Photo: Mark Gaetos
Sometimes I’m lucky enough to meet people who are physical embodiments of the spirit of a city, and Ernest Doty is one of those people.
A multi-faceted artist and activist who is best known for his imaginative intergalactic murals seen all over Oakland, Doty is a true testament to the diversity that makes this place so special. Like Oakland, Doty wears the beautiful scars of his struggles with pride. In this mecca of talented creatives, Doty’s humility, versatility and heart help him stand out in the crowd.
We talked with Doty to get to know him better and this look inside the artist’s mind revealed the mystery that can be felt in most of his paintings.
Name: Ernest Doty
Primary social media: Instagram
How old were you when you began embracing your creative gifts?
As young as I can remember. I was always drawing and doodling. My mom has one of my first bird drawings somewhere.
I discovered my love for graffiti probably around 1992 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
How does cannabis factor into your creative process?
I always smoke before and while I’m creating—to relax and help with focus. It helps me feel centered, my mind, body and soul connected, and I notice that I become much more fluid in my painting.
Flowers, edibles or concentrates?
Always flower. I sometimes vape as well because of convenience but nothing beats flower … there’s nothin’ like the real thing.
Do you have a favorite strain?
I like a solid hybrid like Blue Dream.
Tell us about your favorite kind of high—what does that high feel like?
My ideal high is having the ability to be active and do the things I’m passionate about. I’m not a fan of smoking a strain that leaves me couch-locked with my whole day wasted. There’s too much to do, to see and to paint for that!
Do you remember what your very first experience with cannabis was like?
It was mellow at first, maybe too mellow…I started to smoke more, and it got more intense. I found myself in way too deep of thought to even move my body. Definitely learned my limits after that day.
What is your biggest challenge of being an artist or working in a creative field?
Continuing to grow creatively while struggling to stay afloat financially in this capitalist society is something every artist knows too well. The struggle is a lifestyle. Other than that, just remaining relevant and never being stagnant in creating.
Are there any other mediums with which you express yourself?
I write spoken word poetry. A lot of my themes are political. I also make puppets and practice ventriloquism. My puppets make light of real life situations that my friends and I go through in our ’hood: gentrification, housing crisis, police brutality…things that plague our community.
What turns you on—creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Pushing the limits with the urban exploring I do really gets my blood pumping and inspires me creatively, spiritually and emotionally. The abandoned spaces and urban decay I explore remind me that I need to leave something great behind. Something bigger than myself.
I’d have to say youth is a major driving force behind my creativity. Having younger friends who are also creatives and getting to be a mentor to them is fulfilling. Passing on my knowledge and experiences is that something-bigger-than-myself feeling.
What’s your favorite curse word?
Probably “fuck.” It’s just so versatile, it’s really for everyday! It can be endearing, “I fucking love you!” or it can be insulting, “Fuck you, you fuck!” It can even be just a blanket word you use silently to yourself when you’re frustrated. Often I’ll say to myself, “Fuck, where did I put that fuckin’ can of paint? I just had it!” It’s the yin and the yang.
What was the most impactful event of your life?
Growing up homeless and fighting to survive is something that obviously impacted my life in a major way. Dealing with harsh realities and lots and lots of grief and loss.
The first time I ever laid eyes on a massive graffiti piece, that hit me hard. I saw and felt a kind of freedom that I never saw in traditional art museums. Getting arrested for painting didn’t even matter. That feeling of freedom is so worth it.
Who is your real-life hero?
My parents. We all went through hell and back together, and the sacrifices they both made is something I can never repay them for. They’ve always supported my art and my personal politics. I respect them a lot for their openness and understanding.
How do you express love? Would you consider yourself affectionate?
Very. I’m a very emotional person.
The biggest way I express love is probably by just listening. Having the patience to listen, understand and accept people is much harder than half-ass listening just to give advice. People need to know they may be lost, but they’re not unlovable.
What do you think happens after you die?
I really have no idea. It’d be cool if our conscious stayed aware, but I don’t think anyone has any idea.
How would you live if you had limitless money?
I would travel the world and paint every surface I could! I’d bring all my people with me. I’d really know life in a different way than I do now, because the sad truth is money is power. It wouldn’t make me any happier, but I’d use that power to change people’s lives, though. More money equals more opportunities. Period.
What gives you hope?
Life. New, beautiful life gives me hope. It’s really so precious. I find that in nature, pets and in love.
The unconditional love of dogs is something us humans don’t even deserve.
Where is home? Is it a feeling or a place?
Definitely a feeling.
My roots are in New Mexico, my roots being my family. The struggle that I experienced there definitely made me who I am.
I live in Oakland now. It’s not my hometown, but I’ve invested a lot here over the years.
I came in as an outsider, and I was determined to never take. I really set out to earn the respect of the established community.
What’s one example of how you earned this respect?
When I got one of my first legal (commissioned) gigs to paint a wall in Oakland I made sure to include local graffiti artists, and I made sure they got paid. They were young and had never been paid for their art before. It’s a cool experience to be a part of.