Here's a really dirty word, right here in the pages of CityBeat: graffiti. Shhh... we don't want that kind of language to get out.
When the Installation 2004/2005 art tour comes to San Diego's Cassius King Gallery on Jan. 14, notice how the word has been carefully avoided in promotional material. Preferred terms: urban murals, aerosol street art, even graphic design.
Not that anyone is disputing the merits of graffiti art. It's just that word, graffiti. It gets under the skin of law enforcement and civic leaders. Graffiti art hints-O.K., screams-criminal activity.
"The technique behind it is something else," says Josh Hassin, co-director of Cassius King Gallery. "Aerosol is an art form."
Despite increasing mainstream acceptance of graffiti art, there are those who screw it up for everybody. Like the thugs who stole a painting by Los Angeles-based Mear One from Golden Hill's District 3 gallery last March, then jumped the gallery's owners when they gave chase. District 3 shut its doors because of the incident, and other local galleries surely weren't inspired to host graffiti events of their own.
Mear One is scheduled to show some of his works in Installation, but still shudders at the memory of his last San Diego exhibition. The stolen painting, called "Why Music is Currently Fucked" and valued at $6,500, was never recovered
"Some kid out there's a lucky bastard. I hope he enjoys it," says the artist.
Mear One and artists like Kenny Scharf, Andy Howell, Crash, Retna and Haze have painted on 3-foot-by-8-foot canvases for Installation. The tour is sponsored by Scion, the boxy minivan-like line by Toyota. Last year's art tour featured graffiti art painted onto Scion vehicles and sculptures.
Yes, that's right: corporate sponsorship for the anti-establishment. It's an economic necessity, Hassin says. Insuring and shipping one-of-a-kind artworks is expensive.
"Art is a beautiful thing, but it does not pay for itself," he says. "They get exposure while building the arts. I don't look at it as an evil thing."
Cassius King prefers to show emerging artists whose work exemplifies youth culture. Admission is always free. And since none of the pieces in Installation are for sale yet, the show will have more of a museum vibe, Hassin explains.
"I'm not pimping artwork," he says.
Opening night at the San Diego show will include music by DJs Charlie Rock and Still Wil and a live graffiti demonstration by the artist Persue.
All Installation artists are considered to have real street cred. Mear One began tagging from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the mid-'80s. While his portfolio now includes album covers and gallery pieces, the 30-something still appreciates the occasional concrete canvas. He tagged a public space somewhere in Los Angeles just a couple months ago.
It's hard to miss his work. "You can't go small with spray paint," he says.
Mear One's style borrows from comic books, surrealism and other graffiti artists. His works touch on poverty and politics, and are intended to make viewers uncomfortable.
This kind of expression, he says, is at the heart of great art.
"Art kind of died in the mid-'80s, when people were hanging toilets on the walls. Graffiti art was a response to that. It was our way of saying, "We're going to take [art] back.'"
The act of tagging is illegal, he concedes, "But when I leave it behind, it's just art."Scion's Installation 2004/2005 will be at the Cassius King Gallery (435 Third Ave., downtown) from Jan. 14 through 24. Free. 619-232-5464.