The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Paint the town

Graffiti is viewed as vandalism and as art. It can be seen throughout the streets of Sacramento, California. Photo by Cory Browning

Will Dunn-Phillips | Contributing Writer

Graffiti artists’ passion spurs them to great heights

The thick, late night air of an Indian summer in Sacramento is stitting. On this night however, the dark midnight wind wicking bare arms and the rushing adrenaline at heights up to 50 feet makes the weather more ignorable than usual. Cars speedunder us as we stand on an overpass where the intersecting interstates of 50, 5, and 80 provide the path for a surprising number of midweek, late night commuters.  The wind blows as an artist prepares himself and his version of a canvas, the concrete wall of an overpass. He climbs up and over the safety fence and onto the edge of the overpass fearlessly, bringing literal meaning to the expression an artist who takes risks.

As Sacramento City College student and graffiti artist Lure shimmies over the edge of the bridge, his upper half disappears, and all that is visible is a hand for support and his lower legs. I watch him and get a chill from the height, suddenly reminded of when I was younger and went with friends on “tagging” missions just for the fun of it.  The effort that graffiti artists put into their work never crossed my mind.

My memory ends when the bearing in the paint can rattles as it spirals back and forth. Lure’s hand guides the paint stream, and with deft movements the piece begins to take shape one line at a time. We are alone on the overpass except for an addled woman in what appears to be a secondhand wedding dress watching and pacing a hundred yards away.

Clouds of back spray rise from the can and into view under the flickering fluorescent lights of the overpass. The cloud appears to momentarily dance in the air before the wind carries it away, and any ques-tion about whether graffiti can be considered an art form and not just a juvenile pastime is clear when Lure moves back and looks at his completed piece, his name popping out from above the I-5 directional sign.

For another piece on the same bridge Lure uses a mixture of layered paint and a combination of colors that makes the piece jump off the wall like a 3-D image, but unfortunately, the seemingly clean surface that Lure has chosen for his piece will not last long. He captures mental and physical pictures, revealing fitting autumn colors of orange and black that make up an eyeball with Lure’s name. Lure’s mural, painted in a mere 13 minutes, has an uncertain future at best.

One of many realizations that graffiti artists must come to is that their art is mostly illegal, not permanent or protected, and it is only a matter of time until it is covered up by a city worker or even another artist.

“[I like to paint] spots that don’t get buffed or spots that don’t get taken down,” Lure says.

But the spot tonight is unfortunately not one of those. On closer inspection one can see the layer upon layer of old cracking paint used for cover-ups by the city over the years.

As we walk away from the bridge and into the night, Lure silently breaks away and crosses the street. I watch as he walks up to a telephone pole next to a wall and jumps straight up, grabbing onto a spike sticking out of the side. In movements reminiscent of the recently popularized Parkour athletes or some kind of street gymnast, Lure pulls himself up from a dead hang position and climbs the pole. In a delicate balancing act he paints his name on the wall in a black cursive script that is both simple and tasteful.

After dropping to the ground with every bit of dexterity he used in climbing the pole, he crosses the empty street calmly saying with a big grin, “Do you see that spot?  That won’t get buffed for a long time. It’s too high. They won’t cover it up.”

Looking at the wall, the paint line where previous cover-ups have taken place is distinct and stops at a level some feet below where the fresh paint has been placed.  This is the kind of space that a graffiti artist looks for — a government building or someplace where their name will be displayed for a long time, where other street artists and people can see them represented and appreciate their piece, or at least the effort it took to put there.

Graffiti is a very broad term with a lot of negative connotations. Graffiti artists are widely thought of as pests and criminals, and the legal repercussions for graffiti or “street art” and “tagging,” as it is also commonly called, can be sti ing. While gangs and pests alike use “tagging” to deface public and private properties, some graffiti artists like Lure and the group of artists he associates with have a more defined sense of where and when to paint. While understanding the dangers and repercussions of their art, it is not enough to stop them from doing what they love.

Lure and his friend, a former City College student who paints under the name Syer, sit around Lure’s kitchen table in Sacramento. Lure is quiet, and both artists are reserved at  first, but after a few questions, enthusiasm and love for their art begins to  ow out of them.

