UP2 - The Spirit of Adventure: Dripped on the Road

Written by Tyler Bruett

Denton Burrows and Johnathan Neville, the founders of Dripped On Productions, have succeeded in turning their passion for street art into an established business. Based out of New York City, their company brings knowledge and talent to a varied clientele, specializing in expert consultation for the design and execution of dynamic murals. Dripped On Productions frequently collaborates with fellow artist and friend, Ramiro Davaros-Comas, enveloping his skills and expertise into the fold. Together, they make a team of well-educated and veteran artists who have been working on projects together throughout the northeast region for years, bringing their flavor to the world around them. However, it wasn’t until 2016 that Davaros-Comas approached the founders of the company with the idea to cater to artists whose work, much like their own, is born from an urban environment – graffiti writers, street artists, illustrators, and muralists – with an opportunity they aren’t usually eligible for: an artists’ residency program. It would be built onto Dripped On Productions, aptly named Dripped On The Road. After settling into interview formation around a circular white table, Burrows, Neville and I listened intently as Ramiro Davaros-Comas described its inception:

“The idea was birthed in the summer of 2016, I approached them when they were on a couple different projects in Williamsburg, we had talked a little bit about it; like they said, they had hired me to do a couple projects. I had directed and been a part of artist residency programs before, and it just kind of made sense for the art production company that they were running to also have a residency program built off it. Just because of all the different connections and outlets we could have for the artists. So, basically, in November of 2016, we had our first trip. We had our first residency program and since then we have had five projects that we’ve done, travelled around ten thousand miles, and painted collectively, from small walls to huge walls, like around 90 murals.”

Dripped on the Road Crew – Fall 2016

Sitting with these artists was a surreal circumstance for me. Having just finished my first year in NYC, I spent most of my days at the Greenpoint Gallery, where I work most of the week. There have been weekly shows at the gallery through the fall and spring seasons for the past sixteen years. It’s a non-profit organization that seeks to elevate artists, from every medium and discipline, including street artists. I came to know these artists through the curator of the gallery, Shawn James, who they know personally. James pointed out that they were some of the best artists to have come through the gallery. They’ve shown at the gallery in the past, and Burrows currently holds the record for most work sold at a show. They’ve even painted murals on two sides of the building. The work of Burrows, Neville, and Davaros-Comas has a special place in my life because of these murals. I’ve passed by them every single day, and I’ve come to associate them with my endeavors in the city thus far, the work I’ve done in the Greenpoint Gallery, and the goals I have for myself. Since the walls are painted on the building where many pivotal moments have occurred for me, I like to think they symbolize my aspirations. When Burrows, Neville, and Davaros-Comas entered the gallery for the interview, they walked through the space eagerly and asked, “Where’s Shawn?” They were evidently happy to be back. Once we sat down, I could tell they were as comfortable as they could be for an interview. They knew when and how to speak with each other.

“The idea was birthed in the summer of 2016, I approached them when they were on a couple different projects in Williamsburg, we had talked a little bit about it; like they said, they had hired me to do a couple projects. I had directed and been a part of artist residency programs before, and it just kind of made sense for the art production company that they were running to also have a residency program built off it. Just because of all the different connections and outlets we could have for the artists. So, basically, in November of 2016, we had our first trip. We had our first residency program and since then we have had five projects that we’ve done, travelled around ten thousand miles, and painted collectively, from small walls to huge walls, like around 90 murals.”

Taking the idea of a street artists residency head on, Dripped On The Road is comprised of directors Denton Burrows, Johnathan Neville and Ramiro Davaros-Comas, two hand-picked artists, a videographer, and John’s dog, all pack into the back of an RV with some sleeping bags and several crates of paint. The group take off from New York City, travelling throughout the northeast, the south, and the Midwest, to link up with their contacts and paint as much of America as possible. “We’ve been to almost every state east of the Mississippi,” Burrows told me. Neville added, “Louisiana and Mississippi are the only ones we haven’t been to.”

