image: small version of view of a wall mural by street artist NUKE.UTI, October, 1996, Tijuana,Mexico. Dark reds and blues. Left to right: abstract nude female figure, moon in sky above, street lamps, lone figure walking beneath street lamps, figure of small person [boy?] with hands in pockets and facial expressionof hopelessness, bearded face, red and blue calligraphy NUKE onflaming redbackground, skull facing right, UFO near two figures, figure of manwith sombrero and mustache, cartoon of creature with body of rat andhead of man, with bird [crow?] in mouth. Letters UTI at upper right.
by Nuke.UTI, LA (see below)
CultureWork
A Periodic Broadside*
for Arts and Culture Workers
February, 1998. Vol. 2, No. 1.
Institute for Community Arts Studies
Arts & Administration Program, University of Oregon

[text-only version]


In this issue:



F

OR many years I have been fascinated by graffiti art. I began taking pictures of paintings and tags in 1990. I wanted to find out everything I could about this mysterious writing. During summer break from grad school (1994), I made a Web gallery, called Art Crimes, to show my collection of 150 photos from Atlanta and Prague (Czech Republic). I called for contributions of similar photos from around the world. I hoped that other photographers would put their graffiti photos online to help create a worldwide archive of graffiti images organized by city. What began as a handful of photographs from two cities has grown into more than 3000 images from some 160 cities around the world, and hundreds of other graffiti sites have since invaded the Internet.


I announced the opening of Art Crimes in the newsgroup (comp.infosystems.www) where it was then considered polite to inform others when a new site was launched. There were almost no art projects online then, since it had just become practical to put images on Web pages. Immediately, the few graffiti artists online contacted me.

 The "writers," as they call themselves, had been hanging out on Usenet in alt.graffiti. They'd been talking about making a Web site for their photo collections. It was difficult to code and decode binary files in newsgroups and they wanted to exchange photos very badly. They were excited but suspicious of my motivations at first.

 Several photographers also contacted me immediately, offering to share their photos. The first was Brett Webb, a computer science student from Los Angeles who had photos from Fresno and LA. We hit it off right away and decided to share the project and build the site together. We worked closely every day, even though we'd never met, and in fact lived 3000 miles apart. The possibilities for this kind of distance collaboration were intoxicating, and we were extremely excited about the positive response we were getting from the viewing public and the graffiti community. Then I met Ionone BTS in Atlanta, and he generously allowed me to scan his photos from Vancouver, Amsterdam and Munich.

 I quickly realized that if I was working full time and taking two classes in grad school, I really didn't have time for a massive Web hobby site. I was so engrossed in learning about graffiti that I would almost rather have given up work or school. About that time, Newsweek did an article about Art Crimes in their "Cyberscope" column. My email exploded with demands for information and more digital photos.

 Since my master's degree (Information design and Technology) required a large multimedia final project, I presented the site to my adviser, Dr. Kenneth Knoespel, and presented a good case for it to be accepted as my long-term thesis project. To my great relief, he became almost as excited as I was about the potential scope of such an archive and the appropriateness of doing it on the Web as a collaborative project with another college student.

 The project was accepted, and during the next year I wrote a paper about the tradeoffs and possibilities of digital museums (http://www.lcc.gatech.edu/gallery/artcrimes/museums.html), and another on the navigation, presentation, and interface design for Art Crimes. Meanwhile Brett and I added new photos almost every week and attempted to design the site to scale up with maximum accessibility and utility.

Brett and I were adopted by Paul, our incredibly patient sysadmin, who offered to host our first mirror site and arranged for our own domain, graffiti.org. From time to time, other servers host copies of our site, for easier access in other countries, and to guard against censorship. Soon we had two copies of the site in the US, then at one time or another, one in Scotland, Australia, Italy, and now Poland. We're looking for another one now.

 Art Crimes is one of the largest collaborative art projects. We couldn't have built a site this large without Georgia Tech, Paul, and other generous system administrators. Their technical help was priceless. Without the enthusistic cooperation of the writers and the technology of the Internet, we would not be able to show work from all over the globe and allow it to be viewed worldwide. We are extremely grateful to have such an opportunity.

