Keeping things Fresh

Hunched over a cup of coffee, local artist Marc Fresh fingers the rubber “eS” brand pendant that hangs over his black shirt. It’s the kind of doodle Shel Silverstein could have cranked out in his sleep. “Look how simple this design is,” he says. “And everyone wants whatever little thing he draws. I mean, how do you get to that point where you draw something stupid and people think it’s awesome?” How does an artist blow up, Fresh wants to know.

But first: let’s talk about wheatpaste.

Essentially wallpaper glue, this inexpensive flour-and-water mixture has been used for centuries to hang everything from circus posters and bills for boxing matches to anti-globalization propaganda. Sitting in the trunk of Fresh’s car is a five-gallon container of the stuff. Keeping wheatpaste handy allows Fresh some spontaneity when plastering colorful painted paper creations on his public canvases of choice. Those would be the derelict buildings and blighted overpasses of Baton Rouge.

“It’s got to be a creative spot where the character would look good,” says the 27-year-old Slidell native. “It has to be dilapidated, closed down and boarded up.”

By day, Fresh sells lids at Hat Shack and works at a board shop called Rukus. By night, he paints new characters, and every couple months he sneaks out to hang his latest work in unusual public spaces. The train track overpass near City Park is one of his favorite locations. Fresh knows when one of his pieces becomes popular, too—and where his friends are driving—by the torrent of text messages a new character can trigger.

Creased high-school notebooks contain Fresh’s first cartoon sketches, including a primordial version of one of his most iconic characters: the bald, puffy-faced ne’er-do-well with a bulging forehead, cheeks and lips. Most girls, Fresh says, think that one’s too scary. He’s been making cuter characters lately, each rendered in bright neon or primary colors. Fresh loves his work to contrast with the environment. “I hope people driving by can’t not notice it,” Fresh says. “The duller the area the brighter the color needs to be. It’s a beautification process almost.”

Always drawn to urban art, Fresh says he’s never been interested in painting landscapes or trees. For the most part, Fresh’s street pieces recall the freewheeling psychedelia of 1970s rock-art giants Stanley Mouse and Bob Thomas—both worked extensively with the Grateful Dead—and the prismatic pages of Juxtapoz magazine.

His work has appeared in regional galleries from New Orleans to Lafayette, and last year Fresh launched a clothing line of original T-shirts and painted shoes and baseball caps. He called it Never Rotten.

“That’s the thing,” the artist says. “My style is always evolving. It’s always fresh, never rotten. T-shirts are just an easy way to buy art.”

Fresh’s shirts, often called “Freshies,” are available in Baton Rouge at Storyville Apparel, Purple Monkey and Rukus, and in Lafayette at Politics. His LSU-themed “Tiger Cub” tee can be seen on co-eds across campus on game days. But for now, Fresh’s public art still snags the most attention. And for that he is unapologetic—and not afraid of the law cracking down.

“If the owners are going to let their buildings sit and rot, they obviously don’t care,” Fresh says. “So it’s cool to add something new and vibrant to it to brighten things up. That’s all I’m doing.” marcfresh.blogspot.com