Know Your Street Art: Cosmic Human Evolution

464 Oak St., by Fifth Street (Oakland)

For the thousands of drivers who go past Cosmic Human Evolution every day, the sight of Ernest Doty’s and Ryan Montoya’s giant figures offer a glimpse of the future.

And that future is the post-21st century, when — in Doty’s figurative rendering, which occupies the mural’s right side — humans will have no faces to speak of, just a kind of blue sky from which the trail of a rainbow emerges.

Doty’s depiction is absolutely surreal. In fact, Doty calls his newer paintings “future, surreal pop art.”

“It’s a theme that I’ve been in for the past year,” Doty, 37, says of Cosmic Human Evolution. “I just got tired of painting birds. I was doing a lot

of bird murals, and I’ve done a lot of weird, crazy, mythical monster-looking things. They’re all really the same character, and they all fall along the same storyline in my head. I think we as a species, humankind, have the ability for great potential, and I

think we’re going to reach a point of enlightenment, but it will be too late, and at a cost to both ourselves and our environment. That’s why my characters are malformed. They’re supposed to be a shaman version of us in the future. They’re supposed to be really old, and represent all humankind.”

Doty’s figure in Cosmic Human Evolution holds a mushroom, and the birds in this and Doty’s other work are there to “bring a sense of nature back into our urban environment. I see birds as a messenger that can go back and forth between two worlds.” The work’s rainbows, he says, connect to the Hopi prophecy that imagines a pure world in the future, and to a sense of “magic and creativity.”

Doty is one of the Bay Area’s most prolific street artists, with about 100 works on buildings and walls that he’s put up in the eight years that he’s lived in Oakland. Doty moved there from his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and he’s a full-time artist who gets many commissions. His mural with Montoya near the entrance to Highway 880 — sponsored by Athen B. Gallery and funded by the VSCO Artist Initiative and Nido restaurant — went up on a wall that was formerly hit with graffiti.

“I can pretty confidently say,” he says, “that I have more murals than anybody in the Bay Area.”

Doty, whose work often has political and environmental motifs, was a participant in the Occupy Movement. In October 2011, he was one of the people who helped Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen in downtown Oakland after a police projectile hit him in the head. In New Mexico, Doty’s stepbrother and cousin were killed by police, he says. Through his art, Doty says he wants to remind people — including drivers about to head toward the Nimitz Freeway, but especially children — what he thinks is important. Cosmic Human Evolution went up about a year ago, in just four days.

“I think the community is more effective and more necessary for the community than government or policing,” he says. “I go to almost every single protest. I try to be politically aware of everything that’s going on. I read. And connect. But I’m really painting for kids. I want kids to see that they don’t have to follow this corporate idea of what their lives have to be to represent some sort of success or to be a productive member of society. They can follow their own passions and still be a productive member of our society.”

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