Graffiti writers have supported our efforts because Art Crimes offers its information free to everyone and it gives the artists great exposure. Many writers are also photo collectors, and they see the need for preservation as their pictures fade. Many great photo collections have been seized and destroyed by police during the last 25 years, so the need for a new archive strategy is very clear. It is difficult and expensive to publish graffiti books and magazines, so the Web became the obvious place to answer the demand for graffiti media and information.

 Graffiti writers tend to be entrepreneurial, and they do a lot of zines and other documentary projects. They've taken that energy and publishing fervor to the Web now. You can see the incredible explosion of online graffiti by browsing the comprehensive list of sites maintained by Art Crimes: <http://www.graffiti.org/index/other.html>.

 New sites are coming up every day now as more writers get Internet access and learn how to make pages. Many graffiti writers got online and learned computer skills because they found out about Art Crimes and the other Internet graffiti sites and they didn't want to miss the train. Some have designed beautiful high-tech sites, demonstrating their style in a new medium. Some now design Web sites for a living.

 Graffiti publications and artist's businesses have profited from the online graffiti sites through increased publicity and international business networking. Now when someone wants to have a painting event, it is possible to invite the whole world to come. Many of the graffiti events of the last few years have enjoyed a large and sometimes international attendance because of the increased awareness of upcoming shows. Graffiti gallery shows are enjoying more traffic too, and there seems to be a renewed interest in portable graffiti-style artwork and mural installations. If someone wants a famous graffiti artist to do a commissioned work, it is now usually possible to contact the artist eventually, even if both parties live in different countries.

 "Graffiti art is a performance with invisible actors," declared Katherine Albers, a long-suffering colleague of mine from Georgia Tech. Graffiti used to appear on the walls and trains, shouting in an incomprehensible language, with no one around to explain it. The artists would sometimes return to a public painting and hope to overhear comments from viewers. The Internet allows for the first time a real dialogue to take place between some of the writers and their audience. In an effort to be understood or just heard, many are writing texts explaining their views and motivations.

Information about graffiti used to be a closely guarded secret teaching. Passed from master to apprentice, the skills are very hard to acquire, and impossible to fake. Outsiders were easily identified and excluded. The history of the 25-year-old urban artform is largely an oral tradition, conveyed in a jargon that is all but opaque to outsiders. When I discovered that there is so much more to graffiti than meets the eye, that there is an international subculture totally dedicated to graffiti writing, I was very concerned about exposing the artists too much to the public. Brett and I began Art Crimes as a photo gallery with no explanations offered, in sensitivity to the secretive nature of the artists.

 Then a graffiti writer (Cesar Rene Arce, 18) was shot to death in 1995 in Los Angeles by a vigilante, and the news and talk shows made the killer into an instant hero. He was touted as the citizen's answer to violent gang self-help, and the dead teenager was demonized for vandalizing public property. A bridge abutment's smooth gray surface had become more valuable than a young kid's life. We decided then to help educate the public. Graffiti lore had been a somewhat open secret since the birth of the zines and the publication of several books some 10 or 15 years before, so we felt that the time had come to fight media with media.

 Despite what the news may have reported, graffiti crews are not gangs, at least not in the Crips vs. Bloods sense. Any three people who dress alike and loiter together are a "gang" by US legal standards, but the primarily peaceful and creative graffiti artists are in many ways the antithesis of drive-by civil unrest and turf disputes.

 Sure, some guys talk big and paint a lot of guns, but this is swaggering machismo, not mortal danger talking. The violent imagery is also a reflection of the world we live in, painted by people who want us to think. Unlike many gangs, graffiti crews are often multiracial and sometimes multinational as well. A writer is judged by his or her originality, artistic skill, bravery, quantity, and years of effort -- not on appearance or ethnicity. At dawn, only the painting counts.

 Although graffiti is done by almost every kind of person imaginable, all but one or two percent of graffiti writers are male. Many "fine" artists dabble a bit on the side, but most writing is done by kids 11-17. A small number of those who stick with graffiti after adolescence rise to worldwide fame for their style innovation, so a lot of emphasis is placed on being in it for the long haul and pushing oneself for better style and technique. Some of the older writers are entering their 40s now, so there are several generations teaching younger kids how to develop their own unique styles.

