Just realized I never put the link to this interview from 11-07 in the press section. Nice to see some glances of walls up at that time.
Ok, I’ve been sleeping a bit on keeping the list up to date, but for those of you that are interested in interview material, check the pieces at senseslost.com and graffhead.com AND last but not least, a video interview with L.A. Graffiti Girls.
At Allhiphop.com By Sidik Fofana (10-1-07)
“The Heavens” refers to a spot a graffiti writer has to climb in order to paint his piece. Graffiti prohibits no place for its artist to express themselves except for the graveyard and the church. Steve Grody discusses these commandments in, Graffiti L.A.: Street Syles and Art (Harry N. Abrams, Inc), a big art slash photography book showcasing endless and wildly colorful throw-ups, pieces, murals from all over East Los Angeles. These rebellious pages of contemporary artwork rewards the viewer with a rush more visceral than ones on many museum visits.
Graffiti L.A. helps many graffiti novices with its poignant text and array of vivid photos. Interviews with reknown Graffiti writers like Revok, Siner, and Toomer enhances appreciation for the artwork profiled in the release. Grody also covers the craft, styles, and varying techniques of spray painting within the book’s text. He even exposes how some writers use excessive colors to compensate for their underdeveloped techniques. His commentary catapaults the book past coffee table status and qualifies it as a legitimate primer on the art and history of this urban phenomenon.
The photos heavily bolster Graffiti L.A.’s interest level, with their bright hues and diversity of form. Grody photographs pieces from all over the city and drawn on all different mediums. He includes pieces done on bodegas, abandoned yards, billboards, barbed wire walls, train stations, car garages, and just any place or material that supports spray paint. Stylewise, Graffiti L.A. has something for everybody: ”Rest In Peace” murals for the dead homies, vibrant tag initials for the crew rivalries, and cartoon murals for the community center. Whatever is not in the book is mostly likely in the CD rom that accompanies the book.
Graffiti L.A. shows Steve Grody’s immense time and energy, as well as the commitment from the graffiti writers who grace the pages. The artists have literally sprained their ankles, slashed their limbs, and even died to broadcast their work to the world. They, along with Grody, have combined to make this release as ecstatic as the feeling of an ordinary brick wall being forever changed by a extraordinary writer’s spray paint.
9-5-07: Nicely positive review in the September Readymade magazine, but even nicer was the review in Graphotism out of England.
7-30-07: Warren Olney, host of “Which Way L.A.?” did and interview with me, Kofie and Dan Freeman of Caltrans. Warren is cool because, while he may only now be learning about graff, he’s not combative and just asks good legit questions, truly interested to understand alternative perspectives. Go to the link and click on “listen” and click “ok” even if says you don’t have the right whatever installed. It worked for me.
7-15-07: For Broadband Users: For those that have access to broadband radio, check out the interview that Roger Gastman did with Saber and me. Go to Scion.com/broadband and then click on Scon Radio 17, then scroll down to Swindle radio. I believe the interview is repeated on the hour.
7-12-07: What a great week for press. The L.A. Weekly just came out with a feature story on The Seventh Letter crew (by Shelly Leopold), and it included this review (http://www.laweekly.com/general/features/the-rise-of-the-seventh-letter/16771/).
If this is the only book on graffiti you’ll ever own, pick up two. The spine on my copy is already broken from overuse.
Graffiti L.A. is a collection of photos by Steve Grody, soft-spoken man of mystery, martial-arts expert and graffiti historian. Who could predict that such a unique set of sensibilities would produce the most amazing, comprehensive archive of Los Angeles street art to date? As a hobby photographer, Grody, in 1990, undertook the heady task of cataloging art that would not otherwise have been recorded by ingratiating himself with young artists who would otherwise not have been known. Seventeen years later, he compiled the information into a format that is both intensely reverent toward its subject matter and easy and interesting for the rest of us to grasp. Accompanying the vivid photos are oral histories ranging from old-school cholo writers through the hip-hop era to now, including various AWR/MSK members. Grody also provides us with a record of graf-crew roll calls, of artists both active and inactive, and a well-informed “anatomy of a piece.”
All the techniques and aesthetics of our local aerosol-painted landscape radiate here with bright, beautiful photographs of work, some of which existed for only a couple of hours. For all the influence and seniority that its artists carry, New York has not yet achieved such a recorded history. I’m sure they are jealous. We are lucky. Any clever art-history professor will include this as a required contemporary text.
