TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — On a sunny Friday afternoon in downtown Tampa, Glenn Baham stood on the sidewalk outside a corner cafe, thinking about the blank canvas in front of him.
Passers-by slowed down, looking at the various abstract art propped up on the walls of the Kava Culture Kava bar behind him—their bold colors, their urban feel.
“Good,” a woman said.
“You like it?” Baham, 27, said. “Thank you so much.”
So: what color to choose for his next piece of street art? “Pink,” someone suggested, and he was off, spraying and spreading the acrylic paint, grabbing a palette knife for texture. While he was working, the rap song “Midnight Smoothie” played on his earbuds and people stopped to watch.
For Baham, it all happened so quickly.
By day, he’s one of Jimmy John’s sandwich takeaway riders, which has become part of the downtown landscape. He is also a BMX biker and skateboarder.
But after get off work, he has become a sought-after local artist, creating work outside the Cava Bar on Franklin and Twiggs Streets, and sometimes peddling his paintings to downtown businesses. They sold – over 50 – and he got more commission.
“He was a kid who came into the store with his art, and I thought it looked cool,” said Sharon Casaccia Kyte, owner and optician of upscale Designing Eyes a few blocks away. She bought a small one that complemented the bright colors of her store and agreed to show some more, and her customers bought these. She ended up getting four herself.
Smaller sections — 16×20 — have recently sold for $80 to $90. He got $450 for the larger piece, but has yet to sell his larger piece for $900, which he will use for studio space.
“The universe has been fine,” Baham said.
However, the road to becoming a contemporary street artist is not always smooth. There have been cautionary tales.
Raised by his grandparents a block north of downtown and nicknamed Tank, Baham says his dream is to be a BMX rider at the Olympics. But he has always loved art.
“I’m just a high school kid, imitating those kids who doodle,” he said.
He went to Hillsboro High School, DW Waters Career Accelerator Academy, then trade school. For a while, he was working but homeless and sleeping in his truck, although not many people knew about it.
When he was 25, he painted “tanks” and smiley faces with color markers on the walls near the Riverwalk. He was arrested and charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief.
“I went to jail for this,” he said. “Graffiti, that’s my choice.”
They kept him there for a few days. Inmates with more serious charges gave him advice: “They were like: ‘Stop painting on the walls. You can get out of jail. We can’t,'” he said. He worked and paid for community service hours, and the state government dropped the case.
“No more spray paint,” he said. “I’m just touching the canvas right now.”
One night last month, he was robbed by two men in the city centre while walking to a bus stop. He went to the hospital for stitches to his scalp. Somehow, he said, the experience seemed to make his art better.
What happened to his art was accidental. Next door to busy Jimmy John’s is Kava Culture, a hip café-style venue that hosts community gatherings, including open mic nights and group meditations. On Art Night two years ago, Baham picked up a small canvas and started painting.
The painting is good, some say. “I thought, ‘If people like my color, maybe I should move on,'” he said.
Kava Culture manager Matthew Clark said when it wasn’t art night, he would come in and ask for canvases. “He just started drawing and we were like, ‘Oh my God, this guy can draw,'” he said. “The quality he’s able to produce is exciting.”
His Jimmy John’s recipe started out for art supplies. At events where people sell jewelry and magic, kava culture gave him a table. “I’m just out there selling art to make money,” he said.
“In two years, I went from zero to one hundred very quickly,” he said.
Displayed inside the Cava Bar, his paintings often include a three-point graffiti-style crown in honor of the late New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a noted street art pioneer. Some of Baham’s works include portraits by his friend and artist Chase DiBrizzi.
A recent article contains whimsical WiFi symbols on an abstract background. Another city skyline that features orange and pink—his favorite, he says, “because when it’s close to night, it looks like downtown.”
Gary Yamnitz, a retired credit union manager, has two. “A friend came in (at my house) and said, ‘Is that Glenn’s?'” he said.
Baham’s personality seems to fit in with street art performances. At 6-foot-5, he often bends over to hug someone. “He’s just an easy-going guy who always wants to talk to anyone,” Clark said.
On that Friday afternoon, Antonio Ross, who worked for the Department of Defense and was in town from Atlanta, fell in love with the still-dry work Baham had just finished—enough to buy it for $150. “A beautiful piece of art,” he called it.
“Seeing someone here doing something positive, you support them,” he said.
He asked Baham if he would include his fingerprints when he signed the painting. Is this in case Baham becomes famous one day?
“He’s famous now,” Ross said, nodding to those watching him work.
“My goal is to travel the world and sell my art,” Baham said. “And ride in every skate park in the world.”