Deity on a Derelict Wall: Cbloxx

 Interview by T.K. Mills - Images Provided by Polly Dawson and Thirdrailart

Cbloxx ranks among the legacy artists at the Akumal Arts festival, starting from year one. The artist, who is trans and uses neutral gender pronouns, has been at the forefront of Akumal’s talent; from 2022’s deity mural to their first piece, a skull under the bridge as part of the collaborative duo, Nomad Clan, Cbloxx has both raised and set the bar when it comes to creativity.

CBLOXX Akumal Arts Festival 2022, Third Rail Art

During this year’s festival, Cbloxx painted solo against the ocean’s roaring winds to create another iconic mural along the façade of a derelict beachfront property. In a social media post, they summarized some of the meaning behind the piece: 

“So many life lessons, so many half attempts to write this as an Instagram post. Its gonna have to be a multi one! should it be journal style? There's much to discuss, cast away style, wilderness and emotional regulation. Self-love, addiction and change. I have been embarking on a journey of self-discovery and gender identity during the pandemic after spending 38 years ignoring my transness. During this time, I began to look into the idea of third gender representation recorded in history, leading me to ancient civilizations, religions and indigenous cultures.”

The visually stunning and emotionally charged mural served as the backdrop for the 2022 closing ceremony.

With the festival winding down, I caught up with Cbloxx to discuss the evolution of their style; finding inspiration in your surroundings; and their deep emotional connection to Akumal and all it represents.

This interview has been edited for concision and clarity. 
CBLOXX Akumal Arts Festival 2022, Third Rail Art

T.K. Mills: When did you start spray-painting?

Cbloxx: Roughly? About 16 years ago, but I’m not sure that that’s totally accurate. It’s either 16 or 15, but it feels like quite a long time.

T.K. Mills: What initially inspired you to get into it?

Cbloxx: Seeing it around on the streets. My experiences with academia and stuff were not great; things weren’t clicking for me. I knew I wanted to do art. I always loved art, but for whatever the reason in an academic setting, it wasn't doing it for me. Where I’m from, there wasn’t any artistic opportunities really. I mean you had to go through art school to be someone. So, it’s almost as if street art found me on some level because it seemed to be that you could be whomever you are and do whatever you want. I’m coming from a punk music background so that seemed to be the way. It seemed to make sense.

So, I started painting in a very, very nervous state. I was terrified. I’ve seen it and I just thought it looked the coolest. It looked so free. I liked the fact that there was a lot of movement in it but, yes, I was practicing in weird little basements or abandoned bits and places.

 CBLOXX Akumal Arts Festival 2022, Third Rail Art

T.K. Mills: You needed places where you can paint without having to stress too much.

Cbloxx: Exactly. I was never looking for my adrenaline rush. I have mad respect for graffiti. They have to master all kinds of other elements but for me, I wanted to just disappear into some derelict spot and see what I could create. So, that’s how I started out and then I went on to start teaching it. I was a youth worker. I needed to hold down a normal job.

I moved on from making sandwiches to youth work. That actually pushed me to start wanting to get better. I started going out with a couple of graffiti writers and they were showing me some of the ropes as well. I think painting within the scene really pulled me up as well. It was a nice community, but I had to really fight to get any visibility. That roughly is how it all started off.

Eventually, at some point along the way, I met Aylo at Graffiti Jams. She had a spray paint shop in Manchester and I thought she’s really badass opening a shop and dealing with all these rough guys coming in. We kind of formed a bit of a collective, a bunch of us. We started taking it seriously.

CBLOXX Akumal Arts Festival 2022, Third Rail Art 

T.K. Mills: Was there ever an official name for this new collective?

Cbloxx: I call it T&T, it was a feminist thing. It actually stood for Tits and Tampons. They were a bunch of badass girls getting up on trends and stuff. They were going in a different direction, but myself and Aylo wanted to just keep upping our game and make painting our full-time thing. 

Things just clicked and moved pretty fast and so, it evolved from there. It evolved from working on the streets because there was no other way. I think that’s why normal artists are encouraged to paint murals because it’s a good way of getting visibility if you’re not within academic circles and whatnot.


T.K. Mills: The academic route can certainly be stifling.