This just in, both on-line (http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-bk-jaimebecerra8jul08,1,6564300.story?ctrack=1&cset=true) and in the L.A. Times Sunday supplement book review! Go to the above link to see the pics they used (Prime, Kerz, Mandoe, UTI).
L.A. History, Written On The Walls
Graffiti L.A. Street Styles and Art Steve Grody Abrams: 304 pp., $35
By Michael Jaime-Becerra
July 8, 2007
FIRST, you notice the colors. Perhaps a spray of pink, electric and sparkling, or regal maroon edged in silver. Perhaps a vivid golden yellow accented with thin lavender and lime stripes. Perhaps a flash of blues, bright sky blue, ocean blue, rich and celebratory Dodger blue. You are on a freeway, passing billboard after billboard, or rushing down an alley along Melrose, or near the Pavilion at Venice Beach.
The piece before you is full of motion and compacted forms, some stretching and twisting, the image an exercise in compressed kinetic energy. The image bursts with potential, and this potential commands your attention. Among all the curves and angles, the bits and arrows, you discern one letter, then another, although there is enough abstraction to prevent you from being certain about anything you find. Is it a G? An S? But the image does not care whether you understand it. It is one part pulled taffy, one part Cubist deconstruction. It is witnessed on its own terms and then, quickly, it is gone. Days later (maybe even the next day), you find yourself back at that same spot and discover that the image is truly gone, painted over, covered by a coat of flat beige that does not quite match the original around it. Such are the fleeting experiences represented in Steve Grody’s “Graffiti L.A.: Street Styles and Art.”
Before we continue, it may be best to offer a few explanations to the graffiti neophyte. (The book’s numerous photos are complemented with definitions.) First, graffiti “writers,” as they prefer to be called, concern themselves with ceaseless self-promotion, unlike conventional street gangs, which pursue more serious forms of criminal activity. The activities of graffiti writers are not necessarily confined to marking territory in a particular section of the city. In fact, groups of graffiti writers, known as “crews,” attempt to be far-reaching, actively seeking a variety of public spaces. In these venues, graffiti can take many forms: tags (the stylized presentation of one’s writing name), throw-ups (simple, puffy letter outlines hastily filled in with a single color), pieces (highly modified letter forms, a shortened form of “masterpieces”) and productions (collaborative arrangements of pieces and murals completed by an entire crew). Another distinction should be made between crews that concentrate on tagging and crews that dedicate themselves to the more florid, more imaginative bravura of piecing and productions. “Graffiti L.A.” concerns itself with the latter, tracing the evolution of a distinct Los Angeles style.
This style has its roots in East L.A. gang placas, the stylized markings of one’s neighborhood. Rendered in angular regional fonts, these expressions of territorial pride date to the 1930s, when brushes were used before the advent of spray paint. These practitioners eventually found commonality in emergent 1970s hip-hop, punk, skateboarding and avant-garde art movements.
Graffiti was an easy, natural fit with plenty of alienated youth. One 1980s writer describes the nascent culture as a “weird private communication for teenage kids. It was basically like Misfit Island; weird young kids who, for whatever reason, weren’t happy with what was going on in their lives and felt that they wanted to create this alter ego.” These aliases are crucial. Some, such as Panic, Saber, Angst and Revok, suggest disaffection and violence, but others “Cre8, Prime and Atlas” evoke possibility, possibly optimism. They are one’s public identity, and the style in which they are rendered becomes a modern, expressionist calling card. In graffiti piecing, one’s notoriety is measured primarily by the uniqueness of writing style. Recognition comes from one’s peers, not the outside world. This pursuit of isolated fame is a rare common goal among graffiti writers. Grody documents how it accounts for the continuous development of graffiti styles, consistently ensuring new letter forms and arrangements, accommodating new visions. According to Siner, a leader in LTS (a crew known alternately as “Last to Survive” or “Last to Serve”): “You continue to keep burning yourself. Or learn from the last piece; you might do a little something in a section of one piece that you want to work more with in the next piece. And if you don’t do it, somebody else will pick up where you left off, so you better be quick to keep developing it!”
