Jason Harrington sees opportunity in places often overlooked – alleys, elevator shafts and the sides of brick buildings. For the artist better known as Rif Raf Giraffe, they’re vast canvasses, waiting to be filled with gallons and gallons of paint and passion.
Harrington recently traversed the East Crossroads Arts District in search of more real estate. He’s working to find enough walls for dozens of painters in September, when they’ll descend on Kansas City from across the country.
“There’s nothing like putting up 20 new walls in three days,” Harrington said. “It’s pretty awesome to watch a city transform that quick.”
It’s all part of a mural festival that he and his wife, Ami, are organizing for a second year. Originally known as SolaNoir, the event is now called SpraySeeMO.
The Harringtons are playing matchmaker – bringing together donors, building owners and artists to paint 20 to 30 walls in just a few days: Sept. 13-16.
“The advantage of the festival is some of these people have walls and don’t want to pay a dime for this art, and other people got money and don’t have walls,” he said. “So this is the one opportunity where you can put the people who have money with the people who have walls and just get those walls painted that probably wouldn’t be painted.”
Death of a giraffe, birth of an identity
Jason, who’s now 38, found a key part of his identity as an artist in his mid-20s. He was editing video in Chicago, where he went to art school, and he couldn’t seem to forget National Geographic footage he’d seen of a giraffe being hunted. (“Terrible,” he says.)
“I was walking home later on that week, and on my walk home, I found a toy giraffe,” Harrington said. “It’s a sign, right?”
From there, he added “rif raf” to the name because, at the time, he saw himself as “working-class trouble.”
Rif Raf Giraffe.
“Aww, that’s catchy,” he said. “So it stuck.”
‘No inspiration time – you just create’
Harrington moved back to Kansas City five years ago, and in early 2017, painted his signature name on his largest mural yet: off Locust Street near East 17th.
Such huge pieces have led to paying projects, allowing him to paint for a living for the past two years. One of his most recent jobs was at the Made in KC Marketplace on the Country Club Plaza.
Super stoked to have helped our friends @madeinkc_ open their new #marketplace quite the marathon paint job with the all lady team: Designed by: @greyybear Paint team: @amiayars @girlthegreat @sandyayars Under tight deadlines these women got it done #madeinkc #signpainting #commercialart #design #kcmo #kc #kansascity #plaza #mural #painting #signs #walls #geopattern #shapes #colors #seafoam #hustle #artisans #crafts #makers
“A lot of artists wait for inspiration, and if you want to be a professional, there is no inspiration time. It’s you just create,” Harrington said. “And once you get in the habit of constantly creating, you feel empty or dead if you’re not in that mode.”
Harrington is drawn to the futurism movement, he said, and his current work tends to be future pop.
The questions that fuel his work: “What are we going to think of ourselves when we actually know what everyone else is thinking? And I know what I think, so I just assume the world is going to be a real different place once we’re there. Is everyone’s secrets going to be out? Are we just going to be more accepting, or are we just going to try to put more curtails on things and have that Chinese surveillance state … ?”
Harrington also dabbles in political cartoons, like a depiction of President Donald Trump that he painted in Art Alley last year.
The mural didn’t last long – one of the dangers of the art form, he said.
‘Fascion Statement’ fun quick wall hanging w/ the @xmasviper.incarnate in #artalleykc on a #sundayfunday #historyrepeatsitself #politicalart #riseup #saysomething #kcstreetart #kccrossroads #kcmo #kc #trump #comeondon #art #painting #streetart #urbanart #maninthemirror #instaart #artofinstagram #artimitatinglife #bottlesandcans #contemporaryart #rifrafgiraffe
“People defaced it,” Harrington said. “It garnered a lot of attention because it was a powerful image.”
“It might start an argument if you bring up a topic, but if you just stick it on a wall, and then they got to look at it, and there’s no one there to say anything, they’re just stuck with their thoughts,” he added. “What does this mean? Why do I think this about this?”