The Artistic Expression Known As Graffiti

Spray Painters Get Rare Chance To Celebrate Their Craft

August 16, 2009|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,

They go by such names as Booda Monk, JaziRock, Curve and Refuge, and they're known for turning drab city landscapes into colorful, artistic expressions.

On Saturday they and other urban artists gathered in Mund Park to celebrate their craft: Spray-painted works often referred to as graffiti. The art is a part of hip-hip culture that was once widely disparaged but ultimately garnered some acceptance as hip-hop music hit mainstream.

Saturday's Urban Eyes: Fuel for the Arts event gave urban artists, some of whom have been painting such works for more than 30 years, a chance to not only display finished works but to stage live painting demonstrations and hold workshops on the craft.

Billed as a block party that also featured live performances from local music artists, the event was organized by Steady Baltimore Urban Arts League, a group that promotes the city's urban arts culture, and the Baltimore-based United Sisters Mentoring Program.

"The whole point is that this artwork is a legitimate expression, just like anything else that people are doing these days," said Adrian Akerman, director of Steady Baltimore, which has been staging urban arts exhibits for nearly three years.

"The type of work [displayed yesterday] would be found under bridges, tunnels or places where you would have to go out of your way to see it," Akerman added. "We want it to get the appreciation it deserves."

Akerman said the event was also a fundraiser for an art center the group hopes to open next summer with United Sisters.

As Akerman spoke, local urban artist Booda Monk busily spray painted a side of a weather-beaten, cinder block wall that enclosed a basketball court. In huge, curly lettering, he spelled the word, "anery," short for anerythristic boa, a kind of snake that he breeds.

Before long, the letters became a design of metallic silver, sky blue and snow white.

"I started doing it in the late '70s," said Booda Monk, 38, a former break dancer who once competed against members of New York's legendary Rock Steady Crew. He now owns a tattoo parlor in Baltimore.

Booda Monk said that during the 1970s and 1980s he and many other urban artists used urban art, break dancing, emceeing and other elements of hip-hop culture as a means of expression while growing up amid blighted surroundings.

"The neighborhood I came up in, in Forest Park, it was pretty rough," said Booda Monk. "MC-ing, DJ-ing, that's all we really had as children to stay away from the streets. Going through years and years of that as a child, it becomes a part of you."

Baltimore-based urban artist JaziRock, 36, owns an art studio in Arlington, Va., and sells graffiti-styled handbags, baseball caps and T-shirts.

"I've been painting since 1985," said JaziRock, whose real name is Kevin Irvin. "I learned about the essence of colors right here, in the 'hood."

Akerman, 25, an urban artist himself, said the event gives the artists a chance to display their craft in a setting where it likely will not be destroyed.

"Some of the stuff we did ... there was permission to paint the building," Akerman said, "but the city, they see it as graffiti and they paint over it without even checking."

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