In 2015, anonymity has become an anomaly—unless your name is Swampy. Once an ubiquitous subject in underground scenes after a New York Times interview and highly successful sold-out solo exhibition in San Francisco, Swampy decided suddenly that it was best to retreat into obscurity and hide out indefinitely while the fame train rode out. Like his identity, why he made the choice remains a mystery...

Originally published in the October issue of Juxtapoz Magazine.

In 2015, anonymity has become an anomaly—unless your name is Swampy. Once an ubiquitous subject in underground scenes after a New York Times interview and highly successful sold-out solo exhibition in San Francisco, Swampy decided suddenly that it was best to retreat into obscurity and hide out indefinitely while the fame train rode out. Like his identity, why he made the choice remains a mystery. Four years later, the elusive artist emerged on Instagram, and soon after, announced a new book in conjunction with an exhibition titled NBD (Northbound). So where and what, exactly, was Swampy doing all those years? Well, that too will remain a mystery because not knowing is way more captivating.


While Swampy is best known for iconic images of cryptic skull-tusked creatures adorning various urban surfaces, on railcars and obscure places everywhere in between, his other talent lies behind a camera with the North American landscape in sight. Writing about NBD, Swampy explains, “I made these photographs on a trip across North America from Mexico to Alaska during the fall of 2010 to the summer of 2011. Most of the distance was traveled by freight train, some by highway and four days by barge.” Elegantly composed, his photographs convey a surprisingly tranquility and tell stories of intoxicating adventure, risks taken, life lived and memories materialized. —Austin McManus


Swampy’s new book, NBD, is currently available at chandrangallery.com
 

“It is tradition to leave your mark in hobo jungles or, more historically, on water tanks when traveling by freight. A classic way to accent your moniker is to mark the direction you’re headed, such as EBD for eastbound or B.W. for bound west. I peppered the catch-out spots of the west coast with “NBD” tags that summer. Switching from one short line to another, I crawled up the foggy coast of British Columbia. Sleeping in the mud or the bottom of wet, rusty wood chip cars most nights slowly chipped away my morale. Getting dropped in a tiny trackside town along the way made a bad situation worse. Every low moment in the mud and rain, however, was made worth it by the excitement on the open water as the barge made its way across the gulf.” —Swampy

 

“Riding trains is mechanically and metaphorically a roller coaster, consisting of extreme highs and equally low lows. Floating into Alaska felt like looking down from the peak of a mountain to the trailhead where I began. From that high up, my route from Mexico seemed as straight as the tracks that carried me. Bound north from the start, these photographs are the product of a year spent crossing the continent on the North American criminal roller coaster.” —Swampy