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A Visit With Street Artist ROA, Readying For 'Metazoa'

04/08/2015 11:29 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

It's unusual to capture a ROA inside. He is usually running free outdoors with the wildlife, climbing walls over multiple continents, perched within the industrialized margins of cities and rustling around the overgrown brush of rural regions.

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

By his own account ROA favors the hard to cover pockmarked and scarred surfaces, preferably outside and large in scale when possible. But once in a while you will find his animal kingdom in the more rarified environs of the whitebox, if only briefly before he hops a plane to Denmark to paint a tower.

For his first solo show with New York's Jonathan Levine Gallery, ROA has managed to domesticate himself for a few weeks to restrict his activities in a New Jersey studio with discarded cabinets, doors, metal shelves, and a stack of vinyl platters. The platters of course are for spinning on his improvised temporary sound station, newly discovered and freed from crates at music stores in New York.

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

"I have filled a lot of holes in my collection," he says as he scans this sudden new trove of vintage records that span genres across the last 50 years or so. They keep him great company. Of course he knows he'll have to ship them home to Belgium, and they aren't quite as light as mp3 files. At the base of the turntable he has them arranged in groupings: Rock, Blues and Jazz, Hip Hop and Reggae. Somehow it feels good to know that these new metazoan have come into existence while The Velvet Underground or Nina Simone or Screaming Jay Hawkins or Easy-E were laying down the soundtrack.

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

This studio at Mana Contemporary has been a godsend and refuge during these freezing cold weeks -- made more shocking since he had been in Honolulu just before flying here. But needless to say the lack of outdoor distractions has assisted the artist to focus on these new installations -- 15 or more - that go on display at JLG.

With the help of a couple of fellow street artists ROA has been scouring Jersey City for discarded cabinets and scraps of wood to use as canvasses, or sculptures. The most successful find, he says, happened the first night where he ran across a cache of old office wooden cabinets that were all in a pile and ready to be trashed.

Within the spoils he found a very old wooden key cabinet with doors and brass hinges. That made him happy. Unfortunately the rest of the scavenging has been a bit tough due to the inclement weather -- freezing temperatures and snow. Now that spring is emerging he paints with ease across the wooden assemblages and checks his original sketches as he goes.

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Finally they are ready to go, and ROA says he's a little anxious as he packs up his new pets to be shipped the eight miles to the Chelsea gallery. Once they are gone he can make no more changes so he wants to make sure they are finished.

There is also a slight chance that he may have grown attached to one or two of them as well. When they are carefully packed and picked up by the art handlers, ROA is relieved, glad they are out of his hands, hopefully to migrate into new worlds. Given the number of times we have featured and followed his work over the years, we're confident that most of these animals will find homes soon.

Here are some shots that capture the moment when some of the larger pieces were getting packed, and only certain details of them. Enjoy.

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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ROA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

ROA "Metazoa" Opens April 4, 2015 at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery. Click HERE for details.

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