Graffiti originated on the walls and trains of New York and Philadelphia in the early 1970s, as young people tried to make their own names stand out over all the others. They wanted to become famous and to show where they'd been. Those simple first efforts evolved into the elaborate lettering and complex forms of today's "style writing" which has now spread to most countries around the world.

Each aspiring writer must invent a unique name and get it noticed by everyone else. These signatures, often done with markers, are usually referred to as "tags." After a respectable amount of time and energy has been spent perfecting the signature, many writers move on to spraypaint and develop their own lettering and painting styles. Originality and mastery are the main artistic goals.

 Graffiti writing is often very competitive, and some disputes over names and who-wrote-over-whom inevitably arise. The competition for good wall space is intense in many places. Sometimes these controversies are settled with a skill (painting) battle or a brawl, but they usually end peacefully over time. The process of such competitions is described as "uplifting one's enemy through battle," because generally both writers push themselves to exceed their previous skill level in order to best the other. All onlookers are rewarded with the battle pieces, which are often spectacular efforts.

 For many young graffiti writers, the crew is their family of choice, perhaps the only family they have. Graffiti is much more than art. It is a way of life and a commitment of effort, honor, respect, and solidarity. It is a survival strategy in a harsh and deadly environment. It is unregulated self-expression in an increasingly commercial society and an exuberant declaration of existence in an otherwise anonymous world. Graffiti is the streets talking to the buildings.


Graffiti Battle Crown

Tijuana, Mexico Oct 12 - 20, 1996

Graffiti artists from both sides of the border united in a friendly competition for the crown. Artists and crews painted on permanent walls throughout Tijuana, Mexico. The Department of Culture in Tijuana helped organize the event and arrange for the wallspace. The project was very much a success, and we hope to see more cities in Mexico open their walls to public art as a result. The artists were furnished with paint and housing, but they painted all the murals free of charge. 

This event was organized thanks to Man One & Fuska and Maria Isabel Juárez, Dept. of Culture, Tijuana

