Growing up, Baltimore wire artist Reed Bmore did a lot of traveling with his father, who, at the time, was serving in the navy. To pass time, he would straighten out paper clips — a hobby he described as a “weird, niche thing I used to do as a kid.”
But, when Reed — whose real name is Jon Struse — went to the Maryland College Institute of Art for design and architecture, that pastime quickly became a serious interest.
“I wanted something a little bit more tangible with my hands instead of sitting in front of a desk and kind of doing noodle work all day and just drafting and making [sic] schedules and all that,” he told In The Know.
Over the years, Reed, now 28 years old, has spent hours sculpting everything from paper airplanes to cell phones, all while creating pieces of art that also reference pop culture. On several occasions, he’s twisted wire to create characters from Pokémon and Alice in Wonderland, hanging them atop telephone wires or underneath traffic lights. He even made a piece for EDM DJ Bassnectar.
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Despite the amount he’s received from fans and celebrities alike, Reed believes his most impactful — and purposeful — pieces are ones that foster a human connection or encourage thoughtful conversations. Earlier this year, for example, Reed made headlines for his sculpture of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man in Aurora, Colo., who died last year after police put him in a chokehold. The sculpture was hung right by the Colorado State Capitol, where it has drawn praise from fellow artists in Denver for its message.
“It kind of hit a different chord for me when I was making the piece just because, you know, all the way from Baltimore, it was something in terms of a story that, you know, I could, in solidarity, relate to people who were halfway across the U.S.,” Reed said. “It really is a super tragic story, you know, that unless … we don’t talk about it and it gets brushed under the rug, it’s going to keep happening unfortunately.”
As an Asian American who spent most of his life in Baltimore, Reed is no stranger to stories of police brutality against the BIPOC community and the fraught relationship that the Asian American and Black communities have. In 2015, for example, 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department for possessing a switchblade and subsequently died while in a police transport van, an investigation revealed. His death led to weeks of intense protests and looting of businesses (some of which were Asian-owned), forcing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to temporarily bring in the National Guard.
“I think the most important thing that I learned as an artist [during that time is that] it doesn’t really matter how out there you are or how much promotion you [have],” Reed said. “Whatever you create and put on this earth has an inverse reaction no matter what, no matter how big or small the imprint.”
In response to the uprisings that year, Reed hung a wire sculpture of a child protestor as a sign of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think during those times, I wanted to have a positive reaction and create thought, and, again, be a catalyst for conversation,” he said. “As much as I want people to be thinking about my art — or if you are an artist, you want them to really resonate with your art — it’s like what you want them to take away from it is probably one of the biggest things … I want people to just care a little bit more.”
Though Reed — who Baltimore Magazine once called the “Banksy of Baltimore” — has used his wire art to promote public dialogue, he has also lamented at how street art, in general, has been commodified as a marketing tool. Once seen as vandalism, street art is increasingly being used to beautify neighborhoods — a trend that Reed called “a little sickening.”
“It shows you what happens when capitalism gets behind a creative notion and kind of warps it, and warps a vision,” he said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword … Art is for art’s sake. And once it starts coming into being a marketing standpoint, it gets really s****y. Money gets in the way.”
In other instances where artists have used their work to bring attention to racial injustice, some people, especially Instagram influencers, have minimized their cause by attempting to do the same and engaging in performative activism.
“I wrestle with this stuff all the time: the performative aspect of people coming out,” Reed said. “I think that if we focus on the positive aspects of that, it could be easily turned around to get those people on our team, to get people actually uniting together towards a certain cause.”
Over the last several weeks, the wire artist has traveled across the country — from Baltimore to San Diego, where he’s currently staying – and met people of all backgrounds. His trip, in many ways, has informed his approach to art, he said.
“I’ve gotten the taste of a little bit of some things in America, going through the panhandle of Texas, going up to Denver, going through blue, going through red states,” he said. “And, inherently, [these] people are good people. It’s [their] words and their upbringing that kind of separates us.”
And given the tense political climate that has followed since President Trump’s election in 2016, Reed hopes that his art will continue to bring people together.
“I think I’ve had a lot of affordance as being a street artist to kind of put my art out there without having my physical backing of being there to explain it,” he said. “But I think we are at a definite turning point, where all the communities are standing behind these movements and looking within to find these biases that we have in ourselves and our environment has taught us.”
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