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The Temptations

Sneakerheads, graff writers and their skate-punk brethren have infiltrated the peaceful boulevards of Culver City. Garbed in all-over-print hoodies and baseball caps, they’re lining up outside the URB Gallery, where works by more than 100 big-name street artists are being sold tonight. Many of the featured artists are inside, milling around, and Stefan, a young graff writer from Venice, is desperate to get in. “I want to meet Eklips,” he says, referring to his favorite graffiti writer. “It’s gonna be the sickest.”

The Saturday-night art auction is benefiting terminally ill artist Tony “Tempt One” Quan, 38, West Coast graffiti O.G. and co-founder of Big Time, one of the first L.A. mags to document the culture. Tempt isn’t here tonight, because he’s in a hospital bed, paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease), a neurodegenerative condition he has been fighting since 2003. He can’t move, and his communication is limited to blinking.

Tempt wants to leave the hospital and spend his last days at home, something that will cost his family a minimum of $50,000 in home nursing and equipment costs. So more than 100 leading contemporary and street artists — including Haze, Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee, Slick, Saber, Futura and Mister Cartoon — agreed to donate original works to tonight’s benefit, with all proceeds going to the Quan family. Raymond Roker, founder of URB magazine, offered his gallery space to the cause.

“It’s pretty unprecedented,” says Raymond Codrington, a cultural anthropologist whom I meet outside. Codrington seems to know his Saber from his Futura (he curated last year’s “Movement: Hip Hop in L.A.” exhibit), so I ask him if he’ll give me a guided tour of the art. We step inside, where the aerosol and Sharpie fumes are overwhelming. The environment is predominantly hipster male, with many favoring fedoras, fingerless gloves, and heavy black-rimmed glasses à la DJ Franki Chan. Young skate rats, looking fresh off a Larry Clark movie set, are holding cans of Krylon spray paint like accessories. The few girls I do see are wearing either lots of gold or none at all. Everyone is taking photos — of each other, of the bigtime graff artists in the crowd, and of the art. So much art, in every direction, in every imaginable color, style and medium.

There are black-and-white photo portraits of hot women by Estevan Oriol. Pencil sketches of Tupac and members of N.W.A. Graff legend Barry “Twist” McGee, one of the biggest artists to participate, has painted floating heads, small, square and frowning. A huge mural places Tempt’s black-and-white visage next to his tag. In the center of the room are 17 3-foot-high spray cans with little legs, each one customized by a different artist (one is dressed like a little gangbanger, with its face obscured by a black bandanna). There’s a set of painted skateboards on the wall, one showing the side of a New York subway train covered in Tempt artwork. The artist who donated them is an unknown who had turned up at the gallery that morning and given them his work (his pieces were among the first to sell).

Dave Flores, whose own art show opened tonight (next door, at Project:Studio), wanders in and checks on his piece. Saber, who created the world’s largest graffiti mural, along the concrete banks of the L.A. River, is hanging out by his triptych of dark, fantasy graff paintings. And the artist Blake Ingram, co-founder of the FUCT streetwear line, has donated a series of images showing his wife’s perfectly pedicured feet in hot, strappy high heels (“I have a little shoe fetish,” he later confesses).

I spot a silk-screened print showing Tempt’s own masterful brand of calligraphy. On the margins is a thumbprint. It belongs to Tempt. Slick, Tempt’s close friend, had taken copies of the poster to the hospital, pushed his friend’s thumb into an ink pad, and then pressed it onto each and every print. The driving force behind tonight’s benefit, Slick is posing for photos right now, talking to fans and signing the backs of their shirts. His eyes are tired, and sweat droplets line his brow. “Tonight has been really crazy,” he says. “I don’t know where to begin.” Then, breaking into a smile, he adds: “Tempt’s going to be proud.”

Artists such as Saber, Futura, Shepard Fairey and Barry McGee
contributed art and poses to the Tempt One benefit.
(Photos by Gregory Bojorquez)

Slick, the benefit’s main benefactor
 
The URB Gallery reopens this Sat., March 17, for a continuation of the Tempt One benefit. Visit www.­temptone.com for more details.