A SpirituARTful trade out: LOW KEY uses art to make reparations to the community

LOW KEY’s Famed eagle wings mural is painted on the side wall of a recently closed Cee Bee Food Store.

Low Key is an enigma. He sources his strength from the inner city community he once polluted. He’d come in from the outskirts to do the ‘dirty,’ made his money and left. There were nights he was terrorized, and nights it was the other way around. “One day I woke up seven years ago, and was told by God that I had to get out of the game, that I had a debt to repay the community I stole from, so I paint.”

As a child I always could draw, but not really art. “My talent comes from God, no doubt.” We sat at a café on lower Lafayette St. near the city missions. The café’s outdoor sidewall is adorned with the massive Mother Earth mural. It’s so big he had to stand way back to get perspective. Along with Gaia, the central image, there are Black liberation colors and mathematical and physics formulas. I want her to represent intelligence, abundance, beauty and feminine fertility. There is a sun and a moon, stars and galaxies. I just asked the guy one day if I could paint his building.

He was told the plan was to tear down the building in three weeks, so he said that I could paint whatever I wanted. That was five months ago. One of many unique features includes a steel plumbers discharge pipe was incorporated exactly between Gaia’s lips. His willingness to create a masterpiece on a building set to be razed is another inner testament to his understanding of temporal art.

“I did a lot of my work at night, which added another layer of well, danger.” His work requires him to stand with his back to all the action, making him even more vulnerable. One night, after several hours of painting, he accidentally left his paints and tools out at Mother Earth. After rushing back many miles the next day, the guys, homeless, addicted and otherwise, had packed his things up and put them where he could find them, safe and sound. Those paints were the most important thing I had and could not afford to replace them.

People get so caught up in their surrounding so Low Key says he wants people to see something “different.” That difference being a vibrant, colorful painted mural with symbolism that make you think, verses the day-to-day blight of poverty, violence, rows of project housing and the litter, drama and all the apathy that goes with it.

Artist LOW KEY’s Mother Earth mural located on the back side of Tito’s Gyro Grill on Lafayette.

We then went to several other inspired art projects in a five-block radius. “The church gave me this whole house to paint! Some of the guys on crack used to smoke in the open there, now they don’t”—maybe because he scribes some of his works with biblical and universal passages. We went to a Quickmart where he painted a huge cheeseburger and fries. One of the fries had escaped from the pack and was leered at by the crowd of fries—that was another message he snuck in.

After seeing a few other sites including a loading dock with a jungle of huge animals to his largest piece—the famed eagle wings that folks (tourists) stand in front of for pictures. This set of wings is probably the largest in the city.

Ironically it is painted on the sidewall of the recently closed Cee Bee Food Store. This Napier/Sudecum community of thousands of men, women, elders, disabled, youth and children, are now left with shopping at the local Dollar General store or standing in line at the food banks and Second Harvest distribution sites. Far from a ‘food desert,’ this community is a huge food ‘tundra.’ The art help eases the hunger pangs of the community.

As with most creatives, there are needs that are often based on the financial kindness of others for sustainability. Contact him directly by calling (213) 509-5531, Charles Key on Facebook, or JAMERSONSGC on Instagram, to help stabilizing him with more art opportunities, encouragement, paints, ladders and tools for his ‘trade.’