For Tampa Street Artist, Downtown’s A Canvas

Glen Baham, 27, poses for a portrait in front of his painting hung up on the wall of Kava Culture Kava Bar in downtown Tampa, Friday, April 8, 2022. Baham is a BMX enthusiast and Jimmy John’s delivery driver who had an unexpected epiphany after he got caught spray-painting graffiti and went to jail: he could do his art legally. At art night at Kava Culture (next door to Jimmy John’s) his colorful abstracts on canvas caught on, first selling for $20 and $40 and now, his biggest canvases, for $900.(Arielle Bader/Tampa Bay Times via AP) Arielle Bader AP

On a sunny Friday afternoon in downtown Tampa, Glen Baham stood on the sidewalk outside a corner café, pondering a blank canvas in front of him.

Passersby slowed to look at his assortment of abstract art propped along the wall of the Kava Culture Kava Bar behind him — their bold colors, the urban feel.

“Nice,” a woman said.

“You like it?” said Baham, 27. “Thank you very much.”

So: What colors to pick for his next piece of street art? “Pink,” someone suggested, and he was off, squirting and spreading the acrylic paint, grabbing a palette knife for texture. As he worked, the rap song “Smoothie at Midnight” played on his earbuds, and the people paused to watch.

For Baham, it’s all happening so fast.

By day, he’s one of those fast-cycling Jimmy John’s sandwich delivery riders that have become part of the downtown landscape. He’s also a BMX bike enthusiast and skatepark devotee.

But after work, he has become this mad-hot local artist, creating pieces outside the kava bar on Franklin and Twiggs streets and sometimes hawking his paintings to downtown businesses. And they sell — more than 50 — and he has commissions for more.

“He’s a young kid that came in the store with his artwork, and I thought it looked cool,” said Sharon Casaccia Kyte, owner and optician at the upscale Designing Eyes Optical Boutique a few blocks away. She bought a small one that complemented her store’s bright colors and agreed to display a few more, which her customers purchased. She ended up with four herself.

The smaller pieces— 16×20 — go lately for $80 to $90. He’s gotten $450 for bigger works, but hasn’t sold his larger ones yet, priced at $900, money he would put toward studio space.

“The universe has been good,” Baham said.

The road to becoming an of-the-moment street artist, however, has not always run smooth. There have been cautionary tales.

Raised by his grandparents in a neighborhood north of downtown and nicknamed Tank, Baham said his dream was to be a BMX rider in the Olympics. But he always loved art.

“I was just a kid in high school that copied kids that did graffiti,” he said.

He went to Hillsborough High, D.W. Waters Career Acceleration Academy, then trade school. For a time, he was working but homeless and sleeping in his truck, though not many people knew it.

When he was 25, he was caught using colored markers to graffiti “Tank” and smiley faces on a wall near the Riverwalk. He was arrested and charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief.

“I went to jail for it,” he said. “The graffiti, that was my choice.”

They kept him there several days. Fellow inmates with more serious charges gave him advice: “They were like: ‘Stop drawing on walls. You can get out of jail. We can’t,’” he said. He worked off his community service hours and paid his fees, and the state dropped the case.

“No more spray painting,” he said. “I just touch canvases now.”

One night last month, he was mugged by two men downtown as he was walking to the bus stop. He went to the hospital for staples in his scalp. Somehow, he said, the experience seemed to make his art better.

What happened with his art was serendipitous. Next door to the busy Jimmy John’s is Kava Culture, a funky coffee house-type establishment that holds community meet-ups including an open mic night and group meditation. Two years ago on art night, Baham took a small canvas and started painting.

That’s a nice painting, someone said. “And I thought, ‘Maybe I should keep going if people like my colors,’” he said.

He would come in when it wasn’t art night and ask for a canvas, said Kava Culture manager Matthew Clark. “He just started painting and we were like, ‘Oh my god, this guy can paint,’” he said. “The quality he was able to produce was just mind-blowing.”

His Jimmy John’s tips started going toward art supplies. At an event where people sold jewelry and did magic tricks, Kava Culture gave him a table. “I was just out there selling art for money,” he said.

“Within two years, I went from zero to a hundred so quick,” he said.

His paintings, displayed inside the kava bar, often include a three-point graffiti-style crown in homage to the late New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a famed street art pioneer. Some of Baham’s pieces incorporate portraits done by his friend and fellow artist, Chase DiBrizzi.

A recent piece included whimsical WiFi symbols on an abstract background. Another featured a city skyline with oranges and pinks — his favorite, he said, “because it looks like downtown when it gets toward nighttime.”

Gary Yamnitz, a retired credit union manager, has two. “A friend came in (my home) and said, ‘Is that Glen’s?’” he said.

Baham’s personality seems to mesh with the street art gig. At 6-foot-5, he’s often stooping to hug someone. “He’s just an easygoing dude, always wanting to talk to anybody,” Clark said.

On that Friday afternoon, Antonio Ross, who works for the Department of Defense and was in town from Atlanta, took a liking to the still-drying piece Baham had just finished — enough to make the $150 purchase. “A beautiful work of art,” he called it.

“And to see someone out here doing something positive, you support them,” he said.

He asked Baham if he would include his thumbprint when he added his signature to the painting. Was this in case Baham got famous one day?

“He’s famous now,” said Ross, nodding to the people watching him work.

“My goal is to travel the world, sell my art,” Baham said. “And ride every skate park in the world.”

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