Tag: los angeles
I had an opportunity to exchange a few words with SMEAR RTH, one of LA’s most celebrated and hunted artists. His name has been popping up in the LA newspapers recently in connection with the giant MTA roller bust. Day in the Lyfe gives the man the chance to set the record straight.
DITL – Can you introduce yourself to all the readers?
SMEAR – I’m SMEAR from the urban sprawl that you all know as Los Angeles…writing on shit makes me happy; keeps me sane. I’m the founder of RTH (racing towards hell) and I like easy women.
DITL – As an artist what is the one thing you can’t live without?
SMEAR – The one thing that I can’t live without? That’s a tough one…I’d have to say experience. As an artist I wouldn’t be shit without experience, both good and bad. We are all a collection of our experiences.
DITL – What do you think about the fact that Los Angeles spent by some estimates over $837,000 to remove graffiti along the LA river?
SMEAR – The LA public libraries have cut their hours of operation…that money could have prevented that. There is no need to paint an ugly concrete insult to nature that nobody in Los Angeles even cares about…it’s just a bully tactic by the powers that be.
DITL – Can you tell us anything new about your case? Can you tell us what happened when the cops came to your house?
The sheriffs came to my house early one morning, dragged me outta bed and took me to jail…they said that I did this, and that I did that…when I saw the judge I went home cause they had no evidence…none. The case never went any further than those headlines in the papers…it was a lame, but successful, attempt by the city to get money from the federal government so that they could paint the entire river. They needed something big, something that would get the feds attention…they got their attention and they got their money. They used us as pawns in their game of political chess. The whole affair disgusts me deeply.
DITL – What is your definition of the word graffiti?
SMEAR – Graffiti means freedom…fun. Graffiti means adventure. Graffiti means discovery, exploration. I thank god up in heaven for giving us (me) graffiti.
DITL – Where do you draw your inspiration for your gallery work?
SMEAR – I draw the inspiration for my gallery work from life, death, sex, fear, despair, loneliness, madness, greed, hunger and everything else that makes us human. I draw inspiration in through my eyes and my ears, my mouth, from the tips of my fingers, from my dreams and my sweaty-sheets nightmares, from everything that I’ve ever heard, seen or thought…from experience.
DITL - Most people are always focused on MSK tell me about the art scene in LA?
SMEAR – The LA graff scene is a complex multi-leveled organism…there is so much to it that I don’t know where to start to even attempt to describe it…I’ll tell you what I’m into: I’m all about walking around late night by myself with a yellow and a black streak in my pockets…maybe about 200 stickers or so and just roam around until the streaks are dead and the stickers are gone…then go home as the sun is rising and lay in bed not being able to sleep because I keep playing the night over and over in my head, I did this almost every night(except when I was fucking somebody) for years and years on end, that kinda destruction adds up after a short while…I like the cutty shit…grimy alleys, rusty poles, hidden landmarks….I built my fame over years and years…I didn’t go for the quick glory. My shit will be around for at least another decade even if I decide to never pick up a marker or a can again.
DITL – 2010 is here now so what can we expect?
SMEAR – In this foul year of our lord: 2010, what you can expect from me are a few good art shows… Maybe another newspaper article, or two, and a few surprises that I don’t really want to talk about as of right now.
DITL – any shout outs?
SMEAR – I want to give shout outs to my boys…they know who they are, to my brother, Alex, and to my Mom….I also want to tell my city, Los Angeles, that I love her with all my heart and soul…there Will never be another that can come between us.
Published on November 04, 2009 at 6:33pm by LA Weekley
The underside of freight cars smells like wet dust. The cold metal rail digs into your knees while you hide between tanker cars, waiting in darkness for a pickup truck to pass. The sound of tires on asphalt grows closer as the truck passes, its headlights flashing from behind a tanker car’s wheels.
Jaber, a graffiti artist, waits patiently, then picks up his backpack clanging with spray cans, affixes his paint mask, and says, “I think we’re cool, let’s go.”
He walks quickly across an empty track and grabs the tank car’s ladder. Hand over hand, Jaber climbs atop the black tanker. The pickup truck is nowhere to be seen, but the Port of Long Beach is in full view. Red flames burst from smokestacks set against a sea of lights, and freight cars line the tracks like steel sausage links on rails. It’s an industrialized version of hell, half Blade Runner and half Hieronymus Bosch, but for Jaber and the countless freight writers across the world, the train yard is their home.
“When I’m out here, I really get time to think,” says Jaber, who gave his graffiti name but did not want to be further identified. He climbs off the tanker and returns to a mural he has started on a primer-gray boxcar. He sets out his cans in a line, looks at the series of lines and angles scrawled across the car. Over the next 45 minutes Jaber sprays colors and designs that are difficult to see in the darkness.
He is creating a “burner,” a multicolored piece that spans most of the boxcar. Burners are a distant relative to hobo codes, the markings written on freight trains by train-hopping hobos of the 19th and 20th centuries. Those codes are some of the earliest forms of graffiti in California, written in coal on trains and under the oldest bridges, where traveling hobos slept.
For most of his life Jaber has walked along the tracks to tag his signature image — a cartoonish profile (possibly a self-portrait) — on the underbelly of trains and on industrial complexes. Now in his early 30s, Jaber makes his living with his art, selling canvases of his works, live painting at events, and working in the film industry.
When he has the time, he returns to his roots in the train yard. He never hits a “holy roller,” a car carrier named for the small holes in its metal walls, which would allow paint to penetrate and damage the autos. He also is careful not to cover train identification numbers or other markings essential to the rail officials.
“If you do it right, they don’t really care and your piece can run for years, all across the country,” Jaber says.
He was right. Earlier that day, Jaber spotted a car he had marked in 2007. “I remember that very night,” he said, smiling slightly at the sight of his old friend.
Los Angeles city officials are trying to end freight writing. In August, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich told the L.A. Times about an “end of days scenario” for graffiti crews, in which injunctions would make it illegal for taggers to hang out together. It’s the same tactic the city uses on gang members.
“If you want to tag, be prepared to go to jail,” Trutanich said, “And I don’t have to catch you tagging. I can just catch you … with your homeboys.”
A spokesperson from Trutanich’s office tells L.A. Weekly that the plan is just in “an exploratory phase,” and his office claims that 32 million square feet of graffiti were removed in 2007-2008 at a cost of more than $7 million.
Like Jaber, many graffiti writers are not “homeboys,” and they don’t tag over city murals or private property. With the evaporation of school art programs in underserved communities and the inaccessibility of high-priced art programs — where an MFA is almost always required — the wall, billboard or freight train presents a better opportunity for artists to get seen.
The periodic fetishization of graffiti by the art establishment — from Basquiat and Banksy to Shepard Fairey — sends the message that street art is more than a hobby. It can become a lucrative and important branch of America’s folk-art lineage.
Jaber knows all of that. But it doesn’t stop him.
“That’s it,” he says of his work, moving back from the boxcar. He holds up his camera and takes a picture. In the flash, Jaber’s mural comes into view: the jagged blue letters unfolding like feathers or vines, the imperial-purple waves crashing behind the text, and black script reading “Lost Angel.”
Then darkness returns. Jaber puts the camera in his backpack and leaves the train yard and his burner. Tomorrow the train might be gone, but in the unsaid mantra of the freight writer: What you create comes back to you.
Sick video, its a little older, but sick video none the less.