Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Fill it With Color, Then Check the Clock

Painter Bruce Maurey backs up Equaleyes


There's a strange magic that comes over you, hugging the curves around McCall's ELO Road. Austere red barns dot the blanketing snow, merely specks in the shadows of the looming mountains. A good way down the road, artist Bruce Maurey's house breaks into view. Maurey's home, which is being remodeled, feels much like his art: colorful, spacious and a work in progress.

Maurey is a painter and graphic artist who does live performance painting behind the popular jam band Equaleyes. His work is both whimsical and structured. He uses bold colors and stark lines to create world-weary characters with exaggerated features. Many of Maurey's paintings seem to be the spawn of Picasso's The Old Guitarist and Egon Schiele's Death and Girl (Self-portrait with Walli). Though Maurey works primarily in acrylic, he has lately been experimenting with ink washes and layering.

"Some of [my paintings] are inspired by events in my life, some of them are feelings, other times it's just what comes out of my hand," explains Maurey. "I like to mix it up and use different techniques."

A series that Maurey has produced is inspired by the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos. After the loss of both of his parents, Maurey found himself drawn to the holiday's imagery for its constructive celebration of death. The collection includes metal-framed portraits of fiery singing skeletons and acoustic guitars brightly decorated with skulls and Christian iconography. Maurey has shown this series in McCall at the Artisan Gallery, in Boise at The Flying M and even had a line of Zippo lighters based on these creations.

Maurey now works full-time as a graphic designer, though he went to school at the Art Institute of Southern California to be an illustrator. His professors soon recognized that his talent was more geared toward the graphic realm than the studied realism of professional illustration. After college, he began working in the action sports industry, with most of his clients involved in skateboarding, surfing or snowboarding. Around the same time, Maurey started playing drums with the jam band Frame of Mind. The band played shows at an underground club in Long Beach, Calif., known for its drug-fueled, all-night parties. This was the first time Maurey saw live performance painting and he was hooked.

"It was this great family of people ... through music and art, we all came together," Maurey said. "I felt like one of the crew in the circus that was creating something behind them."

As Frame of Mind's popularity increased, Maurey decided to take a sabbatical from graphic design and commit to the band's hectic tour schedule. After playing dates all over the Northwest, Maurey found himself drawn back to the serene majesty and small-town simplicity of McCall. The band decided it had had enough of Long Beach's sun-kissed superficiality and packed up their gear. They bought the house off ELO road and began living and practicing in the quiet repose of their new mountain landscape.

But Maurey soon found that painting was pulling him back in. He put away his drumsticks and picked up his paintbrushes. The band found a new drummer and Maurey started painting behind them at their shows. Jeff Crosby, guitarist and singer for Equaleyes, saw Maurey's work and immediately wanted to collaborate.

"I remember the first time I ever saw anyone do live painting was Bruce at a Frame of Mind show," recalls Crosby. "I thought that it was such a sweet idea, one that I'd never seen before."

Maurey now paints regularly at Equaleyes shows. Though he often comes up with the concepts behind his pieces before a performance, he makes sure to leave ample room for improvisation. In order for his art to be visible to a swaying audience in a dimly lit club, Maurey paints on dauntingly huge canvases. He lives by the credo, "Think big, bold and bright" and loves playing with the interaction between art and audience. Maurey will spend the first three-quarters of a show filling his canvas with large swaths of paint and then, in a true showman's gesture, whip through the canvas with a defining black line. With a subtle jaw line or curve of a pair of lips, the audience sees a previously unintelligible figure emerge before their eyes.

At a recent show at Reef, Maurey collaborated with artist Wren Vanbockel to do a giant graphic-art portrait in yellow and blue of all four Equaleyes members. The two designed the image and sketched it out on canvas before the show. The piece marks the third collaboration Maurey and Vanbockel have completed together, and they show no signs of slowing down. Maurey is excited about the dynamic that Vanbockel has introduced to his work and hopes they will continue to explore new ideas together.

"It's tricky to throw somebody else into something you've been doing—tricky and scary at the same time. But we've done three pieces together and they've all been completely different," Maurey says excitedly. "I would love to keep collaborating with her."

And the members of Equaleyes couldn't be more pleased with the direction Maurey's work is taking. Drummer Will Prescot, singer Crosby, and keyboardist Daniel Blumenfeld all sit in a local McCall coffee shop and talk eagerly about their upcoming CD. The band is considering using Maurey and Vanbockel's painting from the Reef show as the cover art for their new album, but they're still figuring out logistics. They do all agree that Maurey's aesthetic gels well with theirs and that his appreciation for music helps them all to relate on an artistic level.

"I think we all respect what each other is doing professionally," notes Blumenfeld. "We're serious about our art and he's serious about his art. It really fits in together."

Lately, Maurey has been influenced more and more by street art and graphic design. Though he finds it surprising that he's just now synthesizing his professional work with his artistic side, he couldn't be more pumped about the possibilities. Maurey has become an avid reader of Juxtapose Magazine and loves the impermanence and hurried layering of graffiti art. And in a way, it seems like a logical step for him to move in this direction. The challenge of his live-performance work with Equaleyes seems a close relative to the daring, night-cloaked world of graffiti art.

"I don't know why I love [street art.] It's stimulating to see the destruction and construction all happen at once. People are tearing stuff down, painting over it, tearing it down again. And it keeps leaving these little chunks."

Maurey himself is a similar collage of colors and influences. He's lines and text by day; freeform swirls and drum solos by night. He's the So-Cal sunshine and the endless McCall snow flurries. His contradictions are the black lines that sweep across his canvases, effortlessly forming the outline of a man of depth and simplicity.