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Street artist Reed Bmore stages a high wire act

The girl in the tire swing is swaying above North Avenue, sneakers pointing to a traffic light.

A block away, the Natty Boh guy and the Utz girl speed away on their wedding day, cans trailing behind their car.

And then there's Cupid, aiming an arrow at the street. Above him float the words, "I loved more."

The works of artist Reed Bmore look like line drawings come to life.

The 22-year-old shapes sculptures from metal wire, then hangs them on light poles and traffic light cables.

The works are witty and smart, Calder meets Banksy. They are easy to miss, and thrilling to find hanging high above the street. An online gallery of his work was viewed more than 120,000 times in the first five days after he posted it last week.

The artist, who graduated in May from the Maryland Institute College of Art, says he is just getting started.

"I want to fill up Station North to the point where, when you stop, you can't help but see one of my works," he says. "Then I want to work my way around Baltimore."

His given name is Jon Struse, but friends call him J. As an artist, he is known as Reed Bmore, words he works into most of his sculptures.

"It's a kind of a metal watermark," he says.

The Baltimore artist known as Nether says Reed's work is unique among street artists — those who place their works in public places.

"When you can figure out something that no one else is doing, that's the best way to keep yourself fresh and interesting," says Nether, a friend of Reed's.

In his studio in Station North's CopyCat Building, Reed shapes his working name from a length of wire. His hands work a pair of needle-nosed pliers with the speed and assurance of a line cook peeling vegetables.

Coils of metal, threads of tobacco and crumpled McDonald's bags are scattered across a paint-streaked plywood table in the studio, which he shares with a few other artists. Another artist's draft of a pop art mural covers one wall. Boxes of spray paint cans are stacked around the room.

Reed has shaggy black hair that he tucks under a striped-brimmed Knicks cap. As he putters around his studio, he wears a pineapple print tank top, smudged khaki shorts and black socks pulled up to his knees. He is earnest and friendly and charmingly polite.

He has long been fascinated by form and line. He was preoccupied by Legos as a child. When he was a teenager, his father let him spray paint graffiti onto the walls of his bedroom.

Reed started making wire sculptures while a student at Broadneck High School in Annapolis. He has experimented with many other media but finds wire sculpture most intriguing. He studied neon signs to learn how to craft forms from wire.

"Wire is the closest thing to drawing in three dimensions," he says.

At MICA, Reed majored in environmental design, focusing on architecture and product design. He'd like to start a design firm but still spend half his time sculpting.

"He's a real artist, but he's a problem solver, a troubleshooter," says Nether, who was born Justin Nethercut. "He's really good at building things, fixing things."

In his junior year, Reed took a class that explored the history and ecological impact of changes in Baltimore's watersheds. He created several wire sculptures — including one of a girl pumping water — for the class, which he considers an inspiration for some of his current work.

"He's a storyteller in his work," says Katie O'Meara, an environmental design professor who co-taught the class with professor Jann Rosen-Queralt. "He has a vision, and it has a narrative. These figures feel like characters."

These are some of the characters Reed has hung on streets around Baltimore: a sloth waving a flag, a gloomy cowboy clutching a revolver, a heart holding a gun and a diamond.

Like three-dimensional doodles, many of his pieces play off of the structures on which they are hung.

In one, a boy leans against a pole while tossing his shoes onto the arm of a streetlight. Another shows a child swinging from hoops that appear suspended from a bridge. He hung one of his most recent works — a cartoonlike Pinocchio — under a traffic camera.

Reed says he likes creating figures of children because they evoke a sense of nostalgia.

It takes him about a day to create a work. He'll start turning over an idea in his head as he wakes up in his Reservoir Hill home. He stops at Red Emma's for coffee, then spends the next several hours in his studio, bending, clipping and fastening wire.

Often he'll spend the evening drinking beer and working in his studio with other artists.

He hangs what he calls the wire sculpture equivalent of stickers — small pieces, like squirrels or smiley faces — wherever he goes.

"It gets kind of ridiculous when you have a stack of metal smiley faces in your pocket," he says.

Reed's myriad interests — engineering, design, animation — inform his precise work. Curves and jutting angles create a sense of movement in a football player leaping toward a raven. The number "1" on the player's sleeve is fashioned from wire only slightly thicker than dental floss.

He has designed an elaborate clip system for the sculptures which enable them to rest securely on cables yet still move with the breeze. It's been a process of trial and error — of the 20 or so larger works he has hung, about seven remain.

"Most were taken down by the wind," he says.

He hung the first couple of pieces by shimmying up a traffic pole, but that was awkward, and difficult, to say the least. Now he has a better system.

Reed parks his sun-bleached Honda in a dollar store parking lot on Washington Boulevard, then pulls out a telescoping painter's pole. He loops the sculpture of the football player to the pole, waits for a break in traffic, then quickly attaches it to a traffic light cable stretched across Martin Luther King Boulevard. A Medevac helicopter whirrs overhead and a woman wearing a white blanket asks him for change.

The key is to work quickly and confidently, Reed says. That way no one questions what you are doing.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says that while the mayor appreciates "the contributions artistic creativity brings to a growing city like Baltimore," she does not condone breaking the law, or creating a hazardous situation, to place artwork.

Reed might soon have an opportunity to create work in collaboration with city officials. He met Friday with employees with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, an agency spokesman confirmed.

Since photos of his work became a sensation on Imgur and Reddit, Reed says he has received several offers for commissioned pieces, for which he charges $500 to $1,000, depending on the size.

But Reed says he plans to continue giving his work to the city that has been his home for the past four years. He used to be devastated when his pieces disappeared, but now he has made his peace with the ephemeral nature of his work.

There are three hard parts in creating art, he says: knowing how to begin, when to end and how to let go.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

twitter.com/juliemore

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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