it's raw, it's real, it's what I feel: Interviewing the Speedway Muralists

In this series of interviews, Melissa Goodrich speaks to the artists who created poetry-inspired murals along the Speedway corridor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Today's interviewee is Alex Fass.

"it's raw, it's real, it's what I feel."
—Alex fass

Alex Fass stands in front of his mural, an interpretation of Marcus OX Williams’ lyrics in the song, “Crush Velvet Amulets.” 
Williams, a Tucson-based hip hop artist, writes about struggles artists face coming up in today’s society.

How long have you been an artist or a muralist? And what led you to becoming a muralist? 

I've been doing art for quite some time now—25 years at least. I grew up just doing graffiti art, street art. I was always into, like, subculture. I started tattooing when I was 18, but was still working with graffiti art and street art and doing mural projects with Campfire Boys and Girls and Youth Center for Arts and Youth Opportunity, a bunch of local organizations that kind of work with youth.


How would you describe your style or your influences as an artist? 

A lot of my influences are a lot of other street artists. Pop culture or just like low-brow artists have always kind of been my thing.


Can you tell me about the poem and poet that inspired your mural and how you discovered that poet? 

Marcus Williams has been a really good buddy of mine, and he's also a phenomenal rapper and street poet. He's always been involved in the same kind of underground hip hop stuff as I have. And I was brought this opportunity through Allison, and I couldn't think of a better poet than Marcus. 

Using the influence of his music, we came up with the production [of this mural]. It shows Tucson—having the city in the center with the sun coming out—and the cactus and the surroundings and our environment—and just being influenced through hip hop and driven to continue doing our craft as artists.

Left: Alex Fass's finished mural. Right: The mural-in-progress, using the doodle-grid method.

Can you tell me more about Marcus's piece and the tie-in to Tucson?

“Crushed Velvet Amulet” is just basically about overcoming the kind of stuff you deal with as an artist . Like other personalities and other people's ways of going about it, and still being able to continue to do it your way and your craft and your style and to make it happen in the city.


I'm really curious why you think public art, like murals, are important.

It has an impact on people. You know, art is just one of those things where people can either resonate with it and relate with it, and it kind of gives them a feeling, whether it's the same feeling that the artist is trying to capture or their own feeling and their own perception—and that's the beauty of it. We all have our own interpretation of each piece, you know, each sound of music or line of poetry or whatever kind of art. 

It just has a good impact on people and makes things positive and makes that creative will in your mind. And I’ve seen it a lot with kids and, you know, I can remember being a kid, seeing cool art, and you’re like, “Wow!” It's kind of like when you see a really cool action figure and it has a really cool box to do, and you’re like, “Man, these colors are really cool!” So yeah, I think public art is very important to society.

How did you build your mural? I remember when I came by, there were some shapes drawn out, and I'd love to hear about your process. 

So what I generally do is just a scribble doodle. It kind of gives me a grid to work off of so I don't have to project the image on the wall. I can just kind of grid it out with this doodle grid. And then what I do is overlay it on a photo on Procreate, and then I just can't go back and forth and then eyeball it like, well, maybe the eye needs to be right here and the hand is over here next to the squiggly mark. It's a fun process—the pay out is good.


Did the final mural surprise you in any way? Did it diverge from your original vision?

No, it actually really stuck to plan, which was pretty unique for me. I don't usually go in with a plan. This time I was fully prepared and had the right color palette. It was pretty much verbatim with what I had the design concept. Yeah. It was a very smooth process! Usually what I do is just kind of get a bunch of different colored paint and then go at it with no sketch. That's a lot of the time. How I did it this way has been way more smoother and way quicker. So it was kind of cool. 


That's awesome that you've had such a range of experiences with different kinds of art you've produced over the years.

Yeah, I've always kept it pretty street. I like that—it's raw, it's real, it's what I feel and it's what I want to give, you know. And that's just all I can really do, you know? 


Do you get to make art full time? What do you spend your days doing?

So I do art full time. So if I'm not painting murals or doing any graffiti stuff, I'll be full time tattooing. I have an online antique business as well. I'm into collecting old vintage toys. So I’m pretty busy. But what's cool about it is that each thing I'm doing is hand in hand with what I love to do.

We recommend starting by parking at the Poetry Center, then heading west along Speedway to enjoy the murals by Sasha Lewis and Jodie Lewers Chertudi. We then recommend you cross the street at Park Avenue, moving east along Speedway to tour the murals of Jenna Tomasello, Alex Fass, and Allison Miller. Once you've visited Allison Miller's mural, we recommend you cross Speedway at Cherry Avenue (rather than Campbell) to visit the final mural on the north side of Speedway by Monique Laraway.


I'm curious about what it’s like working with murals and tattoos—since tattoos are permanent and murals are ephemeral. How do you reconcile that one is so permanent that one could change so much? 

I mean, it's kind of funny when you say it out loud. It kind of sounds like it's the same thing to me because tattoos get weathered and you don't really know how they're going to age. Sometimes they fade. They can be removed, even!

But as far as working in those different mediums—scaling makes it completely different. When you're tattooing somebody, you're up close and personal. It's very intimate. And opposed to just like a public thing [like a mural] where you have a bunch of spectators walking by, asking questions and interacting—which is really dope, too. I really enjoy that. It almost feels like performance art. 

Yeah, but —they're both absolutely great. I get my highs from that. You know, that's where my adrenaline comes from. Just taking on a good, new, solid piece is always a thrill for me.


How has it felt to be a part of this community of muralists and seen all of their work?

Oh man, I love it. I'm so grateful that I was able to be put into this project. It's been a pleasure working with these ladies. They're phenomenal artists. They're all great. And it's just been a real pleasure. A lot of the times of what I'm taking on is just private projects, you know, like if somebody has a garage shop or something, I paint that—but this is like actually working with the UofA Poetry Center. It's been an absolute pleasure.


Alex Fass (@oddfacethrilla) is a celebrated tattoo and street artist whose artistic journey began in the heart of the desert. As a Tucson native, Alex’s work weaves the spirit of the city into captivating designs, reflecting a vibrant blend of tradition with an edge. With a passion for storytelling through ink and paint, Alex's artistry stands as a testament to the rich cultural tapestry of his hometown.