By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The tagger's choice for props, which is to say respect or acknowledgment, is an area of South Phoenix where there are walls that look as though they're crawling with giant spiders. This is largely the result of a battle between two of the city's premier tagging crews, BOWD and DI3. For whatever reason, graffiti stay up in the area longer and yet the risk of being caught is greater because there are more cops. Get up there with frequency and you've proved yourself to the tagging community.
"On Central, at 2 in the morning, there ain't nobody out there," Fus says. "If you see lights, you know it's a cop."
DOP is only a few months old. It formed right after Halloween. The wardrobe fits the motif--baggy pants sashed with the meandering belt--and the nearby elementary school is the practice area. The members are in George's room early on a Friday night, west Phoenix. The wall behind the door, a sort of life-size scratch pad, is bathed in red, black and white spray paint, and that's nothing compared to the closet. A can of Krylon rests next to the cheap stereo playing beat-heavy tunes of the Seventies and Eighties.
"Krylon--that's the best stuff you can get right there," Fus says. "Anything else is sorry."
They say they prefer Krylon because its design lends itself to interchangeable tips, which allow them to achieve various effects with the paint. The different tips are available through national aerosol art magazines like Can Control or, if you know what you are doing, are affixed to cans of oven or battery cleaners at the local supermarket. Low-profile local outlets have surfaced, too. There is a whole underground world of tips out there: phantoms, German fatcaps, Philadelphias, snowcaps, Chicago outliners.
Fus steps to the wall, takes the can and spills a quick vertical line that fades out at the bottom. "That's a flare," he says. "NSK does the best flare.
"We're about making our debut right now," he continues. He sounds like a kid, which he is. So far DOP has tagged Seventh and 16th street bridges in South Phoenix, but it's burners, or larger, colored-in pieces that will really get them noticed, he says.
"It's all we do on weekends," Rise says. "Instead of being bored just watching TV, now I come home at 2, 3 in the morning."
"Everybody's making their own crews," says Axis, who at 18 is the oldest of the four. "Like UF--they're toys, but they get up. They get around. I saw them over on 91st. They barely started a week ago."
Axis is the only one old enough to legally buy spray paint, but Fus says some stores don't ask, and supplies are starting to show up at swap meets. Wal-Mart and K mart, though, are their usual sources.
"I don't go in because of the way I'm dressed," Rise says. "I hate when people look at me like I'm stupid."
Getting up on freeway signs remains beyond their boundaries. "You can do it," says Rise. "It's just hard. Those are the dudes that, their parents don't care. If I get caught, it's my ass. And you can go to prison."
"The older people," Fus says, "I know they don't like it. I'll be driving down the street with my mom and she'll go, 'Look at that--it's so ugly.'"
Axis: "My mom says, 'At least they're not shooting.' My sister says, 'They should learn how to spell.'"
One place DOP doesn't tag as much anymore is nearby Thomas Road because, as Fus notes, graffiti there are usually gone the next day. For that they can thank Pioneer Ford General Manager Terry Walker, who drives Thomas into work daily, all the way from 107th Avenue.
About a year ago, Walker started seeing more and more graffiti, and fewer and fewer businesses, around the dealership, which is at 27th Avenue and Thomas. At one point, the vacancy rate reached 70 percent. Because he wasn't planning on going anywhere, Walker decided to put $190,000 of the dealership's money into a graffiti-reduction program, and now that vacancy rate is closer to 10 percent. He's got a clipboard mounted on his steering wheel with little duplicated maps on which he notes fresh markings along the route. The info is passed on to Xavier Brizar, Pioneer's community relations director, and sets at least part of the day's agenda for its maverick cleanup crews.
"Thomas is our baby," admits Brizar, who goes by the moniker "X-Man." He's a young guy, just graduated from Maryvale High in 1989, who looks older than he is and has made that work to his advantage. Pioneer hired him for scrub work when he was 16, thinking he was 18; he grew up with the dealership, moved into the tie-wearing, handshaking side of things and last year was second in sales and first in customer satisfaction. Yet, he points out, he has left the showroom behind for this. "I like helping people," he says.
He has taken a few of the guys from NSK under his wing; he is hoping to help them, too. He first noticed their work in the form of a since-vanquished mural reading "Phoenix Suns" that a McDowell Road apartment building had sanctioned. He asked around, found Asasn and More and asked them to team on a similar project in the Pioneer conference room. A piece in the Westridge Mall community room followed, then the one at the Phoenix Revitalization Corporation.