This article was originally published in the August 2017 Trenton Downtowner.
The August Artworks Trenton exhibition “Urban Legend” refers to just that: one of the city’s legendary artists, Will “Kasso” Condry, who will be front and center at the opening on Saturday, August 5, from 7 to 9 p.m.
Promotional materials call it both a look back at previous work of his vibrant street art and a look forward to an exploration away from his usual aesthetic. It is also a symbolic and physical return for the 40-year-old Trenton born and raised artist, pictured at right.
“My mother signed me up for art classes at Artworks when I was in fifth grade because they offered free classes to Trenton youth,” he says in a statement about his solo show at the same institution that inspired him. “In those classes I learned still life drawing, how to make puppets, and it’s where I was encouraged to create my first public art work. My instructor led us to Mill Hill Park, which at the time had all wooden playground equipment. He told us to ‘paint everything.’ It’s a memory I hold dear. I never did anything like that. The entire playground, all the equipment, was painted that day. It left a serious impression on me.”
In interviews and recent statements, “Kasso” — a nickname reference to Pablo Picasso — says while he came from a poor section of Trenton, his truck-driving father and stay-at-home mother gave him simple gifts that continue to give. “My family is very artistic. My brother is a graphic designer. My sister works as a manager for a nonprofit and is a poet. My parents are not visual artists, but they’re great story tellers. We were really poor so we had to improvise. All my subject matter is story-based. It has a beginning, middle, and end. That comes from my family. I remember the stories like movies. My mother was supportive and bought us sketch pads,” he says.
These pads led the young artist to an interest in creating drawings influenced by graffiti and comic books. The Artworks classes fed his hunger to learn more and were part of the path that took him to the College of New Jersey to study fine arts and art history.
An interest in mural painting connected him to the internationally recognized Philadelphia Mural Program, where he was employed for five years as a member of its educational program and an assistant muralist. Of his time in Philadelphia, “Kasso” says, “I learned how massive projects are organized. Since I never got the opportunity to do my own projects, I left and took what I learned for my own projects. I’ve always been my own person. I am not going to wait for someone to make an opportunity. I make my own.”
While he has mastered the use of various media — from oil painting to aerosol — his works are often unified by community-building and beautification projects using murals. That includes Windows of Soul, where the empty windows of blighted buildings were refashioned with artwork to improve the overall look of the Trenton community.
The artist’s physical return is from Vermont, where he has been an artist in residence at Middlebury College.
“I booked this show over two years ago. Two years ago I was in a different place physically and mentally, but I knew something was pulling at me to expand beyond my hometown,” he says in a recent Facebook posting. “I’ve come a long way artistically since those early days. And I’ve always put on for my city. Trenton will always be home no matter where I physically rest. Growth takes risks and risks are necessary in any endeavor.”
Urban Legend, Artworks, 19 Everett Alley. August 1 through 31, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 11 to 6 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays, 11 to 8 p.m., and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Opening reception, Saturday, August 5, 7 to 9 p.m. Free. 609-394-9436 or artworkstrenton.org.