The first thing that comes to mind when I think of graffiti is a train ride to Boston and the countless splashes of color sprayed over the retaining walls along the tracks. It's a mystery how these invisible artists manage to paint huge murals without anyone witnessing their creative process.
What is the message they are trying to convey? We never see them because they avoid getting caught. The term graffiti is usually associated with the crime of defacing public areas. But, there is something a little exciting about these works as some artists obviously risk their freedom to create this form of “public art.”
“Never Follow Suit” at 119 Gallery in Lowell is a rare chance to see work by a reformed bunch of guys. The exhibit spotlights the controversial talent of nine graffiti artists who have banded together with the help of James Powow. The work is both installed and sprayed directly on the gallery walls.
Powow curated the show by picking artists from his past: Adam Brandt, Jay Forsythe, Jackson Kelsey, KC Russell, Avesone, M31, Hert and Monk. He got the idea from a friend, and didn’t stop until he pulled this exhibit together. “I wanted to do a show that I’d be proud of — something that would inspire the youth,” he said.
Just so we get the lingo correct, a “tag” is a stylized signature, a “writer” is a graffiti artist, a “piece” is short for masterpiece (the most elaborate kind of graffiti) and a “throw up” is somewhere between a piece and a tag.
I was interested to know how these paintings happen. “A graffiti project is a bit different, it’s more spontaneous,” Powow explained. “You may have a sketch that you want to paint or some new colors that you want to try out, so you phone a friend and you’re on your way. A writer’s piece can take an hour or a few days depending on how intense the project at hand is.”
We all know that vandalism is a crime. Although graffiti was a misdemeanor at one time, it is now a felony in the state of Massachusetts. “Graffiti in certain areas of a city is used as territorial marking for some gangs. However, real graffiti is a hands-on craft fueled by self-gratification — doing it for you and no one else,” Powow said.