Grant Palma stands across from Baker Center on a crisp fall afternoon amid a worn-out tarp, about 15 cans of spray paint and a variety of plastic bags when he shouts to a crowd of passersby across the street, “Quick, what is a color that you like? Or three? Three is good. Name three colors.”
Slightly caught off guard, the people passing by pause before a woman responds: “Lavender, turquoise and black.”
“I need one more,” Palma replies.
“Pink!” comes the response.“So we've got red, purple and blue because I don't have pink, I have no lavender. I have a little turquoise but it's more for shading,” Palma says to himself, chuckling a bit at the complexity of the pedestrian’s color choices. For it is not the interior designer’s Pantone wheel of colors, nor is it the fine stroke of Michelangelo's brush dipped in oil paint. It is street art.
Popularized by artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey, both of whom inspired Palma, street art is a form of art that is created in public places and often defies conventional art values. In the form of public performance art, pieces can emerge in front of a viewer’s eyes.
“Street art is almost like its own performance. It is the peek behind the curtain; it's the magic with the explanation,” Palma, a freshman studying biology from Westerville, said. “You see this blank canvas and in as little as five minutes in some cases, you see these extravagant portraits of different worlds and scenes.”
Most that meet Palma on the street aren’t introduced to him as Grant, however, but as “Roman Artiderue.” The name has two parts. “Artiderue,” he said, comes from the French phrase “artiste de rue,” which literally means “street artist.” Roman comes from his love of painting the Roman Colosseum.
Palma uses spray paint and stencils for most of his pieces, sometimes making cutouts of a colosseum or other objects, but he often uses can lids to form circles on the canvases, creating shapes that might eventually emerge as planets in a starry night sky.
When he starts his paintings, Palma said he usually doesn’t know what will turn out in the end.
“I wave my arms around, see what’s fun and keep making more of it,” Palma said. “I call it hectic, which it is. But it's weird, it's like this fluid motion of myself creating fluid things with solid objects.”
Working in layers, Palma sprays layer upon layer of paint over stencils. He can then scrape off layers of paint with a plastic bag or knife to reveal coats of paint below.
Multiple spectators were intrigued at how the final product came out after what they witnessed. John Seeley, who came from Santa Clarita, California, to visit his son, stopped for almost half an hour while Palma worked on a double painting for him and his son, Jack. Each took a painting as a “bond” between dad and son.
“He can see the end product. I can’t see anything except for what I’m seeing right now,” Seeley said. “The vision is completely different for us. That’s what makes him an artist and not me.”
Although Palma is a biology major and hopes to study cancer, he said his art feels “beautifully freeing” and found his interest after taking an art class in high school.
“I actually didn't think I was capable of anything artistic at all,” Palma said.
Palma sells his paintings for $5 a piece or $10 for a larger size. It is about his ninth week making street art, usually painting on Fridays, but at first, it was a challenge for Palma to get the attention of people walking by.
“It took hours to sell two paintings,” Palma said. “People saw cans and they were not enticed. And then I started lighting stuff on fire, which got interesting.”
That’s the method Palma uses to dry his paintings quickly: He’ll light a lighter and spray it with a spray paint can to essentially create an impromptu blow torch. He’s also started calling out to people on the streets, instead of simply sitting with a sign as he did at the start.
“Hey, can I interest anyone in a painting that I just finished? Cheap, quick! It's done,” Palma called out.
Now, he has sold 15 or 20 and created almost double that amount, including the ones he’s given to people as gifts.
Kelsey Jackson, a freshman studying English, met Palma through one of her classes and now has two of his paintings hanging in her room.
“I like how he does space-themed (paintings),” Jackson said. “You watch him and you don’t really know what he’s doing, and then he’ll take off the stencils and just reveal this picture he’s made and you’re, like, ‘damn, OK.’ ”
Palma said at the end of the day, his art isn’t primarily about the money or the show. It’s just relaxing.
“It lets me just focus on what I'm doing and kind of just drops everything else out, like the stress for my next exam, how I did on my previous tests, exams, essays, requirements, books, the studying,” Palma said. “It all just kind of peels away when I do this.”