This advancement of style “of several styles, in fact” is evident throughout “Graffiti L.A.,” as Grody’s collection of photos covers the last four decades. In this sense, he eclipses seminal books like Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s “Subway Art” (1984), which chronicled the emergence of the form on New York City subway cars, as well as Chalfant and James Prigoff’s “Spraycan Art” (1987), which documented the form’s progression worldwide. (Prigoff wrote the foreword to “Graffiti L.A.”) Grody’s work also contains interviews with generations of Los Angeles graffiti writers. These voices, in addition to an accompanying CD-ROM featuring audio interviews and 200 additional photos, lend significant dimension to Grody’s explanations of the craft.
Grody points out that many of the most compelling graffiti pieces are found in secluded locations. It is this secretive world from which the writers’ voices surface, revealing each of them as part of a complex, organized society, one with forms of mentorship, codes of conduct and ethical concerns. Although there are those writers who simply wish to vandalize, in the book they seem outnumbered by those devoted to graffiti as a serious artistic pursuit. The dedication of these artists is all the more remarkable if one takes into account confrontations with law enforcement and local gangs, as well as the innumerable safety hazards associated with gaining access to off-limits sites. Graffiti will always have its detractors, but the artists in Grody’s book appear driven by a faith in their own abilities. Ultimately, such faith allows for a convergence between personal and possible public interests. According to Zuco, a longtime Los Angeles writer: “I got into piecing to beautify my community because that’s what the colors were doing, motivating people. I wanted kids walking home from school to see something besides oppressive gang graffiti, and they have a chance to know there’s other colors around, to know that a spraycan [can] do different things.”
6-18-07: This just in… an interview on Formatmag.com (formatmag.com/features/steve-grody/). There is also a feature on Codak you may want to look at. It’s always interesting to see the photos that magazines choose to accompany their articles with.
An exploration of graffiti in Los Angeles, and its surrounding area, Steve Grody’s book Graffiti L.A. Street Styles and Art, is an analytical and visual collection of writers’ thoughts and works, culminating in a manifesto for Los Angeles graffiti. Grody introduces each chapter in the book and then generously allows writers to speak their mind on a variety of topics ranging from style to sociology. Format catches up with Grody to discuss his experiences leading up to the writing of the book, and his thoughts now that it has been published.
Format: Please speak about your personal history relating to graffiti.
Steve Grody: I’ve always been interested in letter forms. As a kid I drew my various Mad Magazine style monsters and surf monsters, but I also remember doing bubble letters very early on, before I knew what a spraycan was probably. And then in college my degree was actually in painting, drawing, and photography, but I was always interested, before that, in pop graphics in high school. There was the psychedelic poster era, and that’s something that I was interested in, and I actually did psychedelic poster art for high school events. It didn’t go over really well with the football team to see melting football players and stuff. I’ve always been interested in letter forms and pop graphics, so, even though I hadn’t been doing any of that for sometime, when I saw things going on in L.A. I was interested, but I didn’t start to document it right away because I wasn’t trained as a documentary photographer, it was more of a fine arts approach. At a certain point, after seeing one of the major battles between SLICK and HEX, that’s what I discovered Belmont Yard which was right near where I was living, and I thought ok, I have to start documenting this stuff.
Format: You mention in Graffiti L.A. that it was hard to gain writers trust at first. How did you overcome that obstacle?
SG: Two things, number one is they just kept seeing me around. If somebody saw me around over a number of years, they finally realized, well, if nobody’s been busted because of this guy at this point, then he must not be a cop. And the other thing is just that I would talk to them and just not front any attitude, not try and come off hip or all hip-hop. My interest was sincere, and I could talk about things from an art background, so they were thinking again, well he’s not a cop. The first yard was Belmont, anybody can find Belmont, and then somebody was down there fixing up a piece, they told me about San Bourne [Ok L.A. writers, you know they mean SANBORN; editor], so I’m at San Bourne, I start shooting at San Bourne, I meet people at San Bourne, they tell me about Motor National. And then at a certain point, once you know enough people, that’s one of the ways that people check your validity. Well if I can say that I know SKATE and I know EKLIPS, and I know DELO, you can’t fake it, you can’t start making up names. And then they say, ok, well obviously you know who AWR is, you know who CBS is, you know who these crews are, so I’ll tell you about this place.