image: MANONE'S character: black drawing on white background,male figure facing front, looking to the right, bearded, smiling,wearing a crown and a cape, bare-chested, cigarette in left hand, right arm akimbo.
Man One's character
from the flyer
Click any small picture for a closer view. Some larger views are also available under the "bigger" links.
image: photo of large painting on cinder block wall:Style by Neonski (San Francisco). left to right: 1996, pink, arranged vertically, Bay Area - Tiju[ana], blue, and  and Science Fiction!!, green, above stylized calligraphy:Style in blue with yellow borders. At bottom, flames in red, yellow and white with foreground images reminiscent of tentacles.
"Style" in science fiction style
by Neonski (San Francisco)
Image: photo of large painting on cinder block wall:Stet by Phresh (Oakland)</TD>. Left to right: stylized writing. [Ti]juanain light blue and white on dark blue,  Muy blastido tour invariegated colors. Calligraphy:  Stet in black onblue. Character of a slice of toast popping up from a toaster says, in cartoon word balloon, What up Mexico. Signature of Phresh in white paint. below: male and female figures with smiley button facesbetween words Diabloical skills! in gold on black dropshadow.
"Stet" by Phresh (Oakland)
Image: photo of large painting Wildstyle by Crayone.TWS (San Francisco) on cinder block wall:Left to right: on primarily a green background, signature Crayonein pink and purple lettering, above highly stylized calligraphyWildstyle indark collors bordered in yellow on an orange and purple background. Transparent ghostlyfigures move through the strokes of the calligraphy as through a forest. at upper right,in blue on gray, an URL: http://www.hip-hop.com. At lower right, figures marching to the left in two panels, with 1966 - 1996. La Revolucion continua in white.
"Wildstyle" by Crayone.TWS (San Francisco)
Image: photo of large painting by Asylm.SH (LA) on cinder block wall: Left to right: grayish green landscape,blue sky with green and blue clouds. Foreground: male character with blue suit, white shirt,red tie, holding binoculars. White badge on shoulder with red swastika. Tail protrudesfrom the back of the business suit at right. Background: barbed wire fence and a guard tower.
Asylm.SH (LA)
Image: photo of large painting by Asylm.SH (LA) on cinder block wall. Left to right: grayish green landscape,blue sky with green and blue clouds. At left: yellow sign of family running, as if to cross a border. Foreground: male character with blue suit, white shirt,red tie, holding binoculars. White badge on shoulder with red swastika. Tail protrudesfrom the back of the business suit at right. Background: barbed wire fence and a guard tower. Above: Pintando la frontera in white on red background.At right: heavily stylized calligraphy in green, blue, black, and red, with character in green clothing with blue cap, labeled Swank., flanked bymetal fencing of type used by U.S. Border Patrol.
"Somos Hermanos (our brothers)" and character by Swank.SH (LA) 
Image: photo of detail of large painting by Sacred.COI (LA) on cinder block wall. Background blue above, green to black below with red highlights. Intricate freestyle figuring throughout, inblack outline, like leaves or smoke swirls. Foreground, toothy character in red and blue, stylistically reminiscent of Cubism.
"Sacred" closeup
Image: photo of large painting by Sacred.COI (LA) on cinder block wall. Left to right: background blue above, green to black below with red highlights. Intricate freestyle figuring throughout, inblack outline, like leaves or smoke swirls. Far left, toothy character in red and blue, stylistically reminiscent of Cubism. Center, perspective block lettering, in yellow onred drop shadow: COI. Far right, in white: Sacred, and a hand carryinga spiked club.
"Sacred" by Sacred.COI (LA) freestyle and character
Image: photo of large painting, Vial by Vyal.COI (LA) on cinder block wall. Left to right: on background of dark green landscape, deep blue sky, shading between tored, orange, and yellow, signature coi...'vyal' 1996 in white, tree trunkssupporting canopy of heavily stylized green calligraphy Vyal,birds [crows?] sitting intrees, objects [boulders?] suspended in air with their shadows on the landscape.
"Vial" by Vyal.COI (LA) 
[black line is missing image, not part of painting]
Image: photo of large painting, Man by Manone.COI (LA), on cinder block wall. Background predominantly blue to purple. Foreground left, character human from neck down,vulture from neck up, with wings, in brown, white, blue and red, holding spikedclub in extended right hand, beneath which Creatures of instinct! appears inwhite on red. Center, highly stylized calligraphy Man in manycolors, above which two vulturescircling. Right, El hombre unico! in red, above Manone..COI graffitti battle crown! TJ MEXICO 1996 in light blue
"Man" by Manone.COI (LA) 
Image: photo of large painting by Sar.HTK (San Mateo), on cinder block wall. Background predominantly blue to purple. Left, purple, blue and red stylized calligraphy with blackdrop shadow on whiteborder, signature HTK in white or light blue above, San Mateo + Mexico Sar below.
Sar.HTK (San Mateo)
Image: photo of large painting by Quake TFL (San Francisco), on cinder block wall. Background predominantly blue to purple. Foreground dominated by red stylizedlettering Quake with yellow borders, three small unidentified flying objects in white with blue shadowingapparently manevering among the strokes of the letters. Upper right, the word Quake inblue on a red border amongwhite stars, with electrons or planets orbiting the word. Below, TFLORD in red, withblue drop shadows on red.
See it bigger - 90k
Quake TFL, (San Francisco)

Image: panoramic view of three paintingson one cinder block wall, described below: that by Pashe.TFL, by Zane & Persue, and by Ses.
Image: photo of large painting by  Pashe.TFL (character and Masacr) (San Jose), on cinder block wall. Background: Blue black, with highlights like starry night. At left, character with large eyes, horns extended from eyebrows, sharp canines in open mouth, three spikes on top of skull, greenish skin. Center and right,  heavily stylized calligraphy of Masacr in light and dark blue on green drop shadows, signature Pashe 1996.
Pashe.TFL (character and "Masacr") (San Jose)
Image: photo of large painting by Zane & Persue (character) (San Diego), on cinder block wall. Background: steel blue. Foreground: Heavily stylized  calligraphy Zane in light blue with black drop shadows onwhite, with splashes of green paint drops realistically painted throughout. Signed in dark blue or black Zane. Right: character, bald, caricatured with wide open mouth, huge red tongue, in green clothing,  holding in right hand the tail end of the calligraphy. Writing interspersed nearby: Tijuanna, All For Fame, Transcend.., SBA, Persue, and a list of names [friends?] in white.
Zane & Persue (character) (San Diego) 
Image: photo of large painting by Ses (Tucson), on cinder block wall. Background: blue-black. Foreground: at left, a heavily stylized calligraphy Ses inblue withorange-borderedred drop shadows. At right, character in blue and black, head andshoulders. Eyes white with no pupils, long lock of hair down across face, heavy eyebrows, fulllips. Portion of a helmet on back of head with spikes. Signed in white,Ses Tijuana NYSook City USA.
Ses (Tucson)
Image: photo of large painting by Nuke.UTI (LA), on cinder block wall. Dark reds and blues. Left to right: abstract nude female figure, moon in sky above, street lamps, lone figure walking beneath street lamps, figure of small person [boy?] with hands in pockets and facial expressionof hopelessness, bearded face, red and blue calligraphy NUKE onflaming redbackground, skull facing right, UFO near two figures, figure of manwith sombrero and mustache, cartoon of creature with body of rat andhead of man, with bird [crow?] in mouth. Letters UTI at upper right.
See it bigger - 111k - by Nuke.UTI (LA) 


