David Popa

David Popa
Age 24
Muralist, born in New York, currently living in Helsinki

“Long story short, three summers ago I had an opportunity to come to Helsinki. I’d never been anywhere within the Northern countries so I thought it would be fun to just come over and see the city. And so I did. While I was here I did some construction work as well as paint many of the free walls of Helsinki. I also spent a lot of time with this Finnish family I stayed with. They have two daughters, another one is married to my friend’s brother and the other one I got to know really well during that summer. During that stay I was painting and hanging out with that Helsinki girl. During that time we hit it off really well and decided that she should come over to visit me in New York City later in the summer. She did, and we started dating shortly after that time. Now I have been living in Helsinki for over a year and a half, and this past year we got married. So I’ll probably be staying indefinitely in Helsinki.

Free Walls:
“When I came here, the first morning I woke up there was a newspaper article on the table of my host family. It was mentioning all of these free walls in the Helsinki area and also a few spots in Espoo. I freaked out! I was like what! We don’t have this many free walls in New York. There were about eight spots in this newspaper article. The next three weeks I was holding on to this cut out article, scribbled and wrinkled from all my notes and experiences at each wall. It felt like a turning point for me as a muralist, as I experienced painting each wall like conquering another hurdle. I attempted to paint every single one and got rather close in those three weeks time. It was such a memorable and artistically fresh experience to leave your mark in so many locations as well as do pieces simply based on the people and experiences I was having in Helsinki during the three weeks I stayed.”

Papa Was a Graffiti Writer:
“My father, Albert Popa, was born in Romania but moved very early to US. During that time, the early 80’s graffiti was just starting. But that was happening in New York City that the kids around 13, 14, 15 and 16 were jumping in train yards and painting the trains. Which was happening also in Helsinki actually. My dad was essentially one of the first graffiti writers in New York City and was writing with some of the top graffiti writers. He did that a lot maybe for two years but then he stopped all the sudden due to the fact that it started to be kind of a dangerous thing. There were dogs in the train yards and through a crazy series of events, he was actually stabbed in the heart with a screwdriver in a fight and he almost died. Through all that he felt that graffiti was detrimental to him and he just turned a complete 180 degrees angle and did fine arts and fell in with love Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci and Rubens and all of these painters you’d see in the museums.”

How It All Started:
“As a young kid, these images of my father’s paintings on the streets and trains was hidden in a closet and he rarely took them out for me to see. However, the walls of my NYC apartment were covered with his most current work. This kind of exposure, along with bringing me to the museum and teaching me the methods of the old masters, brought my skills to the surface at a very young age. Later on in High School and College I kept pursuing the arts but started to feel a disconnect between the audience and the art that I was experiencing around me in galleries and museums. Due to a series of events I started going to one of the only free walls in the Boston area, where I went to College and started painting large murals there and completely fell in love with it. The concept of going out one day and painting a piece and then having people of the neighbourhood watch, talk and engage with it, brought a fulfillment to the work I was producing.”

About My Style:
“My style – honestly it varies – but if I would categorize my style, it’s contemporary figurative painting, or simply put ‘painting people in a modern way’. I have always painted figures and portraits since my father started teaching me, which are now sometimes considered photorealistic in nature but other times can be more loose in style. In terms of my “title” as an artist I would consider myself as a fine-artist/muralist, but to the public audience the title “street artist” is much easier to understand and is currently seen as quite trendy. I don’t blame people for getting confused about the difference between graffiti, street art, murals and fine art, because honestly I didn’t know what to label myself as for a long time. Even though I do large murals on the streets I do very little actual ”street art”.  Street art from its origin, is really these quick images like wheat pasting or stencils. Banksy does those stencils and he’s sort of the one who paved the way for street art to be popular.”

Street Art Scene in Helsinki:
“To be honest, I don’t think there is much street art/murals in Helsinki, in my point of view. If there is, it’s done by organizations like UPEA and Helsinki Urban Art. They’re inviting lot of international artist. But if there is, well, I’m happy to be part of it. I think it’s definitely growing and I’m really excited to see the development that it’s been through. I would hopefully love to be one of the upcoming artists in Helsinki doing some cool stuff.”

The map shows you David’s Corners. Click on a place to read what David has to say about it.

Text: Karoliina Saarnikko
Photos: Miikka Pirinen