Unmasked: Gaia, street artist specializing in leather-clad roosters

The street artist known as Gaia, whose image of a leather-clad rooster cradling the head of John the Baptist had me questioning my eyesight and sanity last winter, has been unmasked -- in a way that proves no good deed goes unpunished.

Gaia is trying to help the Edgar Allan Poe House, which is in danger of closing because the city has cut off funding. He has donated 100 limited-edition prints of "The Raven (Forevermore), 2011," which will be sold for $400 apiece unframed, $600 framed. Proceeds will go to the Poe House.

The prints will be sold at a reception for Maryland Institute College of Art alumni on Thursday, and later to the general public.

"We are pleased to highlight a MICA alumnus in one of the creative efforts underway to raise support for this city landmark," says the invitation from the MICA Alumni Association and other organizers of the reception (6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Case[werks] Showroom & Gallery, Railway Express Building, 1501 St. Paul, Suite 116).

The invite goes on from there to identify the "critically acclaimed emerging artist with gallery shows in Chicago, New York and Washington and street art from Madrid to Seoul" by name.

And the name is ...

You're not getting it out of me. Not after I called Gaia to find out why he'd chosen to have his name on the invitation and found out he hadn't.

Gaia has always kept his real name under wraps because posting drawings on private buildings is illegal, even if the drawings are artistically acclaimed and the buildings abandoned. When I talked to him in March about his startling rooster art, Gaia asked to be identified only as a MICA student.

"I don't know why they included it," said Gaia, who graduated from MICA this year. "They’ve been insistent upon always using my name. I kept saying, 'No, no.'"

MICA spokeswoman Jessica Weglein said the school only wanted to make clear who the MICA grad was, since no one by the name of Gaia matriculated there.

"[T]he alumni office added his real name to help identify him as a MICAn in an e-mail sent to MICA alumni," she said. "This wasn't meant as a major unveiling. Institutionally, we've used Gaia as his pseudonym in communications materials and plan to do so in the future."

In any case, Gaia wasn't letting a little lost anonymity ruffle his feathers too much. He figures police in Baltimore are too busy with serious crimes to come after a street artist.

"They’ve got other things to worry about for sure," he said.

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