It kind of goes from there, and at a certain point it was pretty funny, because there would be a certain attitude of course, it’s natural for people to be condescending when you’re coming into their scene, and you would see that they would be a little bit freaked when there wasn’t any yard that they could tell me about that I didn’t already know. And even in some cases, I was turning them onto where the yards were. As a matter of fact, I think that one really important crew association came because I told SWANK about how you get to Commerce Yard, and when he got there, he ended up hooking up with SH and has been a mainstay of SH crew since that time.
Format: Cholo is mentioned as one of the primary inspirations for graffiti in Los Angeles, but there is not a great deal of information on the movement itself in the book. Please speak about the general movement of Cholo graffiti.
SG: The thing is there are a lot of neighborhoods, a lot of times people say, “Cholo, OK Latino gangster, that means East L.A.” and it doesn’t necessarily. It’s in any of the Latino lower income blue collar neighborhoods. There were black styles and Latino styles in the gang writing, but I’d really have to say that the main influence in terms of the graffiti movement, it comes from the Latino styles. There were some major writers that were associated at one point with a particular area and neighborhood gangs, and they took the sharpness, and they tried to take that intimidating aspect and that angularity of the gang writing and put it into the new form of writing, modern graffiti’s form. Now some of them used the modern graffiti movement to move out of gang life, and some of them straddled the fence, and some of them got killed for that. Some of them just didn’t make it out of that; they kept slipping back into that life. When they were in the gang life they would use their gang names and it was like there was no other life, and when they did the graffiti thing, it was kind of like living this double life, and those things often didn’t overlap, except when they did and there was often violence that happened around that.
Format: Graffiti L.A. explores relations between gangs and graffiti primarily in the developing years. What is the relationship like between gangs and graffiti today?
SG: By and large, I’d say that there is generally a respectful distance. Right now I don’t know of any graffiti writers who are also active gang members. Generally speaking of a modern graffiti guy, as long as he’s respectful of the neighborhood he goes into, he’ll be fine. If he’s going into a neighborhood where there is gang activity that there are walls that you don’t go on, or areas that you have to be very careful in, and if you’re careful in those areas, or careful on surfaces, and its clear that you’re not trying to make somebody feel like you’re taking over their territory, then its OK, but you have to be respectful in those neighborhoods. There is no active animosity, it’s not like gang members necessarily go after graffiti writers at this point, where as at one point they were actually threatened by the rise of the graffiti movement because it was taking people out of gang membership. It’s kind of a respectful neutrality in most cases.
Format: Outside of how gangs influence graffiti and violence, please speak about the general violence, or lack of violence, within the Los Angeles graffiti scene.
SG: Compared to gang life it’s very peaceful, but it’s hardly peaceful. There were, very commonly, particular in the earlier days, a lot of fist fights and group fights and what not, over if somebody felt that they had established a wall as an area that they could go up and then another crew starts to go onto that spot, there could be some pretty violent encounters. And if somebody from a crew went over somebodies piece that could be grounds for a violent encounter. Even recently, a couple of weeks ago, that happened where there was a particular spot that a crew felt was clearly established as theirs, so the person heard about it, and showed up there when the person was still working on it and actually beat him up pretty well. But it’s rare for it to go beyond a beating, it’s very rare, although not unheard of, that some body would pull a knife, and for every time somebody pulls a knife, it would be even more rare that somebody even pulls a gun, so I suppose that that’s at least heading in the right direction.
Format: How is the content, as opposed to style or technique, of graffiti in Los Angeles unique?
SG: That’s a tough one to think about as distinct from style. In L.A., the thing is, besides the unique styles, the content has to do with cultural narrative in the character work, the way street life is depicted in the character work surrounding things, it’s a little bit more sincere in L.A. than in other cities. I think that in Portland it’s going to be a little more of a pose, for example, than L.A. I think that’s where you’d see the biggest differences, just in the character work, coming from a little more real experience.
Format: What is a chapter, or section, that you would have liked to put in Graffiti L.A. but weren’t able to?
