California, and more specifically Los Angeles, is one of the most influential hubs for graffiti art in the world. Long before wealthy collectors and mainstream recognition gave “street art” respect and accessibility in the art world (both a good and a bad thing, depending on who you talk to and what documentary you watch), a core group of local painters, drawers and obsessive taggers were creating this provocative work for the sole purpose of expressing themselves.
West Coast Artist's crew – formed in 1985 by O.G. street writers Rival, PJAY and Miner – was one of the most revered crews from the start, due to its fervor to create and share, and the sheer talent of its members. Comprised of omnipresent graffers such as Pyro, Mear One, Kofie, Mr. Cartoon, Vex, Stormie, Remi, Resek, Retna, and more, the WCA artist crew members have grown up and evolved into popular tattooists, clothing designers, graphic and commercial artists known the world over.
Saturday night, the crew unveiled its first group art show at the Mirror Gallery in Chinatown (in the Happy Lion Giftshop space) and the place was packed with artists both new and seasoned, overflowing with fans who spilled out onto the Chinatown courtyard throughout the night. Tellingly, patrons varied from punk rock and skater kids to old gangsta dudes to fashionable art-maven types. Clearly, WCA and its members' rebellious spirit appeals to a wide cross-section of fans, and its zeal hasn't been diluted by age or any amount of success each has achieved individually.
It's surprising that a WCA group show of this kind had never been done before. “I thought that it was important to do,” says Eric Barrett of Mirror Films, who put the show together with the help of Bobby Carlton (known for curating stellar rock-themed photo shows at his former West Hollywood space, The Shooting Gallery, and other spots around town) and well-known artist Mike “Pyro” Bleiweiss. “We started talking about how long the WCA crew had been together and their collective historical importance not only within the L.A. art scene but also within New York, London and throughout the world. Artists such as Pyro, OG Abel, Cartoon, Remi, Stormie and all the other WCA crew members are the best artists in the graffiti world.”
Of course there were challenges. “The crew is quite large, and we wanted to give every member one piece in the show,” says Barrett. “Plus, the artists are not all in L.A. Remi is in London, Stormie in Australia, and other artists in San Diego and Northern California. Getting all the pieces here on time was the greatest challenge.”
They definitely pulled it off and the selection of works is spot-on, providing an impressive array of styles and approaches, from Mear's joyful Beastie Boys tribute portrait on canvas to Sel's stark cityscape on wood to Brisk's spray-paint-and-lettering pastiche to Rakus' bright-hued hard hats.
“The beauty of graffiti art is its diversity,” explains Pyro. “Everyone draws from their own lifestyle to influence what they do on a wall. You don't have to be 'hip-hop' to do graffiti. I personally grew up of mixed race, influenced by gangs, punk rock, tattoos and hip-hop — a virtual melting pot of styles.”
Pyro points out that the “Chicano gang and car culture lifestyle that's still prevalent in California” was huge to this crew's aesthetic, and it's everywhere these days in large part because of these guys. “The cultural mix of stylized letters from gang writing and vibrant colors of low riders plays hard in the influencing of the subculture, which would later become a worldwide art movement,” he says.
Barrett, whose film company is known for its roster of directors for film, TV and advertising, including work on Electric Daisy Carnival documentaries and Tim Armstrong's Rock 'n' Roll Theatre project, tells us there will be another event in conjunction with the WCA show for Chinatown Design Night on June 30.
The WCA show runs through July 10 and all pieces are for sale (some sold at the opening). To see more info, what's still available and individual prices, check Mirror's store. Mirror's next show, “Lost and Found” (featuring '70s-era photos of famous surfers discovered at the Rose Bowl flea market) opens July 21. More info at www.mirrorfilms.tv
The exhibit is at Mirror Gallery, 963 Chung King Road, Chinatown. Open Mon-Fri noon to 6 p.m., or by appointment.