i remember coming home to the overwhelming smell of spray paint. that's what it was like sometimes, living with a graffiti artist: everything is a potential canvas, even their bedroom door. and everything can be painted over, buffed. and after a while, they can't really smell the paint anymore, or it doesn't bother them, the fumes just become a part of their "aura" i suppose. it's on their pants, and jackets, and hands, and shoes. and you get used to seeing the scrawl in unexpected places, practice tags on junk mail, pipes in the basement, trim, random electronics, even on the hot water heater.
i've always loved graffiti, a so-called foamer. living with a prolific graffiti artist was an eye opening exposure to the extremist lifestyle. they appear to be almost completely nocturnal. you go to sleep, the artist wakes up, makes some calls, swoops some friends, rolls out to the spot. the day begins.
i went out to paint a couple of times, just for fun. the first time was at an industrial train yard, a dark, abandoned, low-profile spot that the boys frequented. i was giddy with excitement. the guys carried a junky old boombox, cigarettes and some forties in brown bags, a high-powered flashlight, and backpacks full of cans. those rattle cans made so much noise clanging around i was sure we were going to get caught. when we got to our destination, a blank train car just far enough away from the road, they turned on the boombox, everyone took their places and started. watching them paint was fascinating. in a state of intense meditation, with the hiss-hiss-hiss of the cans, it took at least an hour to complete each piece, requiring the utmost in focus and a steady hand.
i wore the wrong shoes of course, some goofy mary-jane platforms, which didn't bode well for the large gravel of the train yard. when someone yelled "5-O!", the adrenaline shot through my body. we all ran in different directions, me just barely not breaking an ankle on my way to somewhere behind a spiky bush, only to find out that whoever called police really cried wolf to get my goat. i tried to hide my embarrassment, but i was really freaked out, all nervous and shaky. not cut out for the game, i guess.
i've heard lots of stories: police chases, guns pulled, dog chases, apartment raids, hanging from overpasses, shit-pants, caught on film, trapped in a train cars, years in prison, court dates, warrants, strip clubs, fights, blackouts, drug running, crew wars and turf wars. i've heard a lot, i've seen a lot, but it's only a fraction of what really happens out there. it's a tough crew, but they almost always have hearts of gold, a love of the art and an affinity for the adrenaline high. graffiti is not just an art form, it's a dedication: to living outside the box, to pushing the boundaries of legality, to self-expression, to leaving a mark, and to changing the landscape.
"the people who run our cities don't understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit... the people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff.... any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours, it belongs to you , its yours to take, rearrange and re use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.."