SG: On the legitimate complaints of the public, and actually there was a whole legal section with the laws and the codes and all of the kind of functioning of permits, the legalities of permitted productions and anti-graffiti organizations working to clean things up, that was all taken out because they felt there wasn’t room. Besides that, what I’m sorry there wasn’t more of, is the voice of people that are struggling with their businesses and are legitimately pissed off that a lot of young toys in particular are fucking up their store fronts, even though I will say that the world destruction is very sloppily used. The word destruction is used in regards to graffiti where there is often no destruction. Somebody tags on a wall, the wall has not been destroyed. The back of a street sign being slap tagged has not been destroyed. Very rarely has anything actually been destroyed. I do think that scribing and acid bath tagging, and tagging on storefronts, in particular storefront windows, sucks, absolutely sucks, and I think that any of these kids that act like anti-graffiti activity comes from a repressive atmosphere are kind of not being honest with themselves. They’ve created the anti-graffiti attitude because of the toy activity, which is to a large degree created by the younger, less understanding graffiti writer.
Format: There is not a great deal of focus on tags in “Graffiti L.A.” How come you chose not to expose this aspect of graffiti in-depth?
SG: Well, in the beginning of the book, I say OK, here these are what tags, here’s the Cholo writing and here are modern tags, here’s a dripper tag, here’s a throw-up, and then beyond that there are millions of tags in the backgrounds of pieces. The reason I didn’t go further into that is because that’s what everybody is able to see. Nobody that drives around the city for five minutes couldn’t see a tag if they weren’t looking. But, what is something that people haven’t seen enough of is the really high end work, and since there is so much of that, that people haven’t seen, that’s really what I wanted to bring out. I wanted to emphasize not just the breadth of the movement, but the aspects of work that people less often see. Also, any of those people that are in there with their really strong piece work, their tag will be in there. As a general rule, anybody can see what a good tag is on the piece that’s done by whatever artist it is. So I think that the tags are inclusive in that whole thing of representing the pieces.
Format: Graffiti L.A. explores the influences which developed the graffiti scene in Los Angeles. How has Los Angeles influenced other graffiti scenes?
SG: Tremendously. I tried to be very neutral and kind of objective as much as you can be in a scene talking about aesthetics, but I’ll just go out on a limb now and say that it’s interesting that there’s this thing about New York as the home of modern graffiti. And a guy that I know that was an L.A. writer in the first important generation. He’s in Brooklyn now and he’s an animator, and he was on this panel I did there said, “You know they may have started this thing off, but we’re responsible for what it became in L.A., and there’s a lot more story to be told, technically, stylistically, aesthetically.”
I think about Jazz, and it was always New York Jazz guys, New York Jazz guys, and it was only years later that the West Coast was given more appropriate acknowledgment with Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus and a lot of other people. And people finally, often after somebody died, acknowledged that were just as important as the New York Jazz guys. At this point there’s no shortage of people in the world that consider L.A. the cutting edge of graffiti. You will see the influence of L.A. writers in Japan, in Europe. The guys that travel, they see people not only writing like L.A. writers, but dressing like L.A. writers, wearing the clothes that L.A. writers might wear. So people like REVOK, and SABER, RETNA, and ZES, are very influential at this point around the world, so I would say that L.A. writers are probably the most influential group of writers in the world today.
Format also had this review of the book (http://formatmag.com/std/std-test/):
The third book in a loose series published by Abrams, Graffiti L.A. Street Styles and Art, by Steve Grody, is an illustrious, analytical look at graffiti in Los Angeles. Readers accustomed to the aesthetic focus of previous HNA releases, Graffiti World, and Graffiti Women, by Nicholas Ganz, will not find the same style of arrangement in Graffiti L.A. . Although the book is full of master piecework by Los Angeles veterans, the images in Graffiti L.A. illustrate the concepts Steve Grody introduces, rather than simply display the work of a variety of artists. Grody, with the aid of writers quotes, explores the initial influences of graffiti in L.A., the writers unique technique and aesthetic, the social elements, and the ethical issues, in Los Angeles and surrounding areas.
– Shane Ward
6-16-07: The July issue of Juxtapoz magazine is out, and features The Seventh Letter Crew. I’m honored to be considered in the family and happy to have a little spread in the magazine on pages 134/5. There is also a review of the book in the magazine, but I have to say that while it’s a very flattering review, I feel that the reviewer sees me as emphasizing T7L in somewhat of a contrast to the All-City approach I think was represented in my writing and photos. And it’s nice to have my review right next to Saber’s, not just because he’s a friend, but because I’m glad to have contributed some photos to his book.
