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Inside the Graffiti-Covered L.A. Skyscrapers that Drew Global Attention

This great article in the Washington Post covers what I just read about in an art-related website. I am all for this type of thing and would encourage it on all dormant gentrification projects. I wish I could go to LA and see this masterpiece! Bravo!

Here is the article since it may be behind a paywall. I have a subscription.

It’s been about five years since Actual was a regular on the Los Angeles graffiti scene. He said he got on the “straight and narrow” when his daughter was born. But when graffitists started converging on an abandoned development in the city, he thought: “Am I going to be that guy that just said, ‘Oh yeah, I saw it happen. That was cool’ — or am I going to be that dude that was a part of it?”

The sky-high graffiti covering dozens of floors of the Oceanwide Plaza development in downtown L.A., a $1 billion project that was abandoned in 2019, has captured the world’s attention. It’s created eye candy for Instagram. It’s become fodder for conversations about urban blight and foreign investment. And despite graffiti’s undeniable rise to the mainstream, it’s reignited an old debate over whether it is art or vandalism.

To the graffitists participating and the experts watching, the “bombing” — as it’s called in the graffiti world — is more than a stunt or a crime. In a culture where visibility rules, the painted skyscrapers have become a landmark, literally taking the art form to a higher level. For them, it’s a historic moment.

Actual couldn’t pass it up. On his first attempt to enter the complex, he got caught and ran out. On his second, he saw security chasing a group of graffitists and tried to enter from the other direction. Another guard was waiting. Then, on his third try, he squeezed in through a hole in a fence that was covered by a construction sign. When he got into one of the towers, heart pounding, the real challenge began: “It was a big climb,” said Actual, who, like other graffitists mentioned in this story, spoke on the condition that he be identified by his tag name to discuss the illegal artwork. He wanted to paint higher than others, but by the time he reached the 36th floor, “I couldn’t walk; all my leg muscles were just shot.” So he scoped out a spot and got to work. “It was like a trance,” he said. “You’re so high up that it’s not until you come back down that you deal with the world again.”

The effort wasn’t wasted. Susan Phillips, author of “The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti” and a professor at Pitzer College in California, said in an email that it was “perhaps the most legendary roll call in the history of Los Angeles.” Roger Gastman, a longtime graffiti curator and historian, said there’s been “a boom in street work the last few years unlike anything I have seen since the 1990s,” and the buildings show “that graffiti is bigger than ever.”

The reaction was, of course, not entirely positive. The Central City Association of Los Angeles released a statement saying it was “disturbed by the images of the vandalism” and calling for the city to “address this blighted property before it becomes a further nuisance.” The LAPD said Wednesday that it had arrested four suspects and was investigating “numerous crimes.”

In a social media statement last week, it said that additional security measures would be “implemented immediately” and that the graffiti will be removed. The department did not reply to a request for further information. In California, vandalism is punishable with jail time as well as fines. On Tuesday, Michael Delahaut, who lives across the street, said he was watching police raid the buildings. To the 54-year-old, who has been in the L.A. graffiti scene since the 1980s, the creation outside his window was no nuisance — it was more like waking up and finding a masterpiece had been installed in his living room. “It would’ve taken hundreds of writers, tens of thousands of cans. It’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve been able to witness a lot of graffiti movement moments, but this might be the biggest.” 

The opportunity was created by a “perfect storm” of factors, Delahaut said. Buildings in the luxury complex, put up by Chinese firm Oceanwide Holdings, reached as high as 55 stories before the company put the project on hold in 2019 because of financial troubles, the Los Angeles Times reported. In December, the security company responsible for the property sued the developer, saying it had stopped paying. Oceanwide Holdings did not respond to a request for comment. After the first night that pieces started going up, Delahaut said, he expected security to ramp up. It didn’t. By the next night, “it was clearly a scene,” he said.

Delahaut watched with the fascination of a curator. He admired the typography, kept a record of the artists’ progress — noting that he might need it for a later exhibition — and likened the work to the classic style captured on the cover of Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s canonical 1988 book, “Subway Art.” (He also compared it to a smaller project on a building in Miami last year.) As a former graffitist himself, he couldn’t help but think through the logistics: “The process of getting into the building, climbing up the stairs and figuring out how much you got to carry,” Delahaut said. “Graffiti is so much more than the act itself.” Some have looked at the graffiti as a symbol for the state of Los Angeles.

Phillips, the author and professor, said that in a place increasingly molded by private money, the work is a “powerful commentary about who gets to shape what.” Stefano Bloch, a cultural geographer at the University of Arizona who studies graffiti, called it “an exposé on the failure of oversized development,” made “in vibrant colors that force us to look up.”

