Q&A: birdO talks street art and wildlife conservation

World-renowned street artist birdO has spent the past decade bringing nature into cities with his breathtaking murals that can be spotted across Canada and around the globe. Now he’s teaming up with WWF-Canada to protect the nature he loves with WWF-Canada’s Wildest Ride Contest.

The grand prize winner will drive away with an electric vehicle that birdO will make one-of-a-kind by painting a custom piece of wildlife-inspired artwork on the roof of the car. Purchase tickets before August 26 at 11:59 p.m. ET for your chance to win.

We spoke to birdO about his artistic inspirations, passion for wildlife and partnership with WWF-Canada.

“This piece was fun to create because we were dangling off a tower building in midtown Toronto. The neighbourhood it is named after (Deer Park) is great as it has direct access to the ravine system. A great reminder that Toronto is greener than it appears on the surface.” © Jerry Rugg

In one sentence, how would you describe your art?
Surreal geometric creatures.

Most of your work features animals. What about them inspires you?
As an artist, it’s so important to stay inspired by your subject matter. There is a near infinite catalogue of creatures so when I’m presented with strange and unusual surface types, I’m easily able to match that with a potentially strange and unusual creature that can fit the space in a way I’m after.

“Painted in Shanghai, China as a corporate social responsibility initiative. A giant paint company has been refurbishing schools each year and evolved into an art and mentorship activation.” © Jerry Rugg

Also, with that massive array of animals, I’m presented with such a great opportunity to always paint new things and try new techniques. Lastly, as someone who presents work in the public realm, I don’t seek to ruffle any feathers (eye roll). A particular animal can have little to no meaning locally or have a great deal of relation to the community. I love having that flexibility when I’m proposing work.

When did you start doing street art and how has your work evolved over the years?
My interest in the artform began while growing up on the prairies. I would see graffiti travel on freight trains and it fascinated me. Like anything, I was terrible at first. The essence of a lot of my older work still exists stylistically, but (hopefully) the improvements show via technique.

How do you choose locations for your art and what you paint where?
My artist brain gravitates to creative challenges and opportunities to set new personal benchmarks. Larger buildings to paint, strange surfaces like rooftops or basketball courts. I like to pursue things that frighten me, to be honest. I’m so fortunate to be able to integrate into a community when I paint in one, if only temporarily. Completed murals in West Baltimore, or the country of Jordan for example, presented me each with so much new perspective.

Where in Canada — and around the world — can fans find your work?
Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Moncton, Saskatoon, Sault Ste Marie, Los Angeles, Miami, Detroit, Shanghai, and in Puerto Rico to name a few.

“A partnership with PROJECT BACKBOARD and Toronto Community Housing in Scarborough, Ontario. We were able to refurbish an old court and mentor community youth to create the artwork, hoping to inspire community strength, ownership, and creative thinking.” © Jerry Rugg

Why do you choose to keep your face anonymous by wearing a mask?
To paraphrase the great Ashton Kutcher, “Nowadays, privacy is more valuable than celebrity.”

What role do you think artists have in the conservation movement?
I’ve been fortunate to work with ocean conservationists that have committed their lives to it. That’s not going to be a feasible option for many, but I think we all find ourselves in a time where we have to start allocating some of our “bandwidth” to conservation. Some artists have large platforms or influence, and they could use a portion of that to speak to conservation. While others could find ways to evolve their consumption habits or materials usage.

Lastly, why did you decide to partner with WWF-Canada to create an original work of art for our Wildest Ride contest winner?
The urgency alarms have been ringing louder and louder when it comes to sustainability. That said, I’m always happy to offer my point-of-view when I can and the Wildest Ride creative opportunity is intriguing. WWF-Canada is an organization I’ve looked up to for a long time. It’s an honour, really.

Buy tickets now for your chance to win a one-of-a-kind electric vehicle painted by birdO. All proceeds from WWF-Canada’s Wildest Ride Contest directly support projects across Canada that are restoring habitat, combating climate change and conserving a growing number of species at risk.