Photographs & Words by Damon Landry for Paradigm Magazine
I began noticing what I thought were small Lego toys glued up on the streets sometime in mid 2011 around Northern Liberties, Olde City and the areas in between while hunting for other street art. Upon closer inspection, I saw they were tagged and had some modifications to the heads of the tiny toys. I was immediately taken and began looking for more (very similar to how I felt when I discovered the “Phantom Soldier Meditation Project”: pink toy soldiers found about a year earlier. I spent many hours walking the streets looking in all nooks and crannies). It wasn’t too long before I started seeing sticker work on the streets here and there as well, and learned the tag was “Air Rat”…awesome! I had no idea what that meant but I liked the idea of re-appropriating an iconic toy/brand and using it for street art and once I found out the tag was being used across several mediums, I really was digging it.
At some point I met the artist, first through Flickr and then in person and learned that the little legos were in fact molds he had made of the original piece and later modified, hand painted and then installed out on the streets. (Even better!) There were larger molded items at shows not related to Lego as well as some very cool small gallery shows, and some very cool live art jams at Tattooed Mom’s in the past two years as well as the continuing evolution of his street art across several mediums such as aerosol/spray painted wall pieces more in line with traditional ‘graffiti’, wood burning pieces installed, various sticker styles, traditional paint pen tags and, of course, the tiny lego men are still going up now and then on the streets.
I would not call Air Rat “one dimensional” in the least, which can be a problem with just doing stickers after a while, in my opinion. There are also a few commissioned art pieces in the mural style up out there as well which certainly showcase an almost immediately recognizable style. One of the only mediums/styles I have not seen from Air Rat out on the streets is wheat paste, but perhaps someday.
I think Air Rat is one very colorful component of the Philly street art scene that seems to focus on working on small pieces that hide in plain sight out on the streets, just awaiting discovery. Air Rat calls himself a hater, which is funny but, man, the lad seems to also be an endless well of local graffiti artist knowledge too…awesome. .
If you ever get the chance, and are into this type of thing…go upstairs at Tattooed Mom’s, as Air Rat seems to be all over the walls up there!
More of Air Rat’s work on my Flickr stream …