Ah, New York City. We love it so. But let’s face it – it’s a hardcore city that’s not exactly full of people taking time to stop, smile, and bask in happiness. Until now, that is. People are literally doing those things inside of chalk circles and rectangles filled with the words “Happiness Here” that are popping up along the city’s sidewalks. The mystery artist behind all of the smiling faces is street artist The Mazeking. Yes, that’s his moniker. And his story is even better.
The Mazeking came up with the idea for the happiness circles when he was in grad school in Chicago. During his last semester, he talked with some artists and realized that a lot of street art was simply imaged based. He believed he could do something different.
“I wanted people to have a more interactive response, that required a thought process,” he explains. “New York was the perfect place to do this because there is so much foot traffic.”
Naturally, we are blown away by his ability to persevere and to succeed in making rushed New Yorkers stop and engage with his street art. But Mazeking shrugs it off, because to him, there has never been much of a separation between art and life.
“Life and art go together in a fairly natural way,” he says.
Mazeking started drawing when he was just four-years-old. His father was a portrait painter, and his mom was trained in opera and classical music.
“I must have gone to the art gallery once or twice a month, every month, almost,” he recalls. By the time he was 11, he had been exposed to most of the museums on the east coast, including the Smithsonian, the MoMA, and the Museum of Natural History in NYC as well as the BMA and Walter’s Art Museum in Baltimore and several others in DC and Boston. While most kids were skateboarding in the park, The Mazeking was admiring Salvador Dali.
But it took a while before The Mazeking identified himself as an artist.
“I didn’t have a clear understanding I was going to be an artist until the first week of October in 1998. I had a dream one night and the next day it was very clear that I was going to paint. I called my Dad that day and asked him what I needed,” he recalls.
The experience of painting changed him, and redirected his life.
“It was the only thing that I had ever done in my life that felt perfect for me,” he says. “I was in a very lucid state.”
At the time, he had a full-time job, but he was so determined that he approached his boss with a proposal.
“I told him I would work full-time from home,” he says, “and that if he wanted to fire me, that was okay as well.” His boss accepted the proposal and for the next 5-6 months, The Mazeking worked from home, and painted.
A few months later, The Mazeking sold his first painting and that changed everything. Knowing that other people connected with his art kept him going. He now has a solid following and new admirers everyday. (Admirers can pick up a one-of-a-kind painting signed by the man himself exclusively in the DesignGood store. There are limited quantities, so hurry and pick your fave!)
That same persistence that kept him painting helped him when he got to New York. The Mazeking ran out of money and was essentially broke. “I had no money to eat with, but I was spending five or six bucks on a bucket of chalk instead of buying food.” He adds: “Even though people thought I had lost my mind, I stuck with it.”
For The Mazeking, his greatest success was getting people to interact with each other through his art. “New York is very cynical (sometimes), but people are still looking for love, safety, kindness, and community. They are searching for that everyday, no matter who they are or how much money they have,” he says.
Initially, people asked him, “Is it free? Can I use it?” When he was making his second circle, in the middle of a closed street, a guy came up to him and said, “This is a waste of time. I don’t need happiness. No one can ever be happy.” But the negative experience was overshadowed when a seven-year-old found a circle and spent nearly two hours in it. At the end, she asked him, “How did you find a way to make happiness live in the circle?”
He believes that his happiness circles were an introduction to something unexpected in the habitual everyday routine of city dwellers. We love that he reminded New Yorkers that joy is everywhere you look – under trees, next to subways, and even beside garbage cans.
While The Mazeking didn’t know if people would accept his work, he knew he was making an impact when strangers became less strangers by taking pictures with each other, or of each other, in his happiness circles.
“I gave people something to connect with,” he says. “I found that really cool.”
Looking back at how far he’s come, The Mazeking says nothing easy is worth doing. “You have to persevere and keep going.” He remembers warning family and friends that he was going to embark on this project for two years, whether he won or lost, whether he was broke or homeless.
“I knew I wasn’t going to stop,” he says, “no matter how bad it got.”
We love this guy not only because he’s brilliant, and motivated to the max, but because he believes in our power and in everyone’s ability to make a difference. He says that we all have something to offer and that we should constantly ask ourselves: “What can I do to contribute to my community?” With 500,000 people having interacted with The Mazeking’s “Happiness Here” circles, we know he made an impact by slowing people down from the rush and worry of their everyday lives and inspiring them to stop, smile, and bask in happiness.