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5 Questions with Michael Mahaffey

GRAFFITI ARTIST Michael Mahaffey shows us his Savannah this weekend.

His newest show, "Savannahland X," opens Oct. 6 at Sulfur Studios. It’s a continuation of Mahaffey’s previous show, "Welcome to Savannahland," that ran at Gallery Espresso this past April.

“Welcome to Savannahland” blended Savannah’s ghost stories with its tall tales and started a story that Mahaffey couldn’t stop telling.

We talked to Mahaffey last week.

1. What’s the alternative Savannah like in your paintings? What are the issues the people deal with?

“Savannahland” is an alternate timeline of Savannah. It’s basically my way to take everything I love about Savannah: the history, the mystery and the beautiful eccentricity of the people here, and push it a little further.

Savannah’s inability to cope with excessive gun violence is mirrored in some of the pieces that reference “musket fire” and death on canvases decorated with spent bullet shells.

I specifically worked to create a version of Savannah that focused on happiness and beauty because that’s primarily how I see the city. Savannahland has flying alligators and oversized insects, but is mostly at peace. However, I couldn’t help draw some attention to the violence because ignoring it hasn’t worked well for the city and I’d like to do whatever I can to make sure as much light is shed on these issues as possible.

2. How does this show fit with “Savannahland” and how does it depart from that?

“Welcome to Savannahland” was simply me introducing the concept to Savannah. I had so many ideas that I knew I’d have to come up with another show. “Savannahland X” is the follow up exhibit and features some reworked concepts from the original as well as some new characters and situations.

3. How do you think street art and politics fit together? Why is that intersection important?

I think it’s all about giving a voice to the people. You can be drowned out on social media, you can be ignored by your elected officials, but graffiti puts the power to be heard right back in your hands. You can literally take your message to the streets.

One thing I love about street art is that it feels almost like a super organic form of advertising. You’re witnessing someone’s message, but instead of it being a message sent down by executives and a team of disconnected workers, you’re seeing something that a specific individual felt passionate enough to potentially risk safety and comfort to put down for you. You’re seeing passion, not product.

4. Give me a background of you as an artist--how did you get started?

I have a BFA in Illustration from SCAD. Living in California for a few years after graduation helped me diversity my skill set and fine tune the street art aesthetic I was obsessed with after SCAD. I still draw all the time, I just turn those drawings into stencils now.

5. What can our Savannah learn from Savannahland? What should we take away?

One thing that I take away from the actual city of Savannah is how shockingly diverse it is for a relatively small Southern town. Savannahland celebrates that diversity a little more openly, inviting people from all walks of like to feel beautiful, respected and powerful.