The Ad Men

Photos by Angela Datre

For the past decade, Colossal Media has been enlivening the walls of New York City with their hand-painted advertisements — not to mention helping clients from Smirnoff and Heineken to Adidas and Converse hawk their wares. Their pieces, products of painstaking and meticulous days of work, are destined to be urban ephemera, lasting from just one week to one month before they’re painted over.

Built in 2004 by founders Paul Lindahl, Adrian Moeller, and Patrick Elasik (who died in 2005), the Brooklyn‐based advertising and mural company is reviving and modernizing a sign-painting tradition that hails from an earlier era. The team currently has sixteen members, including both apprentice and lead painters. Completing an apprenticeship takes a year or two; becoming a lead painter takes five to seven.

Lead painter Jason Coatney was born in Alaska and moved down to Oregon after high school. It was there that he saw sign painters hanging off the sides of buildings. “It appealed to me,” he says, “because you’re outside all the time. It’s real physical. You can work all day, and you can see the accomplishment in one day.” He and Lindahl were friends in Oregon and kept in touch. Four years ago, they reconnected. Coatney has been with Colossal since.

Everyone at Colossal does a little bit of everything: drawing and tracing, mixing paint, constructing scaffolding, prepping walls, and the painting itself. The hours are long, the scaffolds are often staggeringly high, and the elements, says Coatney, don’t always cooperate.

“The weather is probably our main nemesis,” he says. “Ninety percent of the time, we’re dealing with a ton of glare, different reflected light all over the place, or just direct light. We’re dealing with intense heat or intense cold.”

But the show must go on, he says. “Advertising just doesn’t stop.”

Lead painter Jason Coatney

Painter David Barnett

Painter Levon Meserlian

Painter Joe Leonard

An advertisement Colossal completed for Volkswagen

Angela Datre is a freelance photographer. Her photos have appeared in Newsday, Front Magazine, and The Source.

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