Hail To The Rad Kids

A study of contrasts: David Munson on punk art, fashion and nature

Tue, 01/21/2014 - 10:30am

    Here’s the way a small town works. Before I met David Munson, he’d already generated a certain buzz. Unless you’re a parent, adults don’t necessarily hear about certain teens or vice versa. We may occupy the same space, but we travel in entirely separate worlds.

    However, his name was familiar. I had seen this studded jacket he made displayed at CMCA a couple of years ago. After that I saw a drawing of him his best friend (and subject of another Rad Kids) Lauren Merritt had done last year. Earlier this month, another Rad Kid I interviewed, Lindsay Parker, was wearing a tricked out vest with some patches designed by Munson. With six degrees of separation, it was inevitable he’d end up in this column.

    With a coffee in hand, he laid down his back pack on the floor of The Camden Deli. The back pack was decorated a lot like Parker’s vest, with cloth patches stenciled with political slogans secured with safety pins. His jacket and pants continued this theme, with multiple patches stitched in dental thread and sail cloth thread.

    People who read this column know I tend to gravitate toward kids who aren’t necessarily part of the mainstream. They’re different in some way that makes you want to know why.

    I wanted to know what was with all the patchwork. Punk culture is known for altering clothing, particularly with patches. But David had a more utilitarian motive.  “I patched the knees of these pants, so I could keep wearing them,” he said. “They were falling apart and I just kept sewing them back together.”

    He’s a senior at Camden Hills Regional High School and plans on going to Maine College of Art in Portland next year on a selected scholarship. Besides designing his own DIY punk fashion, he does a lot of screen printing on T-shirts using original designs, and plans to open his own Etsy shop online once he can decide on a name.

    “Every single name I’ve come up with, a month later, I’ve hated it,” he said in his soft spoken way.

    He recently designed a T-shirt for local punk band Jim Dandy (see our story on them here) based on one of their satiric songs about the Pope. His equally satiric T-shirt design features a drawing of Pope Benedict XVI in S and M gear. People, don’t clutch your pearls, it’s just a parody.

    He opened up a small sketchbook to show me another pen and ink design that he has made and turned into a T-shirt.

    “This is one of my favorite designs. It was in my portfolio I got into art school with,” he said. “The drawing is about nature and humankind’s role in it.”

    Initially, I looked at the figure of the corpse in his drawing wearing a trucker’s cap and one of David’s studded vests in combinations with the words, “Bury me with seeds in my pocket.” To be honest, the first impression that came to me was that this was a counter-culture reference to marijuana, but David’s explanation shut down that assumption and backed it up a few yards.

    “I think mankind has gotten away from nature,” he said. “There’s a lot of disconnect between us and nature everywhere and pretty much every situation. Either way when we die, we end up being a part of nature. I’ve always thought it would be cool and beautiful to be buried with seeds in your pockets and have a tree growing up above you. What got me starting thinking of that idea was Johnny Appleseed. I figured when he died, he must have had seeds in his pockets.”

    The more David talked about his own love of Maine, nature and inventive ways to create outdoor gear hacks (for example, he showed me a backpackers’ micro-light alcohol stove out he’d just made of a Diet Coke can), the more I started to see all these different layers to him. This was one smart, thoughtful and totally chill kid.

    A lot of his artwork, with very detailed tiny strokes, is done in micron pen, capturing people on the fringe of society.  “I’ve always been into fantasy and my little brother has recently gotten into Dungeons and Dragons, so I’ve been doing stuff like that with him,” he explained. He pointed to one drawing of a homeless man in dreads with his hand out and another figure in a patchy vest. “This is a crust punk goblin guy, all dirty with dreads,” he said (and had to explain to me) that crust punk is just a heavier genre of punk music.

    Munson is a skateboarder and a vegetarian. A creator of darkly themed punk art who would like nothing more than to build a tree house or hike the Appalachian Trail. Is there such a thing as a Nature Punk?

    “I don’t know. There should be. That reminds me of something my friend said freshman year,” he said smiling. “I look like a punk but I talk a lot about organic food, sustainable agriculture and that kind of stuff. So my friend says to me, ‘It’s so weird because you’re like a mix of a hippie and a punk.’ And he looks at me and said, ‘You’re like a hunk.’ He didn’t realize what he’d said but everybody around us did and I’ll never forget the look on his face. It was priceless.”

    He’s really looking forward to living in Portland next year. “It’s really a cool, artistic environment to be in,” he said. He and Merritt are hoping to share a dorm room, in which they plan on making a aquaponic set up in there.

    “I’ve helped my dad with aquaponics and hydroponics,” David said. “We were talking about setting up a special fish tank in the dorm. Fish generate waste in the water, which then can be filtered out so the water goes through soil for your plants to grow. So, we want to create this closed cycle of the fish getting clean water and the plants getting nutrient-rich soil from the fish.”

    David’s a study of contrasts and he’s super nice. The next time you see him walking around town in one of his handmade studded vests, don’t be afraid to ask him about it. There’s punk in his nature and nature in his punk and the two go together amazingly well.

    Hail To The Rad Kids is a regular feature highlighting teens in the Midcoast with artistic, musical, community-minded or entrepreneurial talent. If you know of a teen who fits this profile please contact us.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com