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Day in the Lyfe Graffiti Magazine’s Online Blog Updated daily with graffiti, street art and original photography from around the world.

Tag: jim glade

One on One with a Medellin Graffiti King

Jim Glade

“My art is famous, not me,” explained 33-year-old Cesar Figueroa while inking on a tattoo for a client in his Villa Hermosa neighborhood home which doubles as a tattoo shop and art studio near downtown Medellin. Figueroa’s image of a bird, which he created five years ago, can be seen while traveling from barrio to barrio or city to city in Colombia.
“I needed something beautiful but simple,” explained Figueroa about his bird which is up all over the city in different sizes, shapes, variations and levels of detail. Walking around Medellin’s “centro” district, graffiti heads can find huge, full-block sized murals that took days to produce while his most simple tags can be thrown up in under 30 seconds.
Figueroa admits that the image of the bird has helped out his art business. The man getting the image of a gnarled, black and red tree tatted on his right arm had never met Figueroa, but was well aware of his tag from the streets of Medellin.
Figueroa was raised in the northern costal city of Valledupar, home to the love-soaked rhythms of Vallenato music, as well as FARC guerrilla leader “Simon Trinidad” and former paramilitary death squad boss “Jorge 40.” Art was in his blood. His grandfather was an artist. When he was 12 or 13 he began making his first few pesos through art by painting local store signs or doing murals at parties. He has never held a job that didn’t involve his art. The graffiti artist, who now has a successful tattoo shop, clothing line, and teaches one-on-one art classes, never had a day of formal art lessons in his life.
Going out to bomb in Medellin is different than in the United States explained Figueroa. Laws against graffiti are still non-existent or not properly regulated by authorities. “There is more fear of paramilitaries than the police,” said Figueroa. “One time a policeman saw me [painting], came up and asked if it was political. When I said ‘no’ he left me alone.”
Graffiti culture in Colombia is not focused on destruction and vandalism as much as it is in the United States, Figueroa explained. Writers and street artists use their pieces as communication with other artists and graffiti enthusiasts. On Medellin’s clean, brilliant-white Metro line –a would-be Mecca for a graff writer from NYC to throw up a piece—you won’t even find a small marker tag underneath a seat. This is because the people in the city take pride and care in the Metro system which connects poor, otherwise isolated barrios with the commercial center of the city.
The Medellin mayor’s office works well with graffiti writers in the city and allots them free space to paint, as well as supplies. Figueroa does not take part in city-sponsored graffiti because he believes it takes away from graffiti’s soul. “I don’t like this graffiti that turned into prostitution,” he explained, “Graffiti is better when it’s personal and no one tells you to do it.”
Cesar Figueroa has had many spur of the moment treks into the city to throw up burners but just two days after his father passed away of cancer in December of 2009, Figueroa felt compelled to paint.
He and a few close friends from his Narkografika crew hit the streets and headed to the Hospital station of the Metro line. In a nearby barrio they found a wall that wrapped around a corner, fresh and ready. They began painting and were two-thirds of the way finished when an angry, old lady came out screaming, waving a broom and threatened to call the police. “It was funny because she never used any foul language,” Figueroa reflected. “She cussed us out in the most polite way possible.” The mural of a snake with a third eye shining a beam of light out into the universe to symbolize his father’s journey back into the abyss was left unfinished and was completely erased soon after.
Today Figueroa is raising two energetic boys who run around the house/art studio/tattoo parlor chasing their fat, white rabbit in between jam sessions on their drum set. Cesar actively promotes their creativity and hopes that they will support art throughout their lives. “They have art in their blood,” Figueroa said. “It would be sad if they didn’t find art.”
In addition to his Stilacho tattoo parlor, Figueroa began a clothing line incorporating his designs with verses from a local street poet named Sore. The RockanLover fashion line is available now.