If you were to draw a picture capturing the cultural identity of St. Louis, what would you include? The Arch, of course, not to mention pizza so bewilderingly flat you could slide it under a door. And a bird swinging a baseball bat would need to make an appearance.
The mural art of Jason Spencer might also be included.
With more than two dozen large-scale pieces covering walls in the city, Spencer's work under his brand Killer Napkins has become as much a part of the city fabric as Provel cheese. With a signature style that tends toward the monstrous and the absurd, Spencer has painted eye-popping murals for businesses ranging from the Gramophone and BEAST Butcher & Block to the Sinkhole and many more.
Even if you don't know his name, you know his work. On Pizza Head's exterior wall, there's the mohawked skeleton surfing a wave of beer on a slice of pizza while firing lightning from an electric guitar. There's the nine-eyed octopus monster, piloted by a space alien and attacking a giant can of City Wide, at Atomic Cowboy. And then there's Spencer's current favorite, a horned skeleton/robot hybrid firing a beam of energy from its mechanical third eye across the Paint Louis flood wall, which was not commissioned by a business.
"That one is just a straight-up giant cyber demon that a lot of businesses wouldn't necessarily want," he says with a laugh.
Spencer takes inspiration from sci-fi raypunk art, as well as the animated film Heavy Metal. "'90s cartoons and along those lines," he says. Most of his pieces are funded either through a partnership with 4 Hands Brewing, where he incorporates their branding into concepts provided by the businesses whose walls he paints, or by straight commissions. For the Lucky Accomplice, he was asked to create a jumping rabbit, to fit with the south-city bar and restaurant's bunny-themed branding. Spencer delivered on that premise in his own way, with the rabbit's eyes clouded in a menacing manner, its foot severed, and green slime oozing from the wound.
"It's not necessarily just plastering their name on the wall," he notes.
Spencer's work is creeping into the burgeoning Missouri medical marijuana industry as well. Proper Cannabis recently hired him for its signature strain, Alien Rock Candy. The result is a work of digital art depicting a three-eyed space creature raising its hand in greeting, its head mutated to look like a cannabis bud, over a wasteland backdrop with the Arch in the distance.
Recently, Spencer has begun sculpting pieces in virtual reality. Using an Oculus Quest, he manipulates a ball of pixels into his creations with his hands before sending it to a 3D printer. The results are small toy monsters featuring incredible amounts of detail.
"My favorite part is that you can just blow that thing up and essentially crawl inside of the sculpture to get really fine details," he explains. "I would even blow it up and climb inside the mouth, and then start sculpting the teeth."
It's just the latest medium for the tireless creative. Art for sale on his site, shopkillernapkins.com, includes woven blankets, T-shirts, acrylic transfers and original prints. Throw in his incredible murals covering walls across the city, and it's clear that Spencer's art should be included in any rendering of St. Louis culture.
Hell, he should probably be the one holding the pen.Email the author at [email protected]