“Momma Raised a Fool; An Interview With Sentrock”

To kick off the opening of his solo sketch show, “Momma Raised a Fool”, I asked Sentrock a few questions about his newest body of work, the boy behind the bird mask, and his connection to youth arts in Chicago. (Pictured above: “Run A Muck” by Sentrock.)

  1. Tell me about the title of the show, ‘Momma Raised a Fool.’ Where does it come from and how did it become the backbone of the show?

It was a play off the old phrase I’ve heard before “Momma didn’t raise no fool.” I felt like the way I was brought up– the environments and situations–defined my character. Like I went against the odds. If society made my community feel a certain way about our lifestyle, I just wanted to embrace that and show that our voices matter no matter if it seems foolish, that there is value there. 

2. What can people expect from this show that they haven’t seen from you before? Why sketches? Why now?

   People can expect an authentic display of an artist’s inspiration. Not the polished version or the large scale mural, but the source of where a lot of my ideas come from; the blueprint to my work. Sketches are the foundation to my work, they are what spark the next project or idea. I wanted to do this at this time because it gave me an opportunity to be vulnerable, be honest and step outside my “brand” for a moment. 

“Produce” by Sentrock

3. In an interview with Sixty Inches From Center, you said you’ve been a long admirer of street art and that’s what influenced you to start practicing graffiti around age 14. Wildly impressive, by the way. How did you maneuver the large controversy surrounding street art at such a young age? Did you realize it, then? Did it shape the way you created?

Like I mentioned before, how I grew up shaped the lens I saw the world. My pops was in and out of jail and prison, my mom used to bang for her neighborhood, both didn’t graduate high school or go to college, so for me art was my escape. It was my freedom from certain paths I saw in front of me. The first time I got in trouble for graffiti in school, my mom went and got me a board to practice on. She basically said If I’m gonna do it, I might as well be good at it. The controversy from street art/graffiti seemed like an innocent child’s play compared to the stuff me and family saw and went through growing up in West Phoenix. 

4. Let’s talk about the boy in the bird mask. He makes an appearance in almost every mural you’ve completed. From what I understand, he started as a nod to your home town of Phoenix— aka “Bird City”—and has grown to represent this idea that escape is possible. A monumental image for many young people in Chicago. What kind of responses have you gotten from the community? Have you started a movement? A brand? Maybe both?

It started off as me painting goofy street art-style birds. As a kid, I was just fascinated by birds– there were dogs and birds in the hood. I used to get chased by dogs and the birds were peaceful. I would look up and think how dope that was. Just to get away, whenever you wanted. I wanted to show the humanity behind the characters, so I made them into masks. I feel the masks are more like a superhero costume, but people have said they felt like someone was hiding behind the masks. I get an overwhelming response from the community because people can relate to the message, it’s almost like a symbol or an icon at this point. I started a visual narrative sharing this story and it has become a cultural brand. 

6. I understand you came to Chicago and attended Columbia College for a period before branching out on your own. For young people who may not have the opportunity to attend college or trade, your story can be as inspiring as the boy in the bird mask. The message that roads to success look different for everyone. What was your thought process for taking the steps that you did? Why was it the right choice for you?

It’s about direction and projection; understand where you want to be and take steps to get there. I saw art school as a necessary step, maybe not the ONLY step but a step in the direction I wanted to go. There is no right or wrong in this, it’s just about finding what you want, giving yourself the momentum to get there. 

“Another Day” by Sentrock

7. Street art and graffiti is sometimes construed as a ‘crime’ when it’s a hobby, but an art form as a profession. That can be confusing for young, aspiring artists who want to pursue it. Is there any advice you can give them?

I can’t give moral advice. I can only facilitate or expose the next generation to finding what they need to say and how to say it. For me, I say what I feel in the moment, maybe that’s a mural, maybe it’s a tshirt design, a random wall, or maybe a room full of my sketches. 

8. You’ve been involved with the National Museum of Mexican Art after school program and have taught art classes through CPS. Why is it important to you to work with Chicago youth? What has Chicago’s youth taught you? How has Chicago’s youth informed your work? 

It’s an obligation I have. Someone came to my school as a kid and introduced me to art and mural painting. If that person didn’t come to my school at that time in my life, I’m really not sure I would be where I am today. Chicago culture has shown the value of art, my art and the art of the students. It’s not just a hobby but a necessity. It’s about the quality of life, Chicago has a history that has built a trail for a lot of creatives to travel on. 

9. How has being ordered to stay off the streets impacted your art and your creative process?

I made all the sketches during this period. I guess it has allowed my introverted side to be embraced. I want to be outside but it’s giving me time to be introspective.

10. How have you been staying connected to the community during the COVID-19 crisis?

I try to give people opportunities to be a part of my art. Whether that means a mural about being “In This Together” or creating art for people to purchase during this time, it’s important. People are at home and need their home to feel like home. I am designing a few pieces of clothing wherein the profits will benefit local organizations, and also hosting a design contest for up and coming artists. 

“Bail Money” by Sentrock

11. Do you think this crisis will alter the future of street art and graffiti? If so, how? 

I really don’t know. I know a lot of murals and projects are on hold or have been canceled. I know on a street level, it’s going to create an angst to get out and communicate. 

12. What has kept you happy during this time? 

My studio. Being able to have a safe space to create. The community, supporting the artists, and supporting the gallery owners working with artists during this time. My wife, making me cappuccinos to keep me going. Seinfeld and The Office reruns.

“Momma Raised a Fool” will run May 16th-June 6th at the Elephant Room art gallery, 704 S. Wabash Ave. The health and safety of visitors to the gallery is important to us. The exhibition will only be open online, and in-person viewing appointments will become available once stay at home orders are lifted. Please go to our online shop to view the full exhibition and zines. 

Interview by Taylor Imel, Gallery Assistant

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