Streets Talking Back:

Read Man One's account of the event. Read Crayone's report of the event. Add your thoughts and reactions! Write to us; be sure to indicate whether your comments are or are not meant for publication.
If you have access to a printer that does 11" X 17" color printing, you may wish to download the Commemorative Poster  [D]  for this joint exhibition. Print at 72 dpi for full coverage.
You may wish to paste the banner at right into your site as a pointer to this one:
 
 

Copy and paste the code below to do so.

mage: Banner for Tijuana Battle Crown
Image: photo of large painting by Nuke.UTI (LA), on cinder block wall. Dark reds and blues. Left to right: abstract nude female figure, moon in sky above, street lamps, lone figure walking beneath street lamps, figure of small person [boy?] with hands in pockets and facial expression of hopelessness, bearded face, red and blue calligraphy "NUKE" on flaming red background, skull facing right, UFO near two figures, figure of man with sombrero and mustache, cartoon of creature with body of rat and head of man, with bird [crow?] in mouth. Letters UTI at upper right." Copy: Graffiti Battle Crown | http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~aad/culturework/culturework.html | Tijuana Mexico | See this Now!"

<A HREF= "http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~aad/culturework/culturework.html"> <IMG SRC="http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~aad/culturework/tj/tjbanner.gif" ALT = "Image: photo of large painting by Nuke.UTI (LA), on cinder block wall. Dark reds and blues. Left to right: abstract nude female figure, moon in sky above, street lamps, lone figure walking beneath street lamps, figure of small person [boy?] with hands in pockets and facial expression of hopelessness, bearded face, red and blue calligraphy "NUKE" on flaming red background, skull facing right, UFO near two figures, figure of man with sombrero and mustache, cartoon of creature with body of rat and head of man, with bird [crow?] in mouth. Letters UTI at upper right." Copy: Graffiti Battle Crown | http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~aad/culturework/culturework.html | Tijuana Mexico | See this Now!" X-SAS-UseImageWidth X-SAS-UseImageHeight BORDER=0 ALIGN=middle></A>


All photos are © copyright 1997, 1998 Neonski, page content © 1998 Art Crimes, all rights reserved. This exhibit is shared content from Art Crimes. Its permanent location on Art Crimes is: http://www.graffiti.org/tj/tijuana_1.html

***
Susan Farrell, the curator and webmaster of Art Crimes, began the online project in 1994 as an offshoot of her hobby as a graffiti photographer in Atlanta, Georgia. Farrell was then a master's student in Georgia Tech's Information Design and Technology program and a Research Faculty member at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. An artist herself, Susan was captivated by aerosol art and wanted to find out all about the work and the elusive graffiti artists behind it.


Back Issues:



Arts and Administration | The Institute for Community Arts Studies (I.C.A.S.)

[logo of Program in Arts and Administration, University of Oregon. Dark green "AAD"on light green background.]

 ©1998 The Institute for Community Arts Studies unless otherwise noted; all other publication rights revert to the author or artist.

 Editor: Richard Bear.
Editorial Assistant: Vanessa Ward.
Advisor: Dr. Douglas Blandy.
Curator for this issue: Susan Farrell.
Consultant for this issue: Travis Davison.
Comments to: mfinison@darkwing.uoregon.edu