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JEFF GERRITT: Urban artists look for respect on their illegal canvases


November 12, 2001






Armed with spray paint, Detroit's 30 or so steady graffiti artists bomb abandoned buildings, rail cars and freeway viaducts.


They chase the same things most of us do: respect and recognition, a few props to let them know someone's down with their game.


But these guerrilla artists don't sweat when Wayne County erases their in-your-face expressions, buffing over them with a cement slurry that dries in 20 minutes. It just makes a clean canvas for the next night's work.


The workers who do the county coverups, nonviolent offenders in an alternative work program, resemble the mythical Sisyphus -- sentenced to endlessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only to watch it roll down.


"A lot of the time it doesn't work," says Bryan Zoltowski, a structural maintenance engineer for the county. "It just provides a new palette. It makes the citizens think we're doing something. But usually it's covered over by the next piece of objectionable art."


"Objectionable" is in the eye of the beholder. But Detroit graffiti artists like Army and Fohr -- identified by their tag names because what they do is illegal -- don't take it personally.


"It is vandalism," says Army, 24, who earns a living delivering pizzas.


Army and Fohr belong to Detroit's TSR (Taking Suckers Respect) crew, one of several Detroit graffiti artist groups that also include Cold Fusion and MH Crew. They lay out their cartoonish characters and names in bold, three-dimensional, multicolored letters for a passing world to see. Detroit graffiti artists invent names for themselves -- like Kosek, Fel, Fosik, Malt, Sehv, Justo, Gram, Sect, Dibs and Dubl -- and hope they blow up.


"You try to make that word big and famous," Army says.


Fohr, who steals his spray cans to cut down on overhead, spent one night in jail for making graffiti. Army has been chased three times by police but never caught. Creating graffiti is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail, but not all cops take it seriously.


"Some of them tell me to finish up and leave," Fohr says. "Sometimes they just drive by and wave."


Graffiti art, which blew up in Detroit in the early 1990s, has gone international, with Web sites and magazines. (Check out www.graffiti.org or www.motosoul.org.)


Most artists are male, 16-28 years old. It's a multiracial movement, much like the techno and hip-hop cultures of which it's a part.


At least one celebrated graffiti artist in Detroit went legal. Antonio (Shades) Agee, 30, has his own studio and is now working on the set of Eminem's upcoming movie.


But most artists are content to remain underground.


"It's just the satisfaction of driving by and seeing your name the next day," Fohr says. "You do it for the respect of others that do it."


Army and Fohr support setting up legal graffiti sites, but both say it wouldn't stop people from doing it where it was banned.


"I think it improves the landscape," Army says. "I wouldn't mind seeing my graffiti all over the freeway."


Fohr likes to bomb the freeways with large works, maybe 20 feet long and 10 feet high. His wiry build is ideal for bridge work.


"The riskier spots get better and better," he says. "People are starting to hit up crazier spots on the freeway."


Like the rest of us, graffiti artists are trying to make their mark. Even the man in charge of covering it up when motorists complain isn't raging.


"A lot of it is quite good," Zoltowski says. "And it gives you something to look at when you're sitting in the traffic."



JEFF GERRITT is a Free Press editorial writer. You can call him at 313-222-6585, or write him in care of the Free Press editorial page, or via e-mail at gerritt@freepress.com.

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They couldve left out the Pizzaman part...HAHAHAHAHHA...but whatever, im jobless now...Yo Fuckass did u go to that show? :huh?:

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