By JR Valrey, the Minister of Information
In the spirit of Black New World Media giving people their flowers to smell before they die, I have to introduce a legendary artist from Oakland, who has gone virtually unnamed among the great muralists of the area. This is the man that is responsible for the Nipsey Hustle mural, located by the lake. He is responsible for the iconic Black Panther Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale mural, right across the street from the Oakland Police station, and that is just to name a few of his aerosol creations. I sat with muralist Timothy Bluit, to talk about murals, culture, and his very interesting history. Check him out in his own words.
JR Valrey: After growing up in East Oakland, what made you want to become a muralist?
Tim B: From playing ball at the Rainbow Center, attending after school programs at the YMCA, engaging in family festivities every Sunday over dinner, after church, to riding around smoking blunts with my cousins while consuming stories of the dope era through musical lenses; inspired me to take pride in what I do, and represent something bigger than myself. Growing up in Oakland and other parts of the Bay Area influenced my creative content, but as for my muralist career, I was inspired by my street artist homies along with the hustle of tattooing. It wasn’t until I moved back to the East, in 2013, when I saw myself as a street artist. I saw a need for my expertise when I began to see that my people weren’t being represented in the spaces that were created by us. Growing up in The Town, I don’t remember seeing many murals in my younger days other than the piece on Lakeside and Grand underneath the freeway or the giraffes in my old stomping grounds on Harrison and Mac. Occasionally, I’ll run across some raw graffiti when I was in Frisco, specifically in the Mission and H.P. area but not so much in The Town. Most of my inspiration to become a muralist came from my interactions with artists who didn’t grow up here, but who traveled internationally and shared with me their artistic experiences.
JR Valrey: What murals and muralists inspired you?
Tim B: Currently, I’ve been inspired by artists like Max Sansing, the Aerosol crew out of West Oakland, Aniekan Reloaded, BMike from N.O, Cbabi from St. Louis, and many more I can’t think of at the moment.
JR Valrey: How did you acquire the wall to paint the Nipsey Hussle mural by the Lake? What made you paint an LA Hip Hop icon on an Oakland wall?
Tim B: I was inspired by my auntie. When everything had taken place, Auntie called me asking me to paint a Nip mural. Since college, I’ve been moved by the words of Nip, but didn’t know his influence within the Town. So, I wasn’t initially with the idea. Also, I didn’t want to ride the wave of someone’s death. I saw it was a trend to paint Nip’s portrait, and didn’t want to fall into that. It didn’t seem genuine to paint his image for likes on social media. But after a month of persuasion, my Auntie and Ankh offered to contribute the funding of the project. During that month, I was also able to hear and witness Nip’s influence over the Town. Everywhere I went, I heard his voice. Nip was more than a LA symbol, he represented someone who succeeded and contributed that success back into his community. He embodied a character display that many of us should strive to resemble.
Obtaining the wall was simple, I pulled up on the owner with a design superimposed on their wall with a 30-40 second pitch on why they needed this piece on their property. They happened to be Eritrean as well, so selling my script was a cakewalk. They immediately gave me the green light.
JR Valrey: How did you acquire the wall to create one of the most iconic Black Panther murals in Oakland, across the street from the Oakland Police station where the two officers shot by Huey, one killed, worked decades ago; leading to the birth of the nationwide “Free Huey Movement”, and explosion of the Black Panther Party on the international scene?
Tim B: The wall came to me organically. I was introduced to the owner through a mutual friend who admired my work, and offered his wall to paint. Granted, he didn’t have much of a budget, so over the course of 6-7 months, I fundraised through community outreach along with selling art to fund the Black Panther Project.
JR Valrey: How have people responded to this mural in particular? Why was this mural important to you?
Tim B: People love this mural! From the responses, I’ve gotten through IG and those who crossed my path when working on it. I think the piece was highlighted on the news as well, so people must be feeling the paint.
When I think of the Black Panthers, I think of the Breakfast program, the health clinics, neighborhood police patrolling, Black men and womyn (women) standing in solidarity towards a common cause with dignity (to say the least). The Panthers demanded space. They demanded to be heard and respected.
During the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor protest, I heard people passively chanting “Black Lives Matter”, “I can’t breathe!”, and etc, with smiles on their faces and a loose fist in the air. It looked and sounded passive, as though people were outside to be seen as activists, but wasn’t about the cause.
I felt that we needed a reminder of those who put everything on the line for their community. My mission was to expose “performative activism” of its bullshit by depicting through imagery, an organization that was really about creating change. I’m tired of seeing my people be passive, when it comes to demanding space, and taking these matters lightly. I’m hoping the Panther mural inspires people to question their intentions when in these spaces, and gives them the mobility to do more than walk around screaming “I can’t breathe”, in front of department stores hoping to be heard.
JR Valrey: What do you want your murals to say to the people that look at them?
Tim B: Every mural inspires a different story, but my goal as a muralist is to remind those of the diaspora of the strength, beauty, and the life we hold and give to this world. We are the seasoning that spices up the soup, without us, this world would be flavorless. I hope people walk away from my murals with a greater sense of their self, inspiration, and love of where they stem from. For those who come from a non-indigenous background, I hope they gain a love and respect for the Black experience, and do what they can to ally with the movement toward the progression of Black futures everywhere.
JR Valrey: What murals are you currently working on/ or have worked on? Where are they?
Tim B: Currently, I’m working with the Warriors and their Peaceful Warriors Program in collaboration with Adobe to create a series of superheroic murals around the Bay Area for local elementary schools. I just finished a piece at East Oakland Pride Elementary, and will be done with a couple of murals at Starr King Elementary by the end of the day. Next, I’m scheduled to appear in Watsonville to work on my final piece for the project at StarLight Elementary school.
JR Valrey: How do you choose what murals you will paint, versus what you will pass on?
Tim B: I choose my projects based on budget, creative freedom, and the purpose behind it. If the client’s goals don’t align with my mission, then I’ll pass it on to another artist.
JR Valrey: How do people keep up with you?
Tim B: People can connect with me via Instagram: @TimothyB_Art, my email: TimothyBeArt@Gmail.com and they can help me fundraise for my next projects via Venmo: @TimothyB_Art and cash app: @TimBluitt$