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The Velvet Bandit: Mendocino County’s Very Own Street Artist

[All pictures taken by Matt LaFever around Mendocino County]

The Velvet Bandit stalks the Highway 101 corridor looking for her next victim. Using the anonymity of modernity, where the average citizen is too busy “staring at their phones,” in broad daylight, the Velvet Bandit will use wallpaper adhesive and a paintbrush to plaster her amusing and lively paintings for the community to see.

The Velvet Bandit hails from Willits. She told us in the wake of a 23-year-marriage and subsequent divorce she sought art as a refuge and release. Living in Santa Rosa, last year she was positioned to show her art in a gallery when the pandemic forced it to close. She said, “I have been an artist my entire life” so she decided to make public spaces her new gallery.

Her alias, The Velvet Bandit, originated from a green velvet couch she purchased after her divorce which she characterized as a “symbol of independence.” She told us she began acquiring more velvet items around her home and when it came time to create a street artist name, her friend suggested the Velvet Bandit.

The Velvet Bandit began placing her art in public places at the beginning of the pandemic aiming to “connect with people” and “bring some light to the situation.” Since then, she told us “my art evolved over time. After the killing of George Floyd I did some Black Lives Matter pieces. Around the election, I did some stuff to get people to vote. Now, I’m doing pro-vaccine pieces.” Overall, she hopes to “sprinkle good vibes.”

Using her Santa Rosa garage as her studio, the Velvet Bandit paints her images on newsprint, each one individually hand-painted and hand-cut.

Her work stands in contrast to some of the gritty aesthetics of many street artists with vibrant colors and abstract imagery. She said “I wanted to create something that people like to look at, something fun. I use a lot of retro images.”

The Velvet Bandit is active on social media curating an Instagram account, Facebook page, and a website that all act as an online gallery. She uses social media to “connect with other street artists.” She told us last week she went to Portland, Oregon, and met up with a group of street artists she had met via social media.

The Velvet Bandit is always “scanning for targets,” she said. When choosing a location to paste her art, she tries “ to stay away from private property.” She likes electrical boxes and other municipal buildings “because I feel like I have a right to those areas because I’m a taxpayer.” She pointed out that her work “doesn’t cause any type of permanent damage” and “If I do get caught in the act I can just take it down right away.”

She started off using the cover of night to protect her from suspicious eyes but has found that it is “easier to do it during broad daylight. Everyone is staring at their phones. No one pays attention to this lady with a paintbrush.”

Mendocino County has left an indelible impression on the Velvet Bandit’s artistic DNA. She remembers being a 16-year-old student at Willits High School where she got her first taste of public art when she and her friends tried to do a mural that “was terribly executed.” Just this year, the Velvet Bandit was invited to be a special guest at Willits High School’s art class where she Zoomed in, wearing a mask, and talked to art students about her labors. The art teacher even gave her permission to paste some of her work around the high school which she said, “was cool to return years later and vandalize the high school with permission.”

When asked how Mendocino County’s ethos influences her art, she explained, “My art tries to be fun and give good vibes. That’s what Mendo means to me.”

When asked how she would address folks who see her work as sheer vandalism, she said, “It’s removable, I think it is pretty to look at. I think people enjoy seeing it. I think art is essential and it’s my civic duty.”

She described an occasion where a resident caught her in the act and called her a “nut job” for her efforts. She returned the next day, found her art had been taken down, and she put in its place a painting of a squirrel with the text caption, “I’m a Nut Job.”

Community members interested in finding the Velvet Bandit’s art in the community, she suggested some of the locations her street art can be found:

  • Her Lady of Corona series is on the side Willits’s Mazahar clothing, in a nearby ally, and around the Noyo Theater
  • Some of her art can be found near the Boonville Fairground on the opposite side of Highway 128
  • Her art is plastered near Fort Bragg Noyo Harbor and in Fort Bragg’s Downtown.
  • Multiple pieces are in Hopland and in downtown Ukiah near the Palace Hotel.

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