But the artists are split on their motivations. Aqua, a graffitist and fine artist who worked on the high-rise project, said in an email that for those involved, it was all about location. “It is in the heart of the city with high visibility. What a gem!” For Actual, the work gave new voice to the streets. “The money invested in [the buildings] could have done so much for this city,” he said. Now, he said, the graffiti is a reminder: “That’s every single kid in this city just putting their name down, showing they exist and taking the city back.”

 


Michael Tracy - Street Artist - Dies at 65

Remembering Michael Tracy who made subways cars his canvas.

Michael tracyTracy 168 was an architect of the graffiti movement.

He was there almost from the very beginning in 1970, until the last days of his life. His influence was felt by multiple generations, and his impact on style can be seen in some of the most famous writers in the world.

Michael Tracy was born February 14, 1958, in the Bronx. As a kid he spent three days a week in Manhattan with his Puerto Rican grandfather, and four days with his Irish mother in the Bronx. His father had left the family early on. Tracy roamed the Bronx fearlessly, at night he broke into the Bronx Zoo to play with the animals, and drive the carts around.

As the graffiti movement blossomed around him in the early '70s, he started writing with a group of kids from his school, Sacred Heart. Those kids would turn into some of the most talented writers of the 1970s.

In 1974, he officially named the group Wanted. He quickly turned over the presidency of the crew to his right hand man, Chi-Chi 133.

In 1975, he started a newer group with limited membership called Wild Style. To Tracy, wild style was more than just a style, it was a way of life, as he said in a recent interview. “To me it’s almost like a religion or way of life, but it started as a series of interlocking mechanical letters that we did our pieces with. So people would see a TRACY 168, or a PNUT 2 piece and they’d have a little WS inside them and whether they could read them or not they’d say “Yo, WILD STYLE!“ So it was not only a crew but it was also the type of style we represented.”

To later generations it would always be the title of the Hip-Hop film by Charlie Ahearn.

The bulk of Tracy’s work was done on the trains from 1972 to 1976. His earlier pieces were just outlines of his eponymous tag. By 1973, he started to blossom, adding his innate artistic ability into his works.

In 1974, he painted a perfect rendering of Yosemite Sam on the side of the trains. Cartoons were fairly new at the time, and his rendering was highly sophisticated.

In 1975, he painted a rocket going sideways, the flames shooting out and enveloping his name, taking a great concept and rendering it perfectly. At the same time as doing these elaborate pieces, he continued to blanket the lines with his name, and painted in billboard letters with silver and black in under ten minutes. His speed and efficiency were so great that he could do twenty of these in a night.

 

 


Risk Recieves Lifetime Achievement Award

‘An Addiction I Could Never Shake’: Street Art Pioneer Risk on How He Brought Graffiti From the Street to the Gallery

RISK-2-1024x683To write his first bit of graffiti, a young Kelly Graval didn’t travel very far. He staked out his high school until it was dark, before jumping the fence with four cans of red and white spray paint. On a wall, he painted “a big piece” that simply read “SURF,” a nod to his hobby.

“It was terrible,” he said of his debut as a graffitist—though by the next day, the work managed to draw the attention and admiration of his classmates, most of whom, back in the early ‘80s in Los Angeles, had yet to encounter any form of graffiti.

From there, Graval’s canvases would only grow larger and farther as his adventures in graffiti took him to train yards and freeways across L.A. His legend would develop alongside his tag, Risk, an apt moniker that captured the rebellion and peril inherent in graffiti writing, and that, yes, he borrowed from the board game.

For Risk, it made sense that he should persist in writing and tagging the city. “You have the art form and you have the strategic form,” he told Artnet News of graffiti. “It’s just an addiction that I could never shake.”

Decades on, his endurance is paying off. Recognized as a pioneer in the West Coast graffiti scene, Risk has seen his work included in exhibitions from “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles to “Beyond the Streets” in Los Angeles and New York. His recent forays into fine art and sculpture, too, have fetched prices upwards of $200,000.

Over Art Wynwood weekend which was from February 16 through 19, Risk will be collecting the fair’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award for continuing to “innovate and shape contemporary art through his work.” His sculptures will feature within the fair, which is presented by Art Miami, and his graffiti art will take up an entire mural that flanks the entrance.

Certainly, the honor is “mind-blowing,” he said, but it’s also been gratifying to watch what once was deemed vandalism enter the art conversation.

“My whole life I wanted graffiti art to be a mainstream art form—to just be considered a genre of art. I wanted to see this art form be in galleries and museums, and celebrated around the world,” he said. “And now it is.”

Read the full article here.


A Look Inside the Batcave

Like all great graf places, the batcave in Brooklyn is slated for demolition to build ... wait for it ... luxury apartments. But here it is as is.

