the crew’s symbiotic support system, and mentors like accomplished local 3D performance painter Matt Jones (his neighbor), and muralist Elijah Pfotenhauer (“the best muralist in Santa Cruz,” says Reinhold), the young artist has made a noticeable mark—quite literally, with around 20 murals under his belt.
Hungry to Learn
Reinhold’s untraditional, “in-your-face” style has landed him a lot of commercial work, from designing organic energy bar labels to logos for a New Mexico ski resort. (In April, he will travel to the Cannabis Cup in Denver with Method Seven, a company that designs sunglasses for marijuana grow rooms and for which Reinhold supplies art.) The graffiti-feel of his work has also led to good things for one of his favorite jobs—teaching art to kids in South County. He is in the middle of a yearlong mural class at Ceiba College Prep High School through the nonprofit Mariposa’s Art, as well as an ongoing workshop series with the Watsonville Wetlands Watch. This spring, he will begin a mural class, also through Mariposa’s Art, at Cesar Chavez Middle School and another with “at-risk youth”—a term he dislikes—through the Watsonville Police Activities League.
Many of the students he works with are involved in graffiti, or worse. Reinhold uses his own experiences to relate to his pupils, showing them that not only can they express themselves through more positive artistic outlets, but also that art can be a viable career option.
“I see that spark of realization that they could go print shirts for a living, or go be a graphic designer,” he says. “Because they aren’t learning that in school—they aren’t learning trades, or that they can go and become whatever they want if they put their mind to it. I think anything is possible, and with art, everything is possible. To promote that with students at a young age is so crucial.”
His chance to connect with local youth through his art is reflective of a broader—and bittersweet, in the eyes of artists like Reinhold—acceptance and mainstreaming of graffiti. In a time when Banksy is a household name, and when street art has crept from the underground and into museums and galleries, educational efforts are turning to art forms associated with graffiti to engage children, mostly in inner cities. Murals, calligraphy, character drawing, and silk-screening, to name a few, are tools to capture attention and foster talents.
“I ask students who are graffiti writers and who have gotten into trouble for graffiti, ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to put your graffiti up on the street and get in trouble or do you want to put it on someone’s chest, on a shirt, and have them walk around with your work on?’” he says.
Past such students have gone on to be painters and comic book creators—an outcome Reinhold is proud of provoking. But the kids are having as much of an impact on Reinhold as he is on them. Over the past several years of volunteering and then working as an art teacher in South County, what he has learned about the educational system and inequality in the area has fueled the sociopolitical awareness of his work and driven a desire to do more issue- and message-based murals.
He feels that a lack of opportunity, safety, quality education, healthy food and financial stability has left youth in Watsonville hungry, in more ways that one.
“They live the salad bowl of the world and they don’t have access to [food],” he says. “It enrages me as a teacher, seeing my students surviving off of Hot Cheetos. … Kids are starving, living with many other family members, with no way to get out of any of this. They’re on the streets. And they are hungry. They want to learn.”
But art and music are first on the chopping block when budget issues arise for schools. (“How will that work out for students when they are my age?” Reinhold muses. “I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t been exposed to art and music at a young age.”) Afterschool programs like those he is a part of step in, but they struggle to operate, as well. While some supplies for his classes are donated, he gleans most of the paint from the dump himself. He purchases other supplies for the students with money earned by selling his paintings at festivals.
In the next year, Reinhold plans to have the Made Fresh Collective converted into a nonprofit, which would help with funding art supplies for students. He already employs students to help with his mural jobs, and wants to boost this opportunity, as well.
Ultimately, he aims to open a center for alternative creative learning, where the MFC could teach youth about art, silk screening, pottery and ceramics, organic gardening, and more.
Paint Every Inch
Murals serve many purposes, all of which have Reinhold wanting to see them proliferate. For one, says Reinhold, a well-placed mural could combat vandalism more effectively than current local methods, which involve municipalities forking over tens of thousands of dollars a year to paint it over. Impermanence is implicit in street art, making the threat of having it painted over ineffective.
“If kids see a mural, they’re more likely not to want to paint on it,” he explains. “And if they do, we have easy ways of fixing it. The coating on murals makes it so that if someone vandalizes it, you just hit it with a power washer and you can save the mural.”
The Graffiti Removal Project, a joint effort of Santa Cruz County and the Volunteer Center, spends around $78,000 and 1,500 volunteer hours per year to rid of graffiti just in the unincorporated parts of the county, according to program coordinator Larah Connell. She adds that they have installed some murals in frequently tagged locations, including one on Soquel Drive between Rio Del Mar and Freedom boulevards.
Reinhold is waiting, paint at the ready, should more local decision makers wake up to this possibility.
Additionally, “murals have a voice, and [create a] sense of ownership and pride within the community,” he says. “People grow up looking at a mural their whole lives and it’s inspiring.”
This begins as soon as paint hits the wall, in Reinhold’s experience.
“It’s so beautiful,” he says of the process. “It’s the most fun thing I could imagine doing. You’re out on the street, and every type of person is walking by. Maybe half glance up and keep walking, but a small percentage will stop and want to talk to you and ask you questions and learn about what you’re doing. And an even smaller percentage will take it into their own hands—this being part of their neighborhood, they’re going to get to know you, become your friend, bring you food, bring you drinks, hang out and ask if you need help.”
For the artist, murals are the best form of advertising. “One always leads to the next,” says Reinhold, adding that the mural inside Louie’s Cajun Kitchen & Bourbon Bar in Downtown Santa Cruz, which he created with Marino, Pfotenhauer and Carl Quale, gets the MFC the most attention.
He is chomping at the bit to do public murals with themes of his own choosing, something that hasn’t transpired for him yet. The aforementioned troubles he’s witnessing through teaching are some topics he would like to tackle, along with environmental issues like genetically engineered food, fracking, and animal poaching. (In general, sustainability is an increasing focus of the MFC’s work, from switching from plastisol inks to soy- and water-based varieties for clothing to recycling spray cans—which are too toxic for even the dump—by making art from the cans themselves.)
Watsonville is breeding interesting, exciting street art, in Reinhold’s view, “because they have kids fighting for it.” He has his fingers crossed that Santa Cruz—the artsy progressive community that it thinks it is—will loosen up and embrace edgier types of public art, as well.
“There are good murals out there, but a lot of the time I feel like it has to be surf related or a nice, neat postcard Santa Cruz message,” he says. “It’s very curated. We’re not open hippies who say ‘yes, go paint! Do anything!’ Downtown Pacific Avenue should have every inch painted. Why not?”
CONNECT WITH TAYLOR
See his First Friday exhibit, alongside the work of Selena Zontos, at Smooth Body Lounge in March. 2345 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 420-3262, smoothsantacruz.com.
Visit Andrew Pastor’s new store/gallery, Natural Motion Art Collective, where Reinhold’s paintings, prints and T-shirts are for sale. 3912 Portola Drive, Ste. 2.
Learn about screen-printing from Reinhold during workshops at the Museum of Art & History on Feb. 22 and, for teens, at the Feb. 28 Teen Nite. Learn more at santacruzmah.org.
Look for Reinhold at the fifth annual California Roots Music
and Arts Festival May 23-25 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, where he will be a featured artist, live painting on stage for three hours each day. Learn more at californiarootsfestival.com.
For information on other MFC crewmembers, events, and for image galleries and videos, visit madefreshcrew.wordpress.com or search for Made Fresh Collective on Facebook. And keep an eye out for an in-the-works Made Fresh Collective documentary.
Watch time-lapse videos of Reinhold and the MFC hard at work on murals below.