April 3, 2011 by David Gillaspie
These are structure words suggesting a framework.
Herd of cats.
These are labels for groups that resist structure. Or do they?
How can you explain the draw of a skate park? Skateboard guy, the middle schooler and the 35 year old living in their mother’s basement, want the same freedom.
They want a smooth place to roll with the warm wind blowing through their hair. They want someplace to grind without getting blown off like a reluctant lint ball.
If that place is a city sponsored skatepark near a police station, will renegade skater boy show up? They will if it’s a laboratory of new tricks, a place to practice and show off.
Institutionalizing skateboarders is one thing, but working with taggers brings a new set of problems.
The tagger is:
A. Kid with a spray paint can looking for a place to unload it?
B. A gang affiliate staking new turf?
C. A former skateboarder sticking it to The Man? All of the above?
When the wind carries the scent of spray paint, you are either near an Earl Scheib collision repair and paint shop, or downwind from taggers.
The outdoor art scene near the railroad tracks in Eugene was thriving by the smell in the air. A quick glance showed at least ten kids with rattle cans working the canvas, which were 4 X 8 sheets of plywood hung between metal and wooden poles.
More kids with rattle cans stepped out from behind their work.
The curious arts patron considered their status: dangerous gangsters, homeless wanderers, or junior varsity vandals honing their skills, then stepped in.
“Hey, how’s it going? Okay to look around?”
No one looked up and said anything.
“This is the liveliest place I’ve seen in town. What’s going on?”
The closest kid said, “What’s it look like,” without interrupting his line of spray.
“It looks like a bunch of huffers, or taggers, or skateboarders without their ride. Am I close?”
The kid stopped and turned. “We’re artists. Look around. What else could we be?” he said.
“Guys out of weed getting high on paint fumes? Come on, you can tell me. You paint to huff and huff to paint. It’s okay, I’m not busting anyone.”
A different kid popped up from behind his panel. “Sometime it’s unavoidable. Depends on the wind.”
“All I’m seeing is some great design and color. You guys’ve got it going. You work in a large format but keep the scale in context. Not an easy thing to do.”
“Most people don’t see that, mister. That’s why we’re artists, why we call ourselves artists.”
“That’s exactly who you are. Do you prep the surfaces before you paint?”
“Do you take pictures of your work?”
“There’s no bleed through underneath, so I’m guessing you’re painting over someone else’s work, which means someone will paint over yours. Don’t you want to know what you’ve done? Save it?”
“We know what we’ve done, mister. We’re the ones doing it.” He points to others. “He knows what I’ve done. So does he. And I know what they’ve done. It’s not too complicated.”
“So you’re doing a temporary installation.”
“What are you, a museum teacher? We’ve got paint and we’re spraying it.”
“I get that. But it’s your work and it looks like you’re really good at it. That’s no bullshit. It’s striking. It makes me look at it.”
“That’s what artists do.”
“What they hope to do, and you guys are doing it. And you know it.”
“That’s good enough.”
“That’s it? Good enough?”
The kid shook his can. “See that building across the tracks? Lane County Sheriff. They got the fence with the rolled wire on top like a prison. It’s not to keep people out. They’d arrest everyone of us for tagging if we weren’t working here.”
“Here? Where’s here?”
“This is a Free Wall. Any artist can paint here. This is for us, by us. Fubu.”
“You can use that?”
“What’s the problem? We artists, we use everything.”
“That’s a wall to build on. Can I paint?”
“Yeah, but after we’re done. It’s an art thing.”
“Looks like a Spike Lee thing.”
By David Gillaspie