Cbloxx: Precisely. So, for us, what kind of started to explode was giant muralism because that became our specialty. It's a very different experience to work on a smaller scale to some degree. Once we got like 1 or 2 biggies under our belt, then it was like “Right, we can take this.”

We started getting a lot of attention then because we were painting giant murals in places that didn’t have any. So, it was localized. We painted the tallest mural in the U.K. and from that point, it was like festival, festival, festival.


T.K. Mills: How big was the tallest mural in the U.K.?

Cbloxx: It was quite a long time ago so I may have forgotten, but it’s bigger than the Statue of Liberty. Tall. It’s a skyscraper.

It’s still the tallest in England. We’re about to do another one that might be taller so, we’ll still be retaining that. It’s in the north of England as well. So, it was quite like a pride thing to do it some place close to home.


T.K. Mills: So, how did the Nomad Clan come about?

Cbloxx: It just kept evolving. After Aylo and I met, after we started working together, it just evolved. Aylo’s work was more letter writing, like bold full cases. I was always more tactile, weird characters. The more that we were together, the more she was starting to lean into that as well. There’s just a lot of our styles building on each other.

We started really strategizing about how to do that. It started appearing naturally. Aylo is really good with logistics and she’s really into getting large spaces covered as quickly as possible and then I’m in a fog for like 3 hours where I go into a cajole of detail and whatever else, but it works. It’s complimentary. It’s now focused more on process; we’ve become a fully-fledged business. The great thing about this is it’s given me a chance now to focus on some of our solo stuff and have that freedom in preparation.


T.K. Mills: How was it working on more corporate projects, versus the freedom of your own work?

Cbloxx: It’s a fight basically because we never have been stubborn. We don’t like to compromise the integrity of the artwork even if it’s a massive project. We want people to still be able to enjoy murals as a piece of art because I think there’s so much advertising and stuff nowadays. 

All the murals were very specific message-based images. At the same time, it was all our design work. They might be like “Well, you have to use yellow and black because those are our brand colors, but then we don’t mind working within frameworks as long as we still have creative vision.


T.K. Mills: To give an idea of the timeline, when did the Nomad Clan start?

Cbloxx: I have no idea. My God, it’s got to be 7 years ago. It could be longer. I feel like the pandemic has stopped me having any idea about time.


T.K. Mills: How did you first hear of Akumal? You’ve been here every year now, right?

Cbloxx: Right. So, the very first Akumal Festival, we basically headlined it.


T.K. Mills: If I remember correctly, you guys painted under the bridge.

Cbloxx: Yeah, that’s right. So, we were already painting in the States. We’d been bouncing around funnily enough in Flint, Michigan. There’s a lot of these artists. It’s like a weird sort of 2018 revival or something. We were jumping around; we did L.A, we did CRUSH Walls in Denver, and Paints Shine.


T.K. Mills: You painted in New York as well?

Cbloxx: Right. So, we were jumping around and Jake [Klonism] asked, “Would you be able to come and do this festival in Akumal?” I’d already seen that it was a literal paradise and was thinking, “Where the hell did he find this place?”


T.K. Mills: So you knew Klonism [Art Director of AAF] from before the Akumal Arts Festival?

Cbloxx: Back in the day. He was part of the graffiti community that, when I was coming up, he was part of it. It’s really nice. He kind of ran off for over a year. I saw him online and I thought, he’s just changed his life. So, he asked us to come in and that ended up with an absolutely huge amount of applicants from the areas that we’re from. Suddenly, people were hearing about it and wanted to apply. It was a really, really nice experience to be invited out to and to see how it has evolved to where it’s at now. 

I would say that the quality of the murals really improved though. I can’t cope anymore. This is definitely the best edition in terms of raw skills. I’ve never seen Akumal looking so A-game as it does right now. There’s something about this place, once you’ve been once, you wanna keep coming back.

I’ve been here during some of the most significant times in my life, which just means that it’s always a highly emotional experience for me. My grandma passed away when I got to Akumal. She’d been around these areas and anywhere I was out. So, there was this really weird spiritual connection.

Everyone at the festival was so brilliant with me and really supportive. I came out during the pandemic to paint at a school after the two lads were killed [local Akumal teenagers]; a tribute to them. Then, I ended up getting married.

T.K. Mills: I hadn’t realized you got married in Akumal.

