For Tampa street artist, downtown is a canvas

Glen Baham, 27, poses for a portrait in front of his painting hanging on the wall at Kava Culture Kava Bar in downtown Tampa on Friday, April 8, 2022. Baham is a BMX enthusiast and Jimmy John's delivery driver who has had an unexpected epiphany after getting caught spray painting graffiti and going to jail: he could do his art legally.  During Art Night at Kava Culture (next to Jimmy John's), his colorful abstracts on canvas caught on, selling first for $20 and $40 and now his larger canvases, for $900. .  (Arielle Bader/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Glen Baham, 27, poses for a portrait in front of his painting hanging on the wall at Kava Culture Kava Bar in downtown Tampa on Friday, April 8, 2022. Baham is a BMX enthusiast and Jimmy John’s delivery driver who has had an unexpected epiphany after getting caught spray painting graffiti and going to jail: he could do his art legally. During Art Night at Kava Culture (next to Jimmy John’s), his colorful abstracts on canvas caught on, selling first for $20 and $40 and now his larger canvases, for $900. . (Arielle Bader/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

PA

On a sunny Friday afternoon in downtown Tampa, Glen Baham stood on the sidewalk outside a local coffee shop, pondering a blank canvas in front of him.

Passers-by slowed to look at his assortment of abstract art propped up along the wall of the Kava Culture Kava Bar behind him – their bright colors, urban vibe.

“Good,” said a woman.

“You like it?” says Baham, 27. “Thanks very much.”

So: What colors should you choose for your next work of street art? “Rose,” someone suggested, and off he went, squirting and smearing the acrylic paint, grabbing a palette knife for texture. As he worked, the rap song “Smoothie at Midnight” played on his headphones, and people stopped to watch.

For Baham, everything is going so fast.

By day, he’s one of those fast-cycling Jimmy John sandwich delivery drivers that have become part of the downtown landscape. He is also a BMX bike enthusiast and skatepark enthusiast.

But after work he became this crazy local artist, creating pieces outside the kava bar on Franklin and Twiggs streets and sometimes selling his paintings to downtown businesses. And they sell – more than 50 – and he has commissions for more.

“He was a young boy who came into the store with his artwork, and I thought it was cool,” said Sharon Casaccia Kyte, owner and optician of upscale Designing Eyes Optical a few blocks away. of houses. She bought a small one that showcased the bright colors of her store and agreed to display a few more, which her customers purchased. She ended up with four herself.

Smaller pieces – 16×20 – are lately $80-$90. He received $450 for larger jobs, but has yet to sell his larger ones, priced at $900, money he would spend on studio space.

“The universe has been good,” Baham said.

However, the road to becoming a street performer of the moment has not always been easy. There were cautionary tales.

Raised by his grandparents in a neighborhood north of the city center and nicknamed Tank, Baham said his dream was to become a BMX rider in the Olympics. But he always loved art.

“I was just a kid in high school copying kids doing graffiti,” he said.

He went to Hillsborough High, DW Waters Career Acceleration Academy, then business school. For a time he worked but was homeless and slept in his truck, although few people knew about it.

When he was 25, he was caught using colored markers to graffiti “Tank” and smiley faces on a wall near the Riverwalk. He was arrested and charged with criminal mischief.

“I went to jail for that,” he said. “Graffiti was my choice.”

They kept him there for several days. Fellow inmates with more serious charges gave him advice: “They were like, ‘Stop drawing on the walls. You can get out of jail. We can’t,” he said. He worked off his community service hours and paid his fees, and the state dropped the case.

“No more spray painting,” he said. “I’m just touching canvases now.”

One night last month, he was assaulted by two downtown men as he walked to the bus stop. He went to the hospital for staples in his scalp. Somehow, he said, the experience seemed to improve his art.

What happened with his art was fortuitous. Next to the busy Jimmy John’s is Kava Culture, a funky cafe-like establishment that hosts community get-togethers, including an open-mic night and group meditation. Two years ago, at an art party, Baham picked up a small canvas and started painting.

It’s a beautiful painting, someone said. “And I thought, ‘Maybe I should continue if people like my colors,'” he said.

He would come when it wasn’t an arts night and ask for a canvas, said Matthew Clark, director of Kava Culture. “He just started painting and we were like, ‘Oh my god, this guy can paint,'” he said. “The quality he was able to produce was simply breathtaking.”

His advice from Jimmy John started to go towards art supplies. At an event where people were selling jewelry and doing magic tricks, Kava Culture gave her a table. “I was just out there selling art for money,” he said.

“In two years, I went from zero to a hundred so fast,” he said.

His paintings, displayed inside the kava bar, often include a graffiti-style three-pointed crown in homage to the late New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a famous pioneer of street art. Some of Baham’s pieces incorporate portraits made by his friend and fellow artist, Chase DiBrizzi.

A recent piece included whimsical Wi-Fi symbols on an abstract background. Another featured a city skyline in oranges and pinks – his favourite, he said, “because it looks like downtown when it comes towards night.”

Gary Yamnitz, a retired credit union manager, has two. “A friend came in (my place) and said, ‘Is this at Glen’s?'” he said.

Baham’s personality seems to fit into the street art gig. At 6ft 5in, he often leans over to hug someone. “He’s just an easy going guy, always wants to talk to anybody,” Clark said.

This Friday afternoon, Antonio Ross, who works for the Department of Defense and was in town from Atlanta, took a liking to the still-drying piece that Baham had just finished – enough to make the purchase of 150 $. “A beautiful work of art,” he said.

“And to see someone here doing something positive, you support them,” he said.

He asked Baham if he would include his thumbprint when adding his signature to the board. Was it in case Baham became famous one day?

“He’s famous now,” Ross said, nodding to people watching him work.

“My goal is to travel the world, to sell my art,” Baham said. “And ride in every skatepark in the world.”

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