“Nothing is as good as painting on the street — nothing compares,” says Syer.

To these artists, graffiti is a way of life. They’re not involved in gangs or crews — they just paint — and their art, while rebellious in form, is about anti-establishment sentiment, not hurting small businesses or people.

“We don’t paint on the mom and pop places. It’s more about rebelling against the system, not hurting the little guys,” says Lure.

Lure was first inspired by graffiti on a trip to Australia when he was a teenager. He has been painting ever since. Syer similarly started painting at a young age and found inspiration when he traveled, practicing his art and enjoying the art of others in Japan and New Zealand.

Graffiti is a worldwide art form with different styles that have emerged from different cities and countries. Artists, for the most part, fuel and challenge each other. Some artists create problems by disrespecting others and covering or “throwing up” their tag over other artists’ work, but Lure says for the most part they respect each other, and they even meet each other from time to time while painting.

“The funniest thing is when you meet someone and can put a face with their [graffiti] name,” says Lure.
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Although some street art is legal, like the commissioned walls on K Street and the Old Sacramento walking tunnel, the dangerous nature and the legal ramifications associated with graffiti can be stitting — hefty fines and jail time.  The risks they take for their art are worth it to Lure and Syer, and while they are not opposed to legal art, the excitement of painting anywhere they want is enough to fuel their passions.

“People’s idea of ‘normal’ is clubbing and drinking — that’s what graffiti is to me, not the white picket fence,” Syer says.

Graffiti makes sense to these artists in a way that most people will never think about. Lure has been lucky and barely avoided legal trouble, but Syer has suffered legal hardships with fines and done several stints in jail because of his art. If an artist paints long enough, he will get caught, but most will keep painting.

“Graffiti is addicting,” says Lure. “You can’t stop when you get into it.”

“You never really realize what’s happening until you are in the back of a cop car, and then you realize what’s going on, and its like oh, fuck,” says Syer.

Hefty fines, the threat of a scarred record and jail time deter most from graffiti, but artists like Lure and Syer say they love the feeling of painting and seeing their art for as long as it stays somewhere.

“As you get older, your mindset on graffiti changes somewhat. You know you shouldn’t be doing it illegally as much, but it’s hard not to when you’re into it,” Syer explains. “At the same time when I paint some stuff now — how do you say it? I try to make it for everybody. When I was younger, I was more selfish with it, but now I try to think of the community in some corny-ass way.”

The passion, danger and the draw to this underground art form may be hard to understand for most people, but for Rose and Taylor (Syer and Lure’s significant others), dealing with the anxiety and passion of a graffiti artist while not actually being one themselves is something they know first hand.

“It’s definitely a lifestyle. When he goes hard into it, he’s not back until the next day.” Rose said. “When he’s gone, he’s gone, and I never know when he’s going to be done. He’ll leave at 6 o’clock, and I won’t see him till the next day, and you can see it all over him, and he’s a little bit weird.”

While going to the lengths these artists do to create art may seem crazy, and while Rose and Taylor worry, there is also a quiet understanding that even though graffiti is dangerous, it is a passion that can’t and shouldn’t be subdued.

Rose and Taylor take turns petting a tabby kitten as he rolls back and forth on the table between them. He suddenly sees the tape-recorder blinking and dives for it, but Taylor catches him and brings him to her chest. She absent-mindedly strokes him as she
thoughtfully recounts times she has gone out with Lure when he paints.

“I am always the lookout [when I am with Lure],” says Taylor. “But sometimes I tell him to stop painting or run, and he doesn’t. He just
keeps painting, like he can’t hear anything or see anything else around him, and  finally at the last second he moves away and runs or whatever.”

Close calls with the law and physical injury are constant obstacles for a graffiti artist, but Syer and Lure have come to terms with the pitfalls of their passion, because the artwork is too important to sacrifice.

“I don’t even know what I think about graffiti sometimes,” says Syer.

“I have mixed feelings on it, like, that shit fucked my life up. But other times I’m like, what else would I be doing?”

Editor’s Note: this article first appeared on December 8, 2014 in the fall 2014 issue of Mainline magazine.


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