Dripped on the Road Crew – Fall 2018

They camp in between cities, and while camping, prepare artwork for a gallery show at the end of the trip. It’s the grand finale to the whole experience. Throughout the trip, the directors work with the resident artists on various large-scale projects, while the videographer documents the entire endeavor for a web-series. Burrows described the original concept of the program, explaining, “it’s a complete flip on the traditional concept of a residency, in the way that it’s not like the artist has this isolated room in some place where they don’t leave it and it’s peaceful. It’s very intense, you show up and you have three days to paint that mural. No matter what happens. We believe that that sort of experience will make them a better artist. And I would say in every case, that’s been true.”

Acceptance, opportunity, and sharing from experience were not the only thing on the directors’ minds when creating the program. They were searching for a unique and challenging project to give themselves and their artists. This led them to consider their environment. They realized that New York City may not be the best place for this. The directors wanted to put the resident artists out of their element and observe how their creative process changes, and for them to learn from that experience. Despite the depth and diversity of New York, it still provides just one environment, and the directors thought it might make the residence too comfortable for the artists. As Burrows put it, “the concept of going from an urban environment and painting, and then experiencing the change in the ground in the next urban environment, while also removing yourself from the city by camping in the middle, is sort of a cool thing to do to an artist. That’s the effect we want to have on our residents.” And the directors cannot stress enough the importance of getting out and seeing the rest of the country.  “We live in the United States,” Davaros-Comas said, “this is by far one of the most beautiful and wide-ranging countries in terms of environment and topography. And we’ve travelled it and we want to bring that to people, and you must see the country. You absolutely have to, it’s an absolute must, and that’s the spirit of adventure and new things that we bring.”

Art by Denton Burrows / Photo by Zurbaran

The directors of Dripped On The Road like to emphasize the impact being on the road has on the residents, whether it be the situations they encounter, learning about the culture in a part of the country they would have otherwise never seen, or ultimately learning about themselves. Neville stated, “every trip is life changing in a certain way, whether it’s an emotional discovery, like holy shit we’re all really loud, or that we create a shit load of garbage. It could be personal, or environmental, or learning that everybody in America is just trying to figure it the fuck out. I’m from New York City, I’ve never really travelled around more than the typical New York things. So being able to go to these smaller cities, I get to see where other people are from, and better understand things that otherwise I would have a predisposed notion of. I went to those places, I talked to those people, and learned that everybody’s just trying to figure it out. The world is very different in different places. But at the same time, it’s very similar; that we don’t really know what we’re doing, we’re just trying to survive.”

The directors of Dripped On The Road like to emphasize the impact being on the road has on the residents, whether it be the situations they encounter, learning about the culture in a part of the country they would have otherwise never seen, or ultimately learning about themselves.

The residence is intended to be a labor-intensive experience. The directors place the artists under the pressure of a deadline for them to learn how to work together and see the bigger picture, drowning out any lingering self-doubt. “Not all of the artists we bring out are experienced muralists. Some of them haven’t painted that many murals. We believe that they’re going to be able to do it, and then if they need any suggestions or help, we’re all here with our own techniques to help them through it,” Neville said.

Burrows continued: “but that’s also sort of the point of the boot camp aspect. If you’ve never painted a mural, and someone gives you six weeks to paint one mural, you’re going to go through self-doubt and experimentation, but this is like, ‘Oh you’ve never painted a mural? Here’s four days.’ And every time, they did it perfectly.”

Work in Progress by McMonster

The stops on these trips are often back to back, and artists typically spend entire days painting. Destinations are planned ahead of time. “We get one opportunity, and we’re like ‘okay cool, so we have an opportunity in October, so we should do a trip.’ Then we try and formulate as many connections as possible, whether it’s that city or somewhere near it. Just by the success or failure of certain opportunities, your sort of have an idea like ‘okay, these are the five cities that something is happening in,’ and then you plan the most efficient route. Sometimes they don’t care when we come, and sometimes it’s like a festival, and you must be here at least three days, and that would dictate the situation. Every time it’s like a different puzzle,” Neville said. Along the way they give talks at seminars, collaborate with local artists on projects, and do their best to experience each place they visit. Burrows elaborated, “It’s funny because sometimes, people will be like, I mean they’ll appreciate that a bunch of New York artists came there, to do something there and pay attention to that, but that’s not how we look at it. We want to go there. It’s so much more interesting travelling around. It’s saturated here. It’s not like there isn’t quality and awesome stuff and a million things to see all the time and it’s wonderful to be able to live here and be able to be inspired by it, but I’ve been more inspired by some stuff in these smaller cities than anything I’ve ever seen here, living here my whole life.”