6-4-07: This just in from Nylonmag.com:
GRAFFITI L.A.: STREET STYLES AND ART
Call it a bible for spray can art in Los Angeles…
It’s safe to say that when Edward Seymore manufactured the first can of spray paint in 1949 he had no idea what he was getting himself into. Call it a bible for spray can art in Los Angeles, Steve Grody’s Graffiti L.A.: Street Styles and Art (Harry N. Abrams) visits every aspect of the movement from techniques, social elements, ethics (yes, ethics), to interviews and dialogues between some of the city’s most prolific writers. The book also comes with the obligatory ”hard cover graffiti book bonus DVD,” which features audio commentary and even more photos (in case the ones flooding the 300 plus pages aren’t enough to satisfy you.) With books on urban art coming out faster than you can say “fat cap” it’s refreshing to find a book so thorough, with meticulously researched text paired with rich photography of more bombings, murals, and top to bottoms than most people will see in a life time. While free-hand spray painting may not be the method of the moment in L.A. or elsewhere, this book does it’s job in proving to the current scene that the old You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you came from adage rings true.
—————————————————————————————————————————————– Reuters is an internationally distributed news wire service, so this is very cool press. I received the following from the woman that wrote the article:
The Reuters story inspired by Steve Grody’s Graffiti LA book ran on Reuters international and national wires late on Tues May 29. It is difficult for us to track comprehensively how many outlets use Reuters stories, but from a search on Google this morning. the story has already appeared in some form on the Washington Post.Com, TV Guide, Monsters and Critics.com, and Reuters.com.
Many thanks to all and I enclose a copy of the story as it originally ran on Reuters. I apologize in advance for not doing the book or the writers justice but we are limited to only 1,000 words in features, our longest form, and we are always aiming our stories at general, rather than specialized, readers and publications.
Best regards Jill Serjeant
FEATURE-Los Angeles graffiti surfaces in bold colors
By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES, May 30 (Reuters) – They have names like Wisk, Revok, Panic and Oiler. They work mostly in the dark, often above six lanes of hurtling freeway traffic, and their spray-can creations sometimes last only a day. To many people, they are vandals or “taggers” whose stylized scrawls deface neighborhoods and cost cities millions of dollars to paint over.
But in the underground, illegal world of graffiti, they are “writers” with their own vocabulary, code of ethics, mutual respect and distinctive styles.
“The above-ground world has often been condescending towards most graffiti — although granted some of the best work is often out of the public eye,” said Steve Grody, whose new llustrated book “Graffiti L.A.” gets the stories of dozens of graffiti writers in print for the first time.
“There is no way you can drive around Los Angeles for more than five minutes without seeing ‘tags’,” he said, of the monikers sprayed in bright, bold letters on the sprawling city’s walls, freeway signs, trains and lampposts.
“But finding the more involved, often hidden pieces, is like finding buried treasure.”
Los Angeles is one of the world’s most prolific centers for graffiti, its miles of crisscrossing freeways, concrete river banks and urban sprawl providing a tempting canvas.
ART OR VANDALISM?
“The question, ‘Is it art, or is it vandalism?’ was buried 25 years ago,” said James Prigoff, co-author of “Spraycan Art,” published in 1987.
“This is the only art form created by youth,” Prigoff said, noting that “Graffiti L.A.” was launched in May with a panel discussion at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Grody traces modern Los Angeles graffiti back to the 1930s gang culture of the city’s tough east side. Graffiti later became the visual expression of hip-hop culture that began to take shape in the 1970s and which penetrated street fashion, music and dance.
Contrary to popular belief, Grody said that only a small minority of graffiti or tagging is carried out by the city’s notorious gangs. Most of the graffiti writers he interviewed see it as social or political expression.
“If you want to know what’s going on with a city look at the writing on the wall; you can tell what skill level and what social problems are happening, what’s going on with youth,” the book quotes graffiti writer Toons as saying.
Others see their bold, colorful designs as beautification of locations that are normally considered urban blight.
“We love Los Angeles. We are not here to mess up Los Angeles,” said Revok, a 17-year veteran graffiti writer quoted in “Graffiti L.A.”
“A lot of the time we are appropriating dilapidated spaces or abandoned buildings. Beige or grey walls to me are ugly. To do something with that space that makes it more interesting… is a lot more attractive to me than billboards advertising breast augmentation,” Revok said.
