Once a rebel tagger, artist finds success in painting murals
Gabriel Prusmack exults in his faith, professing a belief in God that he credits for transforming him from a repentant tagger to a gifted artist.
“I’ve known Gabe since he was a teenager,” said John Hall, who owns Arts on Mechanic, a gallery that occasionally shows Prusmack’s smaller works. “Back then, he wasn’t the kind of kid you wanted to hang out with, tagging the back of buildings and whatever.
“But today, his work resonates. It reminds me of old-school Galveston.”
Prusmack’s days of tagging — spray painting graffiti on abandoned buildings — were, he said, the product of a misspent youth.
“I was just in a different scene,” he said of his early high school days when he and his friends were rebels with a can. “It was an expression that was forced out, not let out. What I do today is let out.”
What he does today is widely acclaimed, and much of it is commissioned.
His murals, both on the island and on the mainland, are hard to miss and easy to admire. One, on a two-story wall at 27th Street and Seawall Boulevard in Galveston, depicts the five species of turtle native to the Gulf of Mexico. The work was commissioned by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, among others.
And there is a looming postcard of a mural — “Greetings from Galveston” — adorning the side of Yaga’s Cafe on The Strand in the island’s downtown, commissioned by the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau; and, too, a Galveston-centric mural on the back wall of the Sherwin-Williams’ paint store building at 61st Street and Broadway, commissioned by that property’s owner.
Texas City recently commissioned a Prusmack piece that graces a short, several-hundred-foot-long wall fronting Rainbow Park and near the city’s dike.
He has painted other murals pro bono — his labor and talent volunteered — notably a collaborative work he oversaw for the Galveston Kindness Project at the corner of 22nd and Postoffice streets in the island’s downtown.
Prusmack isn’t restricted to a single style. Some of his work features a symmetry that is, if anything, best described as asymmetrical: a Picasso-esque deconstruction.
“I’ll take a bird apart and put it back together,” he said of one such mural, which features a fragmented and reconstructed flamingo.
Other murals, such as his vibrant postcard on the side of Yaga’s Cafe, veer toward 1930s warm, graphic realism.
Like many young artists, he discovered his vocation by chance.
“I’ve been doing artwork forever,” the 29-year-old artist said. “I started painting, really painting, when I was 15. The first piece I ever sold, a friend had asked if he could buy it, and I was like, ‘You want to buy my work? Sure.’
“I never knew a business was starting.”
An early influence came compliments of a visit to an older brother in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, which has as well inspired its share of devilishness, including that of rebels with aerosol cans.
The area’s commuter trains, tagged from fore to aft, offer such graffitists’ rolling galleries.
“My brother had an alarm company out in L.A., and I was going with him out on jobs, driving around Burbank, Northridge, Long Beach,” Prusmack recounted. “And I saw all the graffiti. That’s what inspired me. I said, ‘I can do this.’”
While he has since channeled his talent in a more socially productive direction, his medium has remained the same.
“All my work is spray paint,” he said.
His rolling studio is a white Toyota Highlander, in which he keeps his materials, including crates crowded with cans of spray paint produced by a company based in Barcelona, Spain: Montana Black, Montana 94, Montana Hardcore and a variety of caps to produce sprays of varying width.
“I used to use a paint brush, but I got tired of paint brushing,” he said of his medium. “It just wasn’t me. A paint brush is not my focus tool.
“My tool is the can.”