Dating back to the 1950s, the Gowanus Batcave is one of the City's oldest graffiti havens. Similar to its Queens counterpart 5 Pointz, the Batcave is being demolished and converted into residences. In this immersive 360° video from the New York Times, peek inside the graffiti-filled Batcave before it is gone for good.

 


River City Skate Park

River-City-Skatepark-in-WAMany skate parks across the world are filled with wonderful street art. Today I want to give a shout out to River City Skate Park in Seattle Washington.

According to their site, River City SkatePark project has been in the works for 15 years. Initially generated as a business plan by three South Park high school students, this once neglected property has blossomed into an incredibly unique skatepark. There’s nothing else like it in the world!

Designed by our late friend, visionary and founder of Grindline, Mark “Monk” Hubbard, River City is a beautiful concrete structure with four doors in the cardinal directions and one continuous, circular half pipe with lines through the middle. Experienced skaters from around the world visit this park, but many people in the area are unable to enjoy it because of the level of difficulty. We’ve been gathering design ideas from skaters and non-skaters alike to ensure that the new and improved RCSP draws people from many crowds and accommodates a variety of uses. Please help us honor Monk’s vision – to finish building River City SkatePark and help build a healthy community space for people to gather and express themselves.


25 Places Reborn Through Graffiti

In this list offered on Atlas Obscura, there are 25 international places that have been reborn through street art and graffiti.

Notice that New York City is not listed. And yet this city had what would arguably be the pinnacle of street art revitalization. That was 5Pointz, an industrial square block dedicated to artists around the world. Destroyed in 2014 it is now the site of two vampire towers of glass, isolation and ugliness that the developers have the temerity to name "5Pointz".

IMG_1266

Abandoned or forgotten places can become otherworldly canvases.

There are endless stretches of abandoned structures scattered around the world, many forlorn and destined to be reclaimed by nature—eventually. In the meantime, many abandoned factories, alleys, hotels, and more have been transformed into living canvases. With every brushstroke and release of spray paint, these places, some officially sanctioned, others not so much, get some injection of new life, as art museums without the white walls. 

Just outside Las Vegas is a former shopping outlet that has been reimagined as a modern art gallery. Due to financial issues, the Primm Outlets were forced to close their doors, until a new owner stepped in with a new approach. Artists were invited to decorate the walls and remaining storefronts of the now Prizm Outlet, and it’s seen more visitors than ever before. In Stockholm, an abandoned industrial village is now one of Europe’s largest graffiti exhibits. Each spring, graffiti writers and mural artists across Sweden descend on what’s known as the Snösätra Wall of Fame to refresh the artwork and craft new pieces. From an abandoned sniper post to an alley that is the largest outdoor art gallery in the Northwest United States, these are 25 of our favorite places reborn from the end of a nozzle. 

Check it out here.


The Pandemic Has Brought Us Some Amazing Street Art

IMG_6470I have seen evidence of this on the streets of NYC but this article in OZY sums it up nicely --

Street Art

Empty city streets served as the perfect canvas for many artists during the pandemic while galleries were shuttered. Some, such as Steve Derrick in New York, painted paeans to frontline workers. Others used their art to mock politicians or simply to lighten the general mood. U.K.-based street artist John D’oh used a Bristol wall to paint an image mocking former U.S. President Donald Trump’s comment about injecting disinfectant to stop COVID-19, while Australian street artist LUSHSUX depicted Chinese President Xi Jinping in a hazmat suit saying: “Nothing to see. Carry on.” Dominican Republic-based Jesus Cruz Artiles, also known as Eme Freethinker, painted a picture of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings cradling a roll of toilet paper and saying, “My Precious!” In Atlanta, artists such as Fabian Williams made huge face masks from white vinyl sheets and used them to cover murals of icons like Martin Luther King Jr. in an awareness-raising campaign for the Black community.


An Atrocity Rises From the Ashes of 5 Pointz

Before and After Photographs of 5Pointz Mural Site Show a Bleak Transformation


LA2 Has Show at Miami's Graffiti Museum

LA2For the past three decades LA2 has applied spray paint and ink to canvas, clothing, and various found objects in his unwavering journey to push his personal graffiti pop style. Fluorescent colors rooted in his Puerto Rican heritage, bold lines and tags learned in the streets, and cartoons tributes to his friend and long-time collaborator Keith Haring, make each painting a sweet piece of candy for your eyes. The energy of the old NYC dance clubs, of the Avenues filled with cars blaring music, and the children who grew up on this street art culture are channeled onto each canvas that explodes with positive energy and life – a life of art, color and celebration. Email [email protected] to request a catalog of all available works for sale.

I had a show with LA2 and other artists at the Dorian Gray Gallery in NYC in 2010 and interviewed him at the opening event.