First illegal RedBall install, Barcelona, Gothic Quarter. 2002

Waiting to Get Arrested in Barcelona / how my career started



I took this photo while I was waiting to get arrested. We were installed illegally in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, just a few blocks away from the Guardia Civil, and my expat guide had told me we might not have much time. Spain’s Guardia weren’t cops, they were urban military dealing with Basque terrorists, I didn’t imagine they would have much patience for an American idiot like me who didn’t even speak the language, who had blocked a street with a 15 foot high redball.

first street art First RedBall Barcelona install, Gothic Quarter. temporary public art,
First illegal RedBall install, Barcelona, Gothic Quarter. 2002.

As I stood with my camera, watching some of the first people in the world to see my work on the street, I was fascinated and terrified. I just kept shooting thinking ‘this could be the last picture I get’. Rolls of film were hidden on me, I assumed whatever was in the camera would be destroyed. Mostly though, I would drift into the joy of just watching things unfold on the street.

An abuela shuffled down the sidewalk in her yellow flowered house dress, walking her terrier. She stopped on the corner and stared at my work for a long time. I took that photo, having no idea it would become the seminal image of a work I would take around the world for more than a decade. My RedBall, that grandmother and her dog, would be on billboards and posters for years to come. In speeches I sometimes point out the one detail I missed when I clicked the shutter; her dog was taking a piss. Who knows what she thought when staring at my work, but the dog had clearly gotten it.

That day in Barcelona was the seed of a vast story that was to unfold for years to come. For me it was an awakening of many realizations the work would offer me. The immediate lesson shocked me and guided me ever since, because we weren’t arrested that day, and I think I know why. What I had done was too absurd and too bold to be considered an action without permission, ‘certainly someone said yes to that’, it invited rather than proselytized, it proposed joy not anger, humor not rage. We had one fantastic day on c/ Jaume I, and then we were gone.