Sinned and Ria

Written by Emma Jones

SINNED & RIA_1

Maria Bauser’s moniker, Ria, can be found emblazoned on the sides of trucks across New York. Ria has a sixth sense. “My mother says it’s a Puerto Rican thing,” she explained. Her powers were activated one night in the ‘90s while she was dancing at a show to heavy metal surf rock band The Mofos. Suddenly, she was inexplicably struck by the thought that something would change that night.

As Ria danced, the band’s leading man singled her out from the crowd to perform with them after the show. Her budding music career eventually led her to an old flame from the summer of ‘97 — Dennis Bauser, the street artist who now goes by the inversion of his first name, Sinned. Sinned and Ria first met in Ria’s parents’ driveway in 1997. They moved to different cities and spent some time apart, which Ria described as a healthy period of “educational mistakes.” While engaging with their curriculum, the pair remained friends. However, one night, Ria was go-go dancing with The Mofos and she was met with something her sixth sense couldn’t have predicted: After the show, Sinned asked her to marry him. She went back upstate to break up with her then-boyfriend, moved in with Sinned, and the rest is a paint splattered history.

After the show, Sinned asked her to marry him. She went back upstate to break up with her then-boyfriend, moved in with Sinned, and the rest is a paint splattered history.

I spoke to Sinned and Ria during a bizarre autumn heatwave, and, coincidentally, Sinned and Ria’s street art partnership began during a similar heatwave. At the time of our interview, the couple had just come from a carpentry project in a friend’s “man cave.” Sinned remarked, “I don’t mind sweating, as long as you’re sweating doing something you should be sweating during, like climbing ladders outside. You shouldn’t be sweating just sitting around in your house, that’s when you know it’s too hot.”

“I don’t mind sweating, as long as you’re sweating doing something you should be sweating during like climbing ladders outside. You shouldn’t be sweating just sitting around in your house, that’s when you know it’s too hot.”

It was a particularly vicious heatwave the first year Sinned painted the Welling Court mural project by himself. Ria, who had done odd jobs painting boats and houses, noticed that he was “just working himself to death,” and suffered a particularly bad bout of illness following the a large-scale project. As Ria tells it, they began collaborating when she suggested “I can totally paint a straight line. I was climbing all over boats and houses to paint them for years, I’ve been putting on fancy makeup and eyeliner for forever, I can do this.” So began a decade-long street art partnership.

“When you’re married, if you have different interests, you don’t always get to spend a lot of time together. But to have painting murals as a thing you both love is a guaranteed date,” Sinned said. Ria added: “When we paint together, I always think, we were friends first, and I want to be nice to my friend. Our process is much more relaxed now than it was when we started out. We’ve always tried to be compassionate to each other’s creative needs in the moment.”

“When you’re married, if you have different interests, you don’t always get to spend a lot of time together. But to have painting murals as a thing you both love is a guaranteed date,” Sinned said. Ria added: “When we paint together, I always think, we were friends first, and I want to be nice to my friend. Our process is much more relaxed now than it was when we started out. We’ve always tried to be compassionate to each other’s creative needs in the moment.”

The couple asks each other questions like “How do you feel about this dude’s eye? What about the colors? Is there anything we could change in the compositions?” Their process boils down to what they’re feeling together. You’re most likely to find Sinned and Ria’s neon, cartoon-inspired creations on the side of freight or produce trucks traversing all five boroughs, but their starting point is usually Queens, and their style has remained consistent throughout their partnership.

Sinned’s work often features tentacled, large-eyed creatures in his artistic style, stemming from his affinity for curved shapes. “There’s something zen about it,” he said. The pair started painting on trucks because Sinned worked at a set-building company. The trucks were often covered in tags, and Sinned just started offering to paint custom designs over the tags to beautify the vehicles. “You have to gain their trust, because when you’re offering to paint something for free on someone’s truck, they’ll think there’s some kind of catch. They didn’t want graffiti or anything that felt like vandalism, when it gets all tagged up it’s disheartening for them,” Sinned recalled.

Sinned’s trust-based, consensual process between the truck-driver and the artist has proved to be wildly successful so far. “In terms of the box trucks, a handful of the guys who own them are coming from Caribbean or African nations, and we’ll come to their neighborhood and work on what’s basically their money, putting our heart and soul into it representing their livelihoods. It’s all about their money and representing them,” Ria said. These relationships with truck drivers have paid off. When Sinned needed unused street signs for his 2017 art show “Keep the City Gritty,” a driver whose truck he’d painted with connections to the MTA provided signs he’d acquired from the IRT Eastern Parkway 1/2/3 Line for artists to paint on.

