Sometimes we get stuff in the mail that is too good (well,... Enter Now
The graffiti artist known as Super is inspecting one of his pieces on the back wall of a liquor store in west Fresno.
"This piece right here I like I because all these colors, all these cans, all these blurs I did on the outside, they were cans that just had- that were down to the marble. And I made a piece out of it."
The piece (short for masterpiece) looks like a futuristic circuit board shorting in a rainbow of color. Dots of white and yellow make it sparkle and a patchwork of blurs gives it movement, attracting the eye like a slot machine.
The piece says "Super," for the artist. Written in "wild style," it's ok if you can't make out letters. In wild style the artist can get lost in his work, producing something closer to design than actual words.
Super, who is 25, has been painting since 1992. He paints walls around Fresno with his crews, or teams of artists. All of the walls Super and his crew paint are permission walls, meaning they have the property owner's permission to throw up their work. Nothing stays stagnant for long; graffiti artists are constantly painting over their work to give the public something new and fresh.
Fresno graffiti has a relatively short history. The first real graffiti art began appearing in New York City during the 1970's.
"Graffiti art [in Fresno] I would say, in my opinion, it started like around '94, '93 and then a lot of kids started learning it because they see other people doing it. Other cities have been doing it longer than we have. Fresno caught on around that time and ever since then there've been years that, you know, it's gotten busy and there've been years that's been real mellow, because of the graffiti task force or something," recounted Super.
Super and his fellow crew members, Spade and Ketl, agreed to take me on a mini tour of some of their most recent walls. The crews they work with, Nothing Else Matters (NEM), Eat Your Heart Out (EYHO), Going Through Life (GTL), and Lords take on the walls together. The crews have about 15 members each, and resemble art teams.
When asked how many crews there are in Fresno, Super said, "I wouldn't know. I don't really pay attention to that stuff. That's getting into politics."
"There's over 100 street tags," offers Ketl.
It's obvious to even the most untrained eye that while the pieces created by graffiti artists like Super do share a common thread with tagging, they are undeniably art.
"See it's the young people that do that," Spade, 30, says of tagging. "Yeah they get a thrill out of it. They get a thrill out of everyone else seeing their name. Once we start having more [permission] walls where people can go to, most of it will be cut down because a lot of younger people will start seeing everyone's name up on the permission walls and they want to do that, and they'll start seeing their names here and there on permission walls. You know, its better when it's bigger."
"I say to them, just don't get caught. I tell them, go to the permission walls, put your name big."
Ketl, 20, echoes Spade's sentiment when asked why he stopped tagging.
"I mean I used to do illegal, you know what I'm saying, and it's not worth it anymore, as I get older. I don't know, I mean I guess I was a kid. I don't know, growing up- and then responsibility hit."
Those convicted of unlawful graffiti can face up to one year in jail or a $5,000 fine for the offense. The Fresno Police Department has cracked down on graffiti, encouraging people to report graffiti violations online or even through text messaging on their cell phones.
The County of Fresno more recently approved a one-year, county-wide graffiti abatement program aimed at clearing up county islands and rural areas. The "unsightly" graffiti is to be removed by inmates.
When asked about the new county measure, all three artists said the same thing: good luck.
"That's what we're trying to get. We're trying to get more free walls, instead of the kids just going out and tagging everywhere," said Spade. Would more free walls really cut down on graffiti? "Yeah it'd cut down," he affirmed.
"They [the police] might even want to do some shows with us. They might even be like look you guys are gonna do graffiti. You guys do this- the city's gonna give you guys walls. But you know, I don't think so," joked Super.
Graffiti, permissioned or not, still makes some nervous. One of the permission walls at H Street Studios was painted over after complaints from neighbors of "overspray." On the other hand, the established art community has welcomed graffiti. Several years ago the GTL crew exhibited their work at Arte Americas.
For the artists, graffiti offers more than putting their name in lights. It's a form of self-expression, and a source of camaraderie.
"This art right here is hip hop. It's an element. I've always been a hip hop kid you know, my first choice of music, of performing with- was hip hop when you listen to hip hop they tell you all the elements. This is the element of hip hop that I like," says Super as he gestures to a permission wall glowing with color.
"We've been painting a lot lately. We have a lot of walls, we're doing one every weekend now. So we want the public to see it because I think we're changing the time here for what's going on in Fresno. There just hasn't been graffiti writers doing painting around walls for a while now."
"We're going to continue real strong. We're going to continue doing a lot more walls. We're going to try our best to entertain people; hopefully they'll have a positive attitude about it. We just want the public to know that these three crews are going to be entertaining them."
More art from these crews can be found at H Street Studios, 1828 H Street; Belmont and Maple; Calwa Park on Church between Cedar and Maple; Barrios Unidos at 4403 E. Tulare.