Work in Progress by Kit Mizeres

When the work is done, the distance reached, and a few bars and restaurants subdued along the way, the team processes their journey in the wilderness. This is something not all residents have experience with. It’s a constant learning curve; figuring out how to survive when a flash flood strikes, how to replace a carburetor, or how to create work under the pressure of a long-term deadline: painting or drawing for the show at the end of the road. Artists learn what it’s like to live with each other, and through this truly get to know each other. Neville referred to this when describing the initial selection process, “We do send them a little questionnaire to make sure that they’re comfortable and understand the intensity of the trip. That you might go a couple days without a shower, even seeing an opportunity for said shower, you’re going to be in a tent possibly when it’s raining or when it’s thunderstorms or…”

“Or the end of the world,” Burrows interjected.

“Or the end of the world,” Davaros-Comas confirmed.

“One time, John was outside for the end of the world,” Burrows went on to describe one instance of the random natural phenomena that they’ve frequently encountered in the wilderness.

“Yeah, and one time we thought it was the end of the world and it was just a hurricane. Or a generator exploded,” Neville said.

“Oh yeah there’s so many crazy stories, I mean how many ends of the world are we talking about? I thought it was the end of the world during the marathon in Columbus because there was music and people screaming and I thought they’re definitely coming here…” Davaros-Comas began.

Watching Burrows, Neville, and Davaros-Comas go back and forth was fun. It helped me understand the very apparent, deep connection between them. I could feel the positive chemistry, and I couldn’t help but imagine them in action.

Watching Burrows, Neville, and Davaros-Comas go back and forth was fun. It helped me understand the very apparent, deep connection between them. I could feel the positive chemistry, and I couldn’t help but imagine them in action. They got the work done, and they had plenty of fun while they were doing it. I could see them interacting professionally and personally with the artists they worked with, themselves on equal ground with the residents in order to try to give the best performance they can. During their storytelling, Davaros-Comas illustrated the roles they played, “It’s great to have them as partners because they each bring a different quality to the project. Only after travelling with people for so long and being able to take time away and have a retrospective moment, is when you’re like okay we’re all bringing such different unique qualities to this project. I think that’s what makes the project so strong, and so unique in other ways. I graduated from business school, I’m focused on business, that’s why I’m a little more neurotic,” he then went around the table to point at the others, excited that he could state clearly the organization they had brought to life, anchoring it in reality,  “John comes from a community building aspect and he diffuses any problems that would be on the road, with an artist or on the street. He’s really the reason why everyone is sitting around and talking about our mural, because John is there on the street talking with them; and he has a dog, and everyone loves the dog. Then Denton is in charge of driving, so he drives the RV and he makes sure things are safe, things are in order, this is where the paint is, this is where we’re going to go get food, and only by bringing all of those aspects together can you have a successful program like this, because all those moving parts are required for this.” He then went on to offer me a fourth role as the millionaire funder, but unfortunately, I couldn’t fulfill the requirements.

Work in Progress by Grace Land, Fall 206 – Charleston, North Carolina

The camping aspect isn’t always a lesson in resilience. Its main purpose is to serve as a retreat, a time for reflection and relaxation after a long day’s work. Residents emerge calm, cool, collected, and excited to get back on the road. The directors have developed an interesting concept they call “time rich”; Davaros-Comas best described it as, “discovering on the first trip, when you have a day that is that packed, you wake up, you pack all your stuff and you go to a new place, and you eat lunch, you paint, you sketch for the next mural, you drink, you eat dinner again, and then you’re back and everything is in a new place; we kind of came up with a saying that people become time rich during these trips. They can really appreciate the everyday, because after three or four days it feels like you’ve been on the road for a month. After two weeks you’ve been on the road for six months. After forty days, on the first one, we’ve known each other for years, and we’ve been travelling together for twenty years together…”

The directors have developed an interesting concept they call “time rich”; Davaros-Comas best described it as, “discovering on the first trip, when you have a day that is that packed, you wake up, you pack all your stuff and you go to a new place, and you eat lunch, you paint, you sketch for the next mural, you drink, you eat dinner again, and then you’re back and everything is in a new place; we kind of came up with a saying that people become time rich during these trips.