Cbloxx: Yeah, so, that was also a highly emotional thing. Then finally this time, it’s just been bonkers. I can’t even explain, but it’s been some sort of obscure rollercoaster. It felt like such an honor getting exposed like this; it felt right.

I got this particular mural design in mind because a lot of my work is very tactile and it’s really led by the spaces that I paint on as opposed to coming in and doing something random.

T.K. Mills: To switch gears a bit now, how did your personal style evolve in terms of both subject matter as well as palettes that you used?

Cbloxx: I feel like where I’m from has influenced a lot of the colors of my work. The only reason I say that is because I’m a big fan of some European artists. You can see how their work was inspired. Etam Cru’s work, for instance, it’s very gray, quite industrial. There’s a lot of derelict. There’s a lot of natural colors and stuff in the textures that you would find there. They use a lot of emotion. I think for me coming from somewhere similar, it rains a lot. It’s gray. It’s fairly overcast. So, everything has always got a bit of a neutral-ish tinge to it. It makes it more on that spectrum. I also did a lot of oil painting, and so, there’s strangely some sort of synchronicity there. Visually as an artist, I’m quite inspired by heavy, dark and raging colors. It was interesting though, because I didn’t really want to go too heavy for this mural. The owner inherited these buildings as derelict. He is in love with it. He’s got quite a strong relationship with these buildings and he’s got keen eyes, an interior designer’s eyes. So, he was very happy to know that I’m working that same vibe into the wall.

So, I guess in terms of content, I am quite inspired by my heritage, history, folklore, ancient civilizations, but also just internal crap. Sometimes I don’t know what will come out until after the fact. I look back at it and I’m like, “Oh, that actually communicates something to myself.”


T.K. Mills: So, you’re, in a way, processing your own thoughts and feelings as you go?

Cbloxx: Yeah. Often, there’s a lot of social justice issues coming up. Sometimes it’s really just a new face. It just depends on what the subject matter is. I always try to speak from a place of experience if I’m going to do that or at least really inform myself and research before I start.

People will come to your wall and start telling you what they know about the area: what they’ve heard, or is it about this, or is it about that. That really does start to influence elements within the piece. Especially with this mural, I kept it a loose concept and then I just rolled with it because I was down there so long. 

T.K. Mills: Where did your art name come from?

Cbloxx: I can’t remember. Genuinely. Everyone always asks me this and I’m like, it was an abbreviation or something. It’s so old now, I’ve had it since the start. I’ve never switched it. I thought maybe I should and then I’d be able to explain it. Now, I’m just like, “Fuck it, it is what it is.”

T.K. Mills: Last question, what are some of your aspirations for the future?

Cbloxx: Well, interestingly enough, there’s a little bit of a personal tinge to this piece. I was researching gender identity within ancient civilizations. I am actually binary-trans. The fascinating thing about that is that it’s existed for a long, long time; in ancient cultures and in my cultures, there were deities that actually switched worlds; we’re talking gods and goddesses. They were the same. There is also history of this out here in Mexico, but obviously, when there was colonization, it pushed out these concepts.

So, what will happen? What I always do is I end up writing pretty much an essay, honest crap, to explain my piece, but that’s when I get to talk a little bit about the politics around a deeper hidden meaning. With this piece, I’m slowly exploring the notion of ancient civilizations and their ideals being gradually taken away and pushed out. I also wanted it to be a celebration though, because the stories around trans are often quite tragic, especially in Mexico. So, I want the piece to be slightly ambiguous. My mural is portraying a deity: the Moon Goddess and Maize God. They would switch roles often. So, it wasn’t so binary, but I wanted that power and almost that shamanic like essence to it. I wanted it to be something that would be universal in some way. So, there’s a lot of layers to this concept.

Then obviously, like with the cosmos in there and stuff, I wanted to portray the way ancient Mexico was just so advanced as a civilization with mapping things. For me, what I’d like to see in the future is an open-mindedness and an ability for people to accept one another across the board. I think we’ve all gone through some major changes, and it’s not just change, it’s painful actually. It happens for a reason, and we need to be more fluid in that and more open to things.

Everybody just wants to find happiness and love and what better place than to explore that in freaking Akumal, right?


T.K. Mills: Honestly, Akumal is pretty much as close to paradise as you’re gonna get.

Cbloxx: Precisely.

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