The thing about street art is that even though the artist starts with an initial vision and a certain aesthetic, the work is constantly changing after they walk away. It gets weathered by elements, tagged by other graffiti artists, and recontextualized by ever-shifting neighborhood dynamics. It’s never done. Every second it’s up, it has the potential to evolve.
Street artist Awe2 is inspired by that unpredictable nature. By the creative chaos of it all. His art is a story that he starts to tell before a million other factors (and lives) come into play, spinning the narrative in a new direction.
“One of my favorite things is to paint a train, and then watch it as it goes through the country over a decade,” he says. “I watch how it ages, and where people find it. It’s just an amazing story that your art tells.”
The Milwaukee born painter, now based in Atlanta, caught the graffiti bug early. It was dangerous and therefore thrilling. It stoked a creative fire in him. He started on the scene ten years ago and that passion has only grown ever since. He’s become known for putting his signature on freight trains and he’s in a crew, TCI, that paints trains all over the country. They push each other and the artistic envelope.
Awe2 finds inspiration in that community, and in the community of his adopted city.
“I’ve lived all over the country,” he says. “But Atlanta is by far the most interesting city I’ve ever lived in.”
So the street artist was excited when the app TikTok — a social platform that has quickly become a world leader in building authentic communities of likeminded creators — asked him to design a mural that would both reflect his own journey and act as a love letter to Atlanta.
“I was really excited because they basically gave us free rein to design what we wanted, as long as it went with their theme of ‘Daring to Be’,” he says. “So, I just dove right in — mixing my ideas about how graffiti and the whole environment of Atlanta co-exist and feed off each other.”
Awe2 isn’t the only Atlanta-based street artist TikTok is collaborating with this month. They’ve commissioned several of the city’s biggest names to design large-scale murals and work with Overall Murals to take those designs from concept to reality. And while it might not be immediately apparent how an app and the counterculture artform are related, when you go deeper, it makes a lot of sense. Social media has changed the street art landscape completely.
This was on Awe2’s mind as he designed his piece. His art form has exploded in popularity as of late, and social media has a lot to do with that.
“Most of my career was people seeing my work out in public,” he says. “And you actually had to go out and create a whole lot of work and get it out there for people to see. That was the game everybody used to play. We had to send our work out into the wind and hope that it got seen. A lot of times it didn’t.”
These days, people can tag art locations and immortalize an artist’s work to share again and again — even if it’s taken down or covered up. Awe2 can create pieces knowing they’ll be captured. And hashtags allow him to see and interact with the trains that take his art far from Atlanta in an unprecedented way. He can open an app and see his pieces move, breathe, and flourish in front of the beach or the mountains in real time. The validation that street artists used to miss out on, not being able to see people react in a gallery or museum to their work, is now as simple as logging onto an app and seeing his work on the forefront of culture.
Viewed through that lens, the TikTok collab is a slam dunk. The app is helping define today’s youth culture by encouraging people to share without fear — whether that’s silly, eclectic, sexy, or vulnerable. And while older generations may see that as oversharing, Awe2 recognizes that boldness and appreciates it. He knows how it benefits his artform.
“I just think it’s amazing,” he says. “Even like five years ago, I never would’ve imagined the state of things today in street art. But it’s my generation coming up in the world and getting into a position where we have a say in what we want to see around us — something that’s more free and artistic. And something that people can relate to. That’s one of the joys of my work.”
Check out Awe2’s mural of his artistic journey and then check out more of the TikTok/Atlanta collabs here.