TAGGING. Writing. Graffiti. Aerosol art. Whatever you want to call it, Los Angeles is covered in the stuff, but unless you've got a can of spray paint in your hands, you've probably never seen it being done.
That may change if all goes well during the pilot program for ArtStorm's Aerosol Art Park. With a kickoff Sunday and three more events through May 21, the nonprofit graffiti-prevention group ArtStorm is setting up canvases in Silver Lake's Triangle Park for aerosol artists to paint and sell on the spot. The ultimate goal: winning civic, public and stakeholder support for establishing the country's first aerosol art park -- a permanent outdoor space designed to reduce graffiti while providing a platform for talented artists.
ArtStorm founder Steve Bagish, 45, explains: "If a graffiti artist has an opportunity to do a piece and sell it and then take that money and share part of it with their family so that artist gets respect within the family unit, if I can duplicate that on a macro perspective, then that's going to slowly lift the quality of life for the entire society."
It's an idea that seems to be resonating. Although the permitting process to locate the permanent aerosol park on L.A. city property is still in its infancy, Culver City architectural firm SPF:a has already donated $100,000 in services to design the outdoor park, which would feature a sliding track of 54 canvases, a system of centralized aerosol paint pumps and a viewing area for visitors to watch the artists in action.
The four events at Triangle Park won't be quite so large or high-tech. Instead of on a sliding track, the canvases will be set up on easels, and 20 invited artists will be plying their craft before an audience gathered on a tiny patch of grass and surrounding sidewalk.
"What [Bagish is] doing, it opens up doors for young artists who are trying to make a name for themselves, to be able to have a place to go and work on some of their projects on canvas, where they don't have to be hassled and worried about running," says "urban hieroglyphic stylist" Erik "Cre8" Walker, one of the invited artists participating in the art park events.
Walker, whose work has appeared in movies, music videos, TV shows and at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, says his canvases generally start at $1,000.
Like the other canvases completed during the event, his will go up for sale as soon as they're completed, with prices determined on the spot. Most will cost between $250 and $500, Bagish anticipates, with 80% of the sale price going to the artist, 10% to ArtStorm and 10% to the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, which granted Bagish permission to use the triangular patch of grass at the intersection of Griffith Park and Sunset boulevards.
"Silver Lake is well known for its population of artists, and we have a younger population of artists who need recognition, and those are taggers," says Lorraine Kells, co-chair of parks and green space for the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. "There are a lot of homeowners and business owners who really vilify these kids, and they can come out and see that they're not these demons that we make them out to be."
BAGISH acknowledges that the art park won't eliminate tagging -- that there will always be "the hard-core gangbangers who will kill you if you cross out their tag" and "the 'toys' -- the guys in junior high that just have a Sharpie and are writing their names on anything they can get their hands on."
ArtStorm, he says, is targeting the majority of graffiti artists -- the ones who are in the middle. Bagish founded ArtStorm five years ago, running his first event at a Smart & Final in Highland Park; five artists showed up. Since then, he's held live aerosol art painting shows at the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the art gallery in SPF:a's offices.
Most recently, Bagish won a contract from the Los Angeles Unified School District to run a pro-art graffiti-prevention program in 10 high schools. He's hoping the program will produce evidence supporting his contention that offering constructive diversions to aerosol artists increases school attendance and reduces the dropout rate.
He'd then use that evidence to win further financial and civic support for the Aerosol Art Park. Already, he has the backing of the Los Angeles Police Department and City Councilman Eric Garcetti. Now he just needs to find the $1 million he estimates it will take to build the park.
"I like to say ArtStorm is an evolved prevention strategy that really is in the trenches. It penetrates into the subculture and yanks out value by force," Bagish says.
If he succeeds, he says, "ArtStorm is going to help hundreds of artists produce thousands of canvases for millions of people to see and enjoy."
ArtStorm Aerosol Art Park
Where: Triangle Park, at the intersection of Sunset and Griffith Park boulevards in Silver Lake
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 16, May 7 and May 21
Info: (323) 221-6887 or www.artstormla.com