The Big Picture – Ed Trask


When he was in second grade, Ed Trask fondled a French Impressionist painting.


His father took him to Washington for a show at the National Gallery, and Trask was mesmerized. When the curious boy wanted a closer look, he just leaned forward and planted his palms on a Pissarro.


Visitors and museum security went nuts. Panic and mayhem erupted. And young Trask was let go with a few stiff words.


But to this day, he can still remember what the painting felt like. He never forgot the deep swirls and thick smears of color and the layers and layers of paint.


“I thought . . . wow, I want to do that,” he said.


So he did.


If you’ve ever walked or driven through Richmond with your eyes open, you know Trask’s work. After more than a decade, the 38-year- old Trask has established himself as one of the most prolific mural painters in Richmond.


He put a beaming beauty queen on the side of the Sidewalk Cafe in the Fan and a sullen-faced Princess Diana in Shockoe Bottom. His brushwork has adorned the exterior – and interior – of dozens of local businesses, including Bandito’s, International Roofing, Moto Europa, Kuba Kuba and Chop Suey Books.


And in addition to his commissioned work, many of his smaller paintings often “magically” appear attached to abandoned buildings and boarded-up storefronts.


Call it “guerilla art.”


Technically it’s illegal, but since he never paints directly on any buildings, Trask prefers to think of it as a sort of “low- impact vandalism.” The work can last anywhere from four days to eight months before it disappears as curiously as it arrived.


“I decided to make Richmond my gallery,” said Trask. “Here’s my artwork whether you want it or not.”


For argument’s sake, let’s assume you want it.


The good news is that you won’t have to go on a scavenger hunt through condemned neighborhoods to see his latest paintings. Trask’s new work has been framed and hung politely on plain white walls at the Eric Schindler Gallery in Church Hill.


Has the outlaw artist mellowed out? Yes . . . and no.


As a boy in Loudoun County, Trask loved painting. But he also had a knack and a passion for playing the drums.


After high school, he realized he didn’t want the life of a musician, so he enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts. In 1992, he earned his degree in painting and printmaking. But he never quit the drums.


“Whenever I play drums I see colors,” Trask said. “It rejuvenates me in every way.”


Through the ‘90s, he pounded the skins for bands such as Holy Rollers, Kepone and Smalltown Superstar. Since 2001, he’s been behind the kit and around the world with Richmond punk legend Avail.


For those keeping score, this would be the “no” answer to the mellow question.


Because if there is a polar opposite to mellow, it has to be beating the beeswax out of the drums while sweaty teenagers smash into one another.


Call it “angst management.”


It must work, too, because the guy whupping up on the drums isn’t your typically sullen punk rock painter. He’s a happy husband, a proud father and the owner of not one but two Volvo station wagons.


And over the years, Trask’s easygoing manner has earned him a reputation as bona fide nice guy.


“He’s a real country gentleman,” said longtime friend and former bandmate Chris Bopst. “He’s genuine, he’s talented and he works hard. This city can make people lazy. Ed’s never been lazy.”


Besides doing murals and sign work for hire, Trask shows and sells his smaller paintings. As a member of Avail, he is expected to practice, record and tour with the band. He also waits tables two days a week at Millie’s, where he’s worked for 12 years.


“It’s kind of like a family,” said Trask. “I could be on tour for nine months out of the year and they always gave me my job back.”


In his spare time, he runs the informal Eggspace Gallery, surfs when he can get to the ocean, rides his skateboard and helps watch 2- year-old Eleanor while his wife, Kelly, teaches yoga.


For Trask, fatherhood has been “humbling, scary and rewarding.”


“Lord knows that kid is teaching me so much about myself,” he said.


Most days, you can find Trask in a ramshackle white building at the southern end of the Manchester Bridge.


His studio is on the second floor, above the Eggspace Gallery. Walk through the cramped pile of amps and instruments that makes up the rehearsal space of Richmond rock band RPG. Step over the Pabst- soaked couch and take the stairs until you hear music.


The room is part workshop and part shrine. It’s not fancy, just four walls with a disheveled ceiling and a paint-smattered floor. But something about it resonates.


Something feels alive.


The walls are cluttered with 10 years of artifacts, memories and dabs of color. The wood floor is flecked with sawdust, spilled paint and bits of blue tape. A set of drums sits quietly in a dark corner.


In front of one wall, Trask’s visual inspiration hangs like wet laundry. A thin rope runs the length of his studio, sagging under the weight of snapshots, postcards and comic books. Each image is clamped in place with clothespins.


As Trask talked, he slathered the sky in one painting with long, quick strokes of orange. He squinted at another, looking for mistakes. And he cut some wood frames for pieces in his current show.


Call it “multi-Trasking.”


He pulled a painting of the Clay Springs Motel from the table, set it on the floor and steadied it with one hand.


“I already see something I want to change,” he said.


He gestured toward the lower right corner and pulled the pencil from behind his ear. He ran the graphite over the dried paint, leaving a dark, jagged line.


Trask’s paintings are uncomplicated, rectangular slices of the world. Though his work shows a fondness for power lines, roadside motels and old guys in khaki pants, Trask’s landscapes and portraits aren’t loaded with symbolism. There are no deep riddles to solve.


“He works instinctually,” said Kirsten Gray, owner of Eric Schindler Gallery. “He’s not self-taught, but he’s self-educated.”


Gray was drawn to the rough edges of Trask’s work and the fact that he is contemporary but not at all concerned with what everyone else is doing.


“I don’t think his work is pretty; I think it’s gritty,” Gray said. “It’s uniquely his own, and he arrived there by doing what he wanted to do.”


What Trask wanted to do was learn from those who came before him. He wanted to pick up the torch from artistic heroes such as Thomas Hart Benton and Winslow Homer, two American painters who had their heyday about a century ago.


“I didn’t leave school being taught traditionalism,” said Trask. “I felt like I had to find it myself.”


But what sets Trask apart is that he didn’t become just another retro-copycat. And his work is more than just a one-man crusade against naked walls in Richmond. His paintings and murals evoke the past, but they also move forward with a jangled energy that draws on punk percussion, deep yoga breaths and the spontaneous laughter of a 2-year-old girl.


“Everything in life is art; everything has a rhythm,” Trask said. “It’s always right in front of you, and most people take it for granted.”


Originally published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 2, 2006.

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