Burrows added, “that’s what personally fucked me up was like the first trip, like I felt like more happened in it than the past year of my life. Without a doubt. Just emotionally, bonding with people, seeing things, new things, there was no repetition. Which is ideally how life would be but it’s pretty impossible.”

Burrows, Neville, and Davaros-Comas want to make the best impact they can, not only on residents, but on each place they visit. They said street art and muralism brings art to the people, illuminating how even the subtlest change in their environment makes a difference in day to day life. Having observed the effect their work has, they’ve been brought back to their own discovery of art and the impact it had on them, reasserting its purpose as something that is supposed to make you feel. It’s meant to move you. The generous nature of muralism, which involves the audience by simply existing in their environment, facilitates an awareness of who you are and where you are. It makes you aware of your impact on the world around you, and you realize the dynamic between you and this impact. This is exactly what they set out to do: to accomplish a sense of living and prosperity, to see the human experience not as a stuffy room, but a great expanse of country, to feel the coexistence between all things within this nation. “I can’t help it,” Burrows began, “there’s sort of a political theme behind this for all of us, because again, the second night of our first trip, Trump was elected. We learned that you can go somewhere that’s a red state, and we would start painting, and the next thing we knew, there were ten or fifteen people standing together who don’t know each other, who might have prejudices against each other, coming together to be like, what the hell is going on?” They told me that this has happened numerous times while they’re painting, and in many different places. The public gets involved, to a degree. Even if they don’t know that much about art, they discuss the mural, and they appreciate it. “the next thing you know they’re friends and there’s this little communal audience. That happened a lot, and it sort of shows, like John was saying, that we’re all just trying to figure it out. Everyone has their own ideas, but public art done correctly pays attention to the place you’re in, and especially where they’re not saturated with it, has the power to really bring people together. I think we always thought that, and that’s why we like doing it, but we didn’t quite get it until we saw it happen so much on these trips.”

Dripped on Mural Production – Miami Art Basel Fall 2016

The directors took their time explaining to me the feeling they get once they’ve finished their work, and how this contributes to their love for art. Standing back from the hours upon hours of designing, communicating, and painting, they look at the finished mural and are awestruck of what they’ve created. What they’ve created is also looking back at them, it’s a part of the world now, and this experience is something they want for their residents as well. They want them to experience the bliss that comes from a hard day’s work, when they can stand back from a giant piece of art and realize the positive impact they’ve made. Neville said about this feeling, “when you see a large-scale mural from the beginning to the end, and you see the completion, it’s just an overwhelming satisfaction. Being in public, you have people there. You see the effect it has on them, and they’re telling you the effect it has on them, and you just do it because you just love it. It’s an absurd feeling. It’s addicting, it’s indescribable.”

The trip’s endings vary, with some resident artists already on their way to another city for a new project, and some wanting to return to New York to showcase there. The correlating exhibit consists of residents showcasing their work they made while camping in the wilderness, drawing influence from locations and situations from the trip to create with the discipline and integrity they’ve gained from working with the directors. Burrows clarified, “It’s location is usually at the end, and the end is not always our choice. You know, it has to do with the opportunities and stuff. it’s been in New York twice because that was sort of the return destination whereas Miami was sort of the end of that one because one of our artists was staying there, forever, they live there.” Davaros-Comas also noted, “It’s kind of like in flux, because it depends on where we land and who the artists are. From a lot of the feedback, our artists love the trip, but they always end up asking: ‘Can I show in New York?’ What we found out is, for their sake, we want to start finding places here in the city to partner with to showcase them. Because that’s really where the audience is for this kind of stuff, and because it’s where we land, and the residents take off.” The directors help their resident artists find walls and gallery space if they’re in New York City, but they maintain the connections they’ve made across the country as well, doing whatever they can to be at the forefront of their craft and further unify the national and international street art scenes.

