Jerry Rugg aka birdO, Visual Artist

A high school nickname that has now turned into his artistic persona, birdO is a street artist based in Toronto with his most recent piece popping up at 545 King St W. BirdO believes it’s the friendly competition amongst all the amazing artists in Toronto that inspires him.

Photo Cred: Alejandro Collados-Núñez  |  Bag: Duffle Pack Black


Jerry, birdO, which do you prefer?

birdO:  Ummm… today let’s go with Birdo.

How did the name ‘birdO’ come about? 

birdO:  I wish it was some sort of fantastical amazing romantic story. But, in all honestly, my high school nickname was J-Bird. And y'know, I just added an ‘O’ at a certain point.  

What does being a Torontonian mean to you?

birdO:  Being a Torontonian is a special thing. I mean, being a Canadian is a special thing. And within that, being a Torontonian is special. I think, y'know, in my opinion, it’s the most forward thinking city in Canada. It provides the most opportunities, arguably. If you want to enjoy the spoils and luxuries in Canada and the fabulous country, Toronto is the place to excel and push yourself, specifically for me, as an artist. 

What is it about Toronto that inspires you to be an artist?

birdO:  It’s competitive. I think friendly competition is a good thing. There is, particularly in my realm of art, some incredible talent. It’s always nice to have people to look up to and aspire to. I think that’s very important. If you’re going to be playing tennis against someone who’s lesser of an opponent, you’re not going to grow, you’re not going to get better. So Toronto is, in Canada, definitely the spot where you’re going to have to continue to learn and grow and up your game essentially.  

Do you primarily do work with spray paint, brushes, or do you mix it up?

birdO:  I sort of segwayed into mixing it up. I’ve painted outdoors for a long time. I’ve painted with aerosol for a long time. I’m sure it's seeped deep into my skin and blood and bone marrow, which is probably a problem. In recent years, I’ve taken more opportunity to paint indoors, and I’ve been painting canvases for individuals, which is nice to embark on new challenges and sort of diversifying your portfolio as they say.

Photo Cred: Alejandro Collados-Núñez  |  Bag: Duffle Pack Black

We see your work all over the city, what is your favourite piece that you’ve completed in Toronto?

birdO:  Favourite piece in Toronto... I actually just completed, it's at 545 King St. West. It’s 5 stories tall and my tallest piece to date. It’s always fun to kind of eyeball a spot, all the pre-prep, and then get yourself on the lift and be like "aw fuck this is big”. So not only was it exhilarating and fun, but such a challenge. I’m super pleased with the creative output.

You rock the VENQUE Duffle Pack. Why the Duffle?

birdO:  I chose the Duffle Pack for practical durability and versatility. I like the idea of filling it with cans and chucking it up on a lift. Or packing my Leafs jersey and making a break for Detroit! 

Where can we expect your next creation in the city?

birdO:  I’m doing a bit of traveling for work right now... if we are talking Toronto, I have to mention the Darling Mansion, the Madam of the mansion, she’s a crazy awesome person and it’s a little bit of surrealism tucked away in a little Queen West neighbourhood. I recently painted a new piece in a room there that I’m super proud of (see photo above).

I do have a friend in from Los Angles, Matt Gondek, an amazing artist. So we’re going to do something small. Just a collaboration off Ossington, so that’s going to be new. I think that’s an important topic outside of what’s new and what’s coming. Just the idea of collaboration, it’s something that Toronto is really starting to get better at. I mean, I’ve been painting for a long time and there was a sense of being a lone wolf, at least in my experience in this city. I think what we have to understand is that there are so many opportunities and that’s why we are all here. The idea of linking up with other artists and getting together, learning, growing and coming up together is the next move forward.

What was the tipping point of your success, being able to paint these murals around Toronto and the world?

birdO:  That’s a great question. I like hearing that question because I’m always at home perpetually asking myself when the tipping point is coming. Sometimes it takes the viewer to recognize better than yourself, what you’ve accomplished.

I’ve painted graffiti for a long time. I was a shitty graffiti artist and there was also the idea of ending up in school. I was doing some design work, I worked at an ad agency for a while so I think the key to getting to the tipping point is understanding all of the backend logistics. Once you understand all the work that goes into getting these opportunities, then you can appreciate the rest.

So for me, it’s becoming a bit more systematic and that came through working at that ad agency. For me, it structured me the right way and I took that as far as it needed to go and then y’know, you still wanna be a wild child and do crazy shit when you’re an artist but you definitely still need that back end strategy and structure.

If you can use anything in the world to be your canvas what would it be?

birdO:  Oooh, good question. The moon comes to mind. How narcissistic is that? I want the earthlings to see my work on the moon. That’s shooting big. I want to paint a grain elevator because I am originally from Saskatchewan. Toronto is my roots because I’ve lived here for a very long time but as a Torontonian I still maintain my prairie upbringing as well. I’d also love to paint a massive ship, like a tanker of some sort. I think painting 35 buildings from one vantage point would be very interesting to have this piece that flows across an entire neighbourhood instead of a single surface. And of course, us being Torontonians the quintessential answer has to be top to bottom, the CN Tower. Get a big squiggly fucking geometric monster on the side of the CN Tower.

Photo Cred: Alejandro Collados-Núñez  |  Bag: Duffle Pack Black

How does it feel walking around Toronto with a bird head?

birdO:  Toronto is arguably one of the most tolerant cities around. I feel accepted but people definitely throw looks. It’s super bizarre because there is a layer of nobody really truly knowing who I am, cause I’m a bird creature. I mean, what I have to remember sometimes as serious as I take my craft and as seriously or as hard as I want to be working all the time, we’re supposed to be having fun. Committing to being a professional artist full time is… that’s a leap that you have to commit to and you have to be serious, but you do it, you’re passionate and its fun, its what I love to do. I love painting, I paint every day! My buddy, Eugune Paunil made the bird head for me. He’s a master. He makes creations out of cardboard and they blow your mind. In terms of me being out there as the birdO creature, it’s a piece of art in itself and I’m very honoured and humbled to have Eugene collaborate with me and be a part of what I’m up to. So with regard to my persona, at the end of the day, I’m just trying to have fun. I feel like it’s a broad answer to a complex, weird reality of the world of alter egos.