It's a bittersweet moment for the street art community in L.A. MOCA's groundbreaking exhibition “Art in the Streets” has brought mainstream recognition not only for the evolution of graffiti as a serious medium but for L.A. as a new capital for the form.

But even as spray can specialists are celebrating their elevation in the art world, they're lamenting what they see is a crackdown on their kind by L.A. authorities they think are bent on making an example of them at a time when a spotlight is on the MOCA show.

We recently talked to L.A. artist RISK, whose work appears in “Art in the Streets,” and who has his own show running at Corey Helford Gallery, about the perceived crackdown.

While it was reported that French artist Space Invader was arrested and released a few weeks ago after allegedly tagging in Little Tokyo near the MOCA Geffen Contemporary, RISK is most concerned about the high-profile arrest of former L.A. artist Revok, who saw a $300,000 bail amount over his head before he was jailed for six-months for violating terms of his probation (including failing to pay victims of his “vandalism”).

Play at your own RISK.

Play at your own RISK.

The City Attorney's office explained to us that it was a coincidence that he was captured during the time of the “Art in the Streets” show (a warrant had been issued for his arrest right after he missed a court date).

Still, L.A. street artists believe “they're clearly making an example out of him,” RISK told us.

RISK was born in Louisiana but grew up mostly on the Westside (he attended University High School). He helped pioneer freeway overpass murals and went on to do artwork for movies and music videos. RISK, 43, says “I stopped doing illegal graffiti 20 years ago.”

His show at Corey Helford Gallery, “Blurring the Lines” (on through next week), also features New York luminaries CRASH and FREEDOM.

He thinks the city needs to open its eyes to L.A.'s rising place in the graffiti art world.

“I hear that anybody in the MOCA show is public enemy number one,” he said. “I think it's sad that the city still tries to put the spin on it that it's negative.”

Regarding Revok, whose work also appears in the show:

They spent an exuberant amount of time and money to go after Revok. They're beating a dead horse. He quit doing illegal graffiti and he's trying to move on and they won't let him.

The irony, RISK says, is that artists who get arrested only see their fame rise.

RISK in his element.

RISK in his element.

“All that stuff works negatively for them,” he says of authorities who target street artists. “If they think that's the kind of glory some people want — they're the ones giving them glory and headlines.”

Interestingly, RISK says that, with the internet, up-and-coming graffiti artists don't need spray paint other people's walls to get noticed — a prerequisite in the past.

“You don't need to do illegal graffiti now to get noticed,” RISK says. “There are people now who are well known and never did illegal graffiti.”

That's a good thing, RISK says. He just wants artistic respect for himself and his spray-can brethren.

“Basically what I'm striving for is no boundaries. An artist is an artist.”

LA Weekly