Many kids today probably don’t know this, but street art didn’t receive mainstream acceptance until Banksy became a household name in the mid-2000s. Before then, graffiti was widely seen as an eyesore created by an unsavory population. Countless tags were covered and movies like Demolition Man envisioned a squeaky clean future with graffiti-proof buildings that could instantly buff out paint.
In 2016, street artist Kid NES can stand on the same street corner for multiple days, wearing a gas mask and using up several boxes of spray paint, and virtually no one will harass him. Contemporary street artists like Kid NES are sometimes invited to tag buildings with their signature styles. Walls graced by Banksy’s paint are worth millions of dollars.
Jimmy, who uses the moniker Kid NES to conceal his identity, is known for his 8-bit murals and his most recent piece, "Poké Stopped," is a hybrid of the original Pokémon game and Pokémon Go. He uses a small square stencil to paint Mario, Mega Man, Donkey Kong and other retro gaming icons on the sides of buildings in DFW and Austin.
There are several different approaches to spray painting walls. There’s the easy to identify work from stylized street artists like Jimmy and then there are the more traditional and nuanced graffiti writers, whose work is more prolific and perhaps less identifiable to the average Joe.
A mutual respect exists between the majority of street artists, but the two schools of thought occasionally clash. Graffiti writers have approached Jimmy and bluntly told him that they didn’t like his style and that he should paint letters instead.
Graffiti is also territorial. Several tags were painted over for the white background of Jimmy’s "Poké Stopped" mural and one of the artists whose work was covered stopped by to aggressively question why his work had been sacrificed. The disgruntled artist settled down after some cajoling by the building’s tenant, Chris Lewellyn.
Lewellyn owns Lewellyn’s Print Shop at Peak and Elm streets in East Dallas. Lewellyn invited Jimmy to paint a section of one of the exterior walls after a Pokéstop popped up outside the shop. “It’s added a lot of traffic,” Lewellyn says. “We’ve had people pull the cars up onto the sidewalk to take pictures.”
Jimmy’s biggest work to date is a two story mural of Mega Man that’s about 50 feet wide. It required scaffolding, hundreds of dollars in spray paint and a month to complete with the help of another artist.
There are only a couple sanctioned murals produced by Jimmy every year and none of them have approached the scale of the Mega Man piece. Projects still take weeks or even months to plan and pen never touches paper until a wall has been found that offers inspiration. “The wall dictates what I’m going to do,” Jimmy explains.
Once a promising wall is discovered, Jimmy begins measuring to make sure enough space is available for what he envisions. The next checkpoint is finding out whether or not the building’s owner is agreeable to him painting a mural.
Not every idea comes to fruition. Jimmy approached the Bowl Lounge about painting an 8-bit Big Lebowski-inspired mural but he says the owner shied away from the several-thousand-dollar price tag.
Another piece is in the planning stages and this time Jimmy is questioning whether or not to seek permission for the mural at the risk of being turned down. Like many graffiti artists who spend time on sanctioned walls, Jimmy hasn’t gone completely legit and from time to time he still works on the other side of the law. “Some of these pieces are illegal,” Jimmy says. “It really doesn’t bother me at all.”
So far, Jimmy has been lucky and has avoided any brushes with the law while painting, but he believes that he’ll eventually be arrested. He uses the Kid NES persona to keep his identity a mystery and his face is constantly obscured while doing anything related to his art, but an arrest means a public record that people can use to identify him. That’s game over for the 8-bit artist, who says he’d probably retire Kid NES when that happens.
But for a few days here and there throughout the year, Jimmy is invited to paint his 8-bit murals on the outside of businesses and he doesn’t have to worry about that kill screen. “I could have grabbed paintbrushes,” Jimmy says from beneath the bandana that obscures his face. “But the spray can was really what I wanted to do."
Poké Stopped is located at 4420 Elm St.