The show, called “The Document,” exhibited over two weekends in August 2006. It featured a dozen smudged and splattered pieces, ranging from 4 by 4 feet to 9 by 12 feet. A respectable 75 guests came on opening night, a cross section from hip-hop, break-dance and skateboard crowds.
“The resulting abstract paintings are like the love child of a Jackson Pollock painting and a Levi’s ad: frantic streaks of paint and prints from hands, shoes and jeans pockets,”The Washington Post wrote.
No paintings were sold, but Stanley pushed the pair to think beyond the project, he says.
“ ‘What do you want to achieve with this? Do you want to impress your friends? Or do you want to create something that is going to have some forward momentum to it?’ That was stuff they weren’t thinking about yet. I think they thought, ‘This will make me an art star.’ Then what? I was more into the ‘Then what?’ Why should I care? They began thinking like that.”
The goal for Hill and Chang became getting their work in the public eye. Now all they needed to do was figure out how to go about it.
Hill and Chang pushed onward, landing shows at DCAC and at National Harbor’s Art Whino gallery, which promotes fresh talent. Their art evolved from the break-dancing canvases. Chang would go on to create a series of brightly painted wood blocks featuring prints of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Hill would create portraits of musician Muddy Waters and others on skateboard decks. Their works would sell for $100 to $200.
Although their street cred was growing, it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Chang held down a number of jobs, such as club promoting and marketing for Art Whino. Hill kept the National Aquarium gig.
After three years of doing art on the side, the pair decided they weren’t going to wait to be discovered by galleries — they were going to bypass them. Hill, Chang and Chang’s former Art Whino co-worker, Francisco Esteban, a painter and mixed-media artist, moved into a house in Fort Totten in 2009 and dedicated themselves to their art day and night.
They hatched events to promote themselves and other emerging artists. They called themselves the No Kings Collective, a reference to the three biblical kings and their three unique gifts. The “no” symbolized how they didn’t equate themselves with arts-scene bigwigs.
The No Kings launched their first happening in February 2010, getting the events blog ReadysetDC to promote it. A real estate broker lent them a split-level townhouse in Columbia Heights for a two-weekend temporary gallery featuring their work as well as pieces from seven area artists. It drew 600 attendees, even during the “snowpocalypse.”