Most start out working alone with a spray can as their paintbrush and an alley wall as their canvas for “throw-ups”, or quickly done, simple letter outlines.
HEAVENS, BOMBING AND PIECES
Notoriety is especially prized, making high or difficult-to-reach targets called “heavens” such as the back of freeway signs especially appealing. It’s also much harder for authorities to remove quickly.
Crews, with names like CBS (Can’t Be Stopped) TKO (TaKingOver) or MSK (Mad Society Kings) are often formed for larger, more complex “pieces” (short for masterpieces), in obscure locations.
Daredevil feats, arrests and encounters with the law are seen as occupational hazards — like the story about a writer called Saber who impaled his abdomen on a metal fence spike while making a quick exit.
Much as graffiti writers regard their culture as beyond taming, many have self-imposed limits. Graffiti on public murals, known as “bombing”, is a particularly heated topic.
“We struggle to make people understand it’s an art form, but when we paint on someone’s mural, how can anyone accept us when we’re destroying art?,” said Besk.
Others, like Anger, say there will always be unethical behavior. “It’s called graffiti. We don’t ask permission for what we do,” he said.
For some. mom and pop stores are out of bounds while large stores are fair game. But Relic is firm about where he draws the line.
“I’ll never write on a church because my art ain’t bigger than God,” he said.
5-21-07: Very nice. Graffiti L.A. just recieved a “starred” review in Publishers Weekly:
“The culmination of author and photographer Grody’s 17-year obsession, this stunning examination of Los Angeles street art should prove to be a definitive work on the subject. Beginning in the 1930s, when stylized calligraphic writing (often called “Old English”) was first used by Latino gangs to mark territories, Grody quickly moves on to the art form’s explosion in the ’80s, when four distinct forms were spreading throughout the city: tags, a name in stylized script; throw-ups, one-color designs quickly applied; pieces, more elaborate and colorful efforts; and productions, a collection of pieces. The book truly takes off among the hundreds of beautifully photographed pieces Grody offers, along with testimony from the artists and “crews” who created them. Grody describes the anatomy of a piece, crew dynamics and the politics of what is still an illegal art form, but knows when to step back and let the artists speak for themselves; he elicits comments on everything from overcoming early technical obstacles to close calls-both with cops and injury-to the history and meaning behind their art. The importance of Grody’s work-as in any other street art roundup-is in capturing these short-lived pieces before they’re inevitably defaced by rivals or painted over by the authorities; what makes this beautiful book stand out is the way Grody completes his vibrant picture with the voices of the street artists themselves.” Thanks to whoever that reviewer was!
I’m also glad to get this good response from the very interesting artist Jeff Soto, former Bashers Crew: http://jeffsotoart.blogspot.com/
“I picked up a new book on L.A. graf called “Graffiti L.A.” by Steve Grody. has a Slick piece on the cover and is chock full of the best graff from Los Angeles. In particular it has alot of work from the late 80’s- early 90’s which in my opinion was the high point of L.A.’s graffiti. Letters really had flair and style back then, it was like the words were dancing and moving to a beat. Some highlights from that era- CBS, AWR, Hex’s Hip Hop Shop, Frame, Risky, Toonz, Mear, early Saber, Skill, then there’s the locations like Venice, Motor Yard, Belmont, anyways it’s an awesome book.
It brought back lots of memories, and really made me want to pick up the can again. Though we were from the I.E. our crew painted pretty often in L.A. spots, we were respected for our skills but at the same time shunned for being out of towners. We had a few productions that burned everything else in the yards and it’d be a crapshooot weither it’d be left up for a month untouched or painted over that night. It was frustrating and one of the reasons I started getting fed up with the graff scene. Too much politics. Like most things it was all about who you know.
The book is interesting, our old crew is in the “active crews” listing in the back. I guess when Maxx and I went on to other things, the crew kept going as an L.A. crew. There is one piece of ours in the book, a wall at the Commerce yard from 1996 with me, Jipsi, Maxx, PR, and Coed. I remember I called in sick to Target that day, hehe.”
The piece in my book that Jeff did is the “Bashers” piece at Commerce in the Collaboration section.
Nice to see this on the news stands, Los Angeles Magazine, May issue page 94:
Also see the book shout-out on vibe.com at http://www.vibe.com/blog/checks/2007/03/graffiti_is_gorgeous.html