Sinned and Ria’s collaborative spirit and respect for each other comes through in their respect for the communities they paint in and their respect for the craft. It was certainly a big change for Sinned, who began his art career working solo in a studio, to start trekking to junkyards in Ridgewood full of handmade shanks where little kids run barefoot all the same and stray cats scrounge.  “When you do street art, you’ve gotta take into consideration the five year old that’s gonna walk by, the eighty-year-old that’s gonna walk by, everyone who’s gonna see. You don’t really have as much freedom to do whatever you want, you gotta be polite” Sinned said.

Sinned and Ria’s collaborative spirit and respect for each other comes through in their respect for the communities they paint in and their respect for the craft.

When they travel the boroughs to paint, they take on the role of amateur block DJ’s as well, putting on a playlist which, Ria noted, starts with Bill Withers no matter what, but ranges from Stevie Wonder to Billie Holiday to Slayer. Ria remembers one time when the couple “were painting on this truck in the Bronx one time, and we didn’t realize it was around the corner of a shelter, and all these people from the shelter came out with folding chairs to listen to the music.”

On one of their first truck paintings, in someone’s driveway in Queens, the neighbor’s five-year-old daughter came out to watch curiously and ask if she could help. “Becoming a street artist with these characters and designs that are very personal to me was hard,” Sinned said. “You have to get adjusted to people seeing the process. Yeah, people appreciate it, but on some level, everybody’s judging the work, and you have to get comfortable with that. ”

Ria’s first exposure to art was for a form of “therapy.” She remarked that she was so private about it that Sinned didn’t even have any idea that she enjoyed drawing until they started working together. Ria has found ways to integrate her emotional attachment to art into street art. She gets “really excited filling in large blocks of color now,” she said.“The motion of filling in all this color physiologically feels good, like filling in whatever I’ve been feeling. Especially with all this unrest now. It just vibrates emotionally when I paint.”

“The motion of filling in all this color physiologically feels good, like filling in whatever I’ve been feeling. Especially with all this unrest now. It just vibrates emotionally when I paint.”

The night she started singing with The Mofos hasn’t been the only time Ria’s Puerto Rican power of premonition has come into play. “I was working in Manhattan in this office and I was having this awful day and I was really sick,” Ria told me. “I went out to get some air and thought  about finishing working on this spreadsheet. Who cares about how I feel, right? Then I started to get dizzy again and I was like, I’m gonna walk around the block, and if, by any chance, I see anything that I put into the world, then I’m gonna take the rest of the day off and I’m gonna take care of myself.” That very day, on her walk, Ria saw one of her and Sinned’s trucks pass by, and proceeded to go home and treat herself to the rest she needed. “We get so many messages on Instagram like: We saw your truck go by today, and it changed my day, and that just makes me want to do it even more,” Sinned said.

For experienced artists like Sinned and Ria, something like the pandemic is a challenge for new calls to action, not a setback. Sinned and Ria are working on a piece with a message that’s a little bit different than normal, focusing on the broader concepts of love and hope. There are ups and downs to being an artist during such a turbulent time. “I’ve been coming to grips with whether anything I’ve done creatively with anyone or on my own is even worth it,” Ria said. “People are dying because of racists in control, people are dying from a virus, so there was a part of me that thought: What business do I have writing a song or writing a movie?” But she then concluded that “If we stop putting out this work, we won’t reach anyone, and if we don’t reach anyone, nothing’s gonna change. I went from ‘What’s the point of it all?’ to ‘We can’t stop.’”

Sinned ties his artistic purpose into his affinity for pop culture and sci-fi. “It’s like in the original Star Wars,” he said. “When they pull up on the Death Star, and they keep saying ‘Stay on target, stay on target.’ When you say or think of something and it appears in the world, that’s a sign that you’re on target.” Sinned and Ria are currently planning to redo their Welling Court mural, and Sinned has a piece on a 120-scale shipping container that will be at a show at the Mothership Toy Gallery this December. In his career as a carpenter and a builder, he’s working on a brick wall for a friend, putting together a custom DJ console, and creating a storage facility. Ria is covering a song by DC-based rock band Bad Brains for a musician in Berlin and is in the second stage of edits on a screenplay. Though, she said, she’d always rather be “screaming [her] face off on stage with her band.”

Ria is covering a song by DC-based rock band Bad Brains for a musician in Berlin and is in the second stage of edits on a screenplay. Though, she said, she’d always rather be “screaming [her] face off on stage with her band.”

No matter what they do individually, the art that Sinned and Ria make together will be making its way through the city on the sides of box trucks everywhere, brightening people’s days from the Lower East Side to East New York. As the trucks travel the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, the West Side Highway, or the Grand Central Parkway, the hope, compassion, and tenacity Sinned and Ria put into that art travels with it.