Work in Progress by Ramiro

The directors have been satisfied with the outcome of the trips. Some of the artists had never painted in front of people before, others have only ever done one or two murals in their lives. But when put to the task, Burrows, Neville, and Davaros-Comas insist that all resident artists performed with grace under pressure and got the job done the right way. The goal is not only to have a fun road trip, but also to further instill the successful working artist mentality into the resident artists, assuring them that what they are doing matters and can have an impact on people and place. Davaros-Comas spoke of the experience of one artist, “It’s just to have a different experience. For example, an artist, Trasher, he came from Mexico City. He’s an unbelievable painter, but I think that since he didn’t speak English, and he hadn’t been to that part of the U.S., it made every day like a movie to him. It was of course really hard work, and I think the language barrier really forced not only us as the directors, but the other resident artists, and the community that’s there, to learn to communicate better. I think those are the things that sometimes you can’t describe, those are the changes that you see happening in the residents.” Efficient communication is just one of the aspects many of the resident artists have championed. Neville also spoke of the experience of another artist, BelowKey. “Those BelowKey episodes are really impactful, because he had never painted that many legal walls before. He’s mainly a graffiti artist and then he makes a lot of merch as well. He had never really heard people talk about his work before, he’s usually doing it when people aren’t paying attention.” These are the kinds of barriers the directors would like to break down for their artists, whom they see so much potential in, and they hope the webseries can be evidence of their hard work and progress on their resumes.

Work in Progress by Grace Land, Fall 2016 – Miami Art Basel

Eligibility for the residency doesn’t require the artists to be from New York. The directors select the artists from all over the country and abroad. There are some from outside of the country, such as Trasher, an artist based out of Mexico City. There are some from the west coast, such as artist McMonster and videographer Lisa Bolden, both based out of Portland (although Lisa travels the country as a videographer, going wherever her work takes her), and Lauren Asta, based out of San Francisco. Some originate out of the northeast scene, such as BelowKey from Queens, New York, Grace Lang, based out of Brooklyn, New York, and Merk Aveli, based out of Boston, Massachusetts; while some originate out of the Midwest, such as Kit Mizeres, based out of Cleveland, Ohio, and Jenny Roesel, from Cincinnati, Ohio. The Miami scene is also represented and DOTR’s roster by Nicole Salgar, and they’ve even had collaborative efforts by artists Outer Source and Jim Garmhausen. They don’t look at how many Instagram followers the artists have, and they don’t ask for any money from the artists. They give them a stipend and take care of any expenses being on the road would require. They’re selected based on the merit of their work, and on what the residency could provide for them. After all, the idea was conceived around what the directors could provide to working artists; opportunities that otherwise they wouldn’t have access to, and an experience that the resident artists could undoubtedly benefit from.

Dripped On The Road doesn’t dissolve, it settles down to recharge and meditate on the next excursion

Dripped On The Road doesn’t dissolve, it settles down to recharge and meditate on the next excursion. The directors assured me that there are plenty of trips down the line. Dripped On is still a New York based company after all, and a source of profit for the directors, who also travel and work as independent artists in New York City. When asking where the next trip will be, and with who, and to do what, they were hesitant to say for sure. Not wanting to spoil it for the audience, nor jinxing it for themselves, they said they’d like to see some new places. But they approach the uncertainty with assured optimism. They said they try to do one trip a year, usually around the fall season. Davaros-Comas would like to thank everyone involved, “Just thank you, to you for interviewing, to UP Mag, to everyone who’s producing the magazine, and really to all of our funders and supporters who’ve always believed in our vision and in the project that we’re doing, and to both Denton and John for staying with the project and doing the work that they do and making it probably the most important project I’ve ever worked on. It’s not for me, it’s for other artists, who hopefully can say something about what our mission is, you know it’s not a selfish thing. So, thank you.”

Tyler Bruett is a writer and musician from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who is now based in New York City. Fascinated with contemporary culture, he finds pride working with emerging artists, street artists, and musicians alike. He is passionate about using his experience to bridge the gap between artists and the city they inhabit.