When Wellfleet artist Andrew Jacob was a teenager, he painted freight trains and abandoned buildings.
“At night we would sneak out,” he says. “There was kind of a ‘code of the rails.’ If you weren’t messing with the trains, or going over the serial numbers, the train workers wouldn’t bother you, and they might not realize the graffiti was new. It could have happened in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” In those early days of the internet, Jacob would track the trains where his art hurtled itself into the world.
While his roots are still in graffiti art, his paintings now adorn the walls of Longstreet Gallery in Eastham. His show there, “Space Odyssey Psyurfadelic,” is on view through Aug. 30.
Jacob was born in Boston, but moved around a bit during his childhood, to Marblehead and Salem. His father was in the Navy and lived in Wellfleet and Eastham in the 1960s.
“My mom worked in Lynn, which is a pretty urban area, as a nurse,” he says. “I’d be on the commuter rail and see graffiti on the tracks. My aunt also lived in New York City, so we’d go see her in the summertime, and I’d skateboard around the city. I was really fascinated by that subculture.”
Jacob says that graffiti art requires intense planning: “There was a lot more to it than just vandalism.” After planning his compositions in his school notebooks, he rode his bike to buy paint, and then had to sneak in with a ladder. “You were also trying to document your work at a young age,” he says. “I think it taught me a lot about composition.” In the days before digital photos, this involved saving up money for film, and getting pictures developed under a fake name to deter the police.
“Graffiti got me fascinated in art history,” Jacob says. “As you started to learn more about graffiti artists, you’d find their inspirations, like Basquiat, Keith Haring, Egon Schiele, even Picasso. You’d see where they drew their influences.”
Jacob, whose street name is “Soul Kontroller,” is keenly aware of his artistic lineage. His art studio, once used by Salvatore Del Deo and Jerome Greene, is in the Beachcombers’ Club in Provincetown. “It’s a real honor, as there’s only one studio in there,” Jacob says. “My art is probably so different from any other artist who has occupied that studio.”
He has been a Cape habitué for years and was one of the principals in the Helltown Workshop, a street and graffiti art gallery that had a four-year run in Whaler’s Wharf in Provincetown, starting in 2009. But in the tradition of street artists, he likes to make his art as visible as possible. “While it is cool to have your canvases in a prestigious gallery, having your art public is way more meaningful,” he says. It seeps into the subconscious of walkers-by.
Even when Jacob paints on canvas, he does it nontraditionally. He never uses an easel, painting instead on the floor or in the backyard. Sometimes, he lets his two young sons collaborate on the background elements of his paintings.
“I always use mixed media,” he says. “Typically, my paintings are really layered. I go to a hardware store and get the ‘mistint’ paints. It is usually the weird, off colors. I’ll experiment with bucket paint, acrylics, enamels, spray paint. A lot of times those paints will counteract each other, and there will be subtle chemical effects on those first layers of paint. They bleed together, like tie-dye, and I let it cook in the sun.”
Jacob says that the carpe diem mentality of graffiti is similar to his second love, surfing. “If you see a big storm coming, the excitement sets in,” he says. Jacob also paints custom surfboards and pieces of driftwood.
“Space Odyssey Psyurfadelic” is inspired by the concept of Earth-like worlds in an infinite galaxy. “On other planets,” he says, “where a day might last a month, or where the planet is rotating a thousand miles an hour, has a species evolved so that it can ride a wave a thousand miles an hour?”
Through social media, as well as his surfing adventures in Costa Rica, Jacob says he has managed to “spread his art around, like little splashes in the cosmic ocean.” This mentality is the very same that drove him to paint freight trains all those years ago. To share his art with the wider world, or even the universe.
The event: “Space Odyssey Psyurfadelic,” a show of new work by Andrew Jacob, alongside “Ghostland,” work by Adam O’Day
The time: Through Aug. 30; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m., or by appointment
The place: Longstreet Gallery, 4730B Route 6, Eastham
The cost: Free