Tag, You're Art: Local Street Artists Are Tagging Over Murals and Calling It Art

Monsters of Folk was coming to the Orpheum Theatre last fall, but Charlie Levy didn't have the cash to buy a billboard. So the Tucson-based music promoter hired a friend to paint a mural.

They made it a happening. On the First Friday in October, an artist named Joe Pagac balanced on a small, makeshift scaffold outside the west wall of eye lounge, a gallery near Fifth and Roosevelt streets. Small crowds gathered all night to take pictures and ask questions as the 29-year old painter from Tucson hastily followed his design.

It took Pagac three hours to paint 15-foot high portraits of each of the four members of Monsters of Folk, along with their names in white below each face.

Tucson artist Joe Pagac drives up to Phoenix (almost) every First Friday to paint a 40-by-15-foot rotating mural outside eye lounge gallery on Roosevelt Street.
Claire Lawton
Tucson artist Joe Pagac drives up to Phoenix (almost) every First Friday to paint a 40-by-15-foot rotating mural outside eye lounge gallery on Roosevelt Street.
Bobby Castaneda's tagname, RESIST, on a light pole on the corner of Roosevelt and Second streets.
Claire Lawton
Bobby Castaneda's tagname, RESIST, on a light pole on the corner of Roosevelt and Second streets.

Aesthetically, the response to the piece was mixed. It was called out for its elementary style, four basic colors and poor lettering. But Charlie Levy says his phone kept buzzing with positive messages — "How cool is it to see a mural going up on Roosevelt?"

The idea of a mural painted for a live audience stuck. And every First Friday since then (with a few breaks over the summer), Pagac's packed the trunk of his car with a few buckets of paint and rollers, made the two-hour drive up to Phoenix, and painted over his own work.

After Monsters of Folk, Pagac tossed up a detailed portrait of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova of the Swell Season (November) and of members of Sonic Youth (December). In March, he painted a dark, creepy Nosferatu building a sandcastle for the RJD2 show and a landscape with the floating band members of Album Leaf in April. His latest — painted the First Friday in July — was a scene of three snowmen tossing a pink snow-suited boy in the air to promote The National's October show at the Marquee Theatre. Pagac is paid $300 per mural, which just about covers the amount of paint it takes to cover the wall and gas it takes to get to Phoenix, the artist says.

More than anything, the murals are conversation starters and trendsetters. Right now, in downtown Phoenix, murals are damn trendy. And like any good fad, they've spawned a backlash.

On July 12, a Phoenix artist named Bobby Castañeda posted a photo on Facebook.

The sky was almost too dark for taking clear pictures, but Castañeda managed to get a dark shot: "SB1070" was scrawled in red spray paint across the stomachs of two large snowmen.

Castañeda — whose reputation as both artist and troublemaker was well established before this — is passionate about a lot of things. His tag (or assumed street art name) is RESIST, often followed by his current cause. This year it happens to be Arizona Senate Bill 1070.

It also happened to wreck Pagac's mural.And it let Phoenix visualize a question that's been challenging other cities for a while now: Is it cool to make art on top of someone else's art and call that art?

This isn't personal, not in the way you might think. Joe Pagac and Bobby Castañeda say they've never met. They've only exchanged comments on Facebook. (Castañeda says he didn't even know Pagac was the mural's artist until after he "friended" him and read his comments.)

And this is not just a question about the west-facing wall of eye lounge. In the year or so since Pagac and Levy started their campaign, the mural scene here has exploded. It's hard to find a wall in the Roosevelt neighborhood that doesn't have some kind of mural. Most of them literally appear overnight and some are up for only a few weeks before they're "buffed out" (street-art code for "cleaned up," by the walls' owners or the city, if the murals are done on city property) or replaced. Many, like Pagac's, are done for hire.

These murals are proving irresistible to taggers like Bobby Castañeda — artists who had already claimed the streets as their canvases, long before murals got trendy. In their world, there's no hesitation to spray, mark, paste, or drill — the higher the stakes and visibility, the greater the payoff.

And it's where those who call themselves fine artists, mural artists, graffiti artists, taggers, writers, and burners (and whatever other names so many seem to disagree upon) bump into each other that the lines of culture, aesthetic, history, and legality blur.

Pagac's mural isn't the only place RESIST has popped up lately. The capital letters have been scrawled on light poles, business walls, and the backs of street signs down Roosevelt and throughout Phoenix. Castañeda has become the local poster child for the big "art over art" question that's echoing in major American mural cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, and, finally, Phoenix, where murals are as hot as the walls they're going up on.

For now, anyway, there aren't any easy answers.

"Look, I'm all for people voicing their opinions," Joe Pagac says. "I'm not really sure why it had to be done on my mural or why the person couldn't at least have been a little more creative with it. It sucks to hear that something you made has been damaged . . . I've come to just accept it."

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35 comments
Dleofv
Dleofv

I remember when we used to spray things like that, we were 15 and about as smart as a bag of Mississippi mud, total dickheads. But at least we had an excuse, we were 15 and really, really dumb. These guys are grown ups, aren`t they?  That`s kinda sad.

Releasethecracken
Releasethecracken

I NEED THE UNDERGROUND THE NORMAL STUFF JUST DONT WORK ANYMORE WHERE I FIND THE UNDERGROUND???????

Releasethecracken
Releasethecracken

I'm gonna punch that Roy Sproule clear across the I 10 if I se'em out and about I'll tell you what

Jackio
Jackio

this reads like a smear campaign against Castaneda. Sounds like someone at the New Times has an agenda. Cool story but it's lame to try and pit artists against each other in our community. shame

BigPoops
BigPoops

I hope somebody find Bobby Castaneda and beats the crap out of him with a can of spraypaint all the while yelling "stop resisting" at him.

What a dbag.

Alex
Alex

Who is Bobby Castaneda to decide what qualifies art and what doesn't? There's nothing really unique or profound on what he spraypainted over Pagac's mural. I think most would agree that the mural itself had more artistic merit than a scrawled message, however well-intentioned that message may have been. Perhaps if he feels the need to get his message out there, he could incorporate them into his own works rather than defacing and disrespecting the work of others.

Antoine Dodd
Antoine Dodd

Bobby isn't a juvenile he is in his thirties.If some young kid was writing RESIST on any everything I could see it has some healthy teenage rebellion but this dude is old. That coke head drunk has been the same shit on Roosevelt for years. Its easy to fuck with artists because they don't retaliate I would love to see him try going over some real graffiti writers.

S.Pursell
S.Pursell

Great article, great read. There is such a subculture in downtown that I didn't even know about, taggers versus muralists versus business owners and all that. The separation between art and vandalism is such a thin line in this circumstance, that it needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Art that you've highlighted in this article, and most of it (even the commissioned stuff) is fantastic. I cant agree more with Esser and his opinion about being labeled a "sellout". Most of Leonardo da Vinci's creations were commissioned, there is nothing about being compensated for art that makes it any less artistic.

Romblad
Romblad

Grafitti is vandalism. Plain and simple. How would these "artists" like it if I smashed the windows in their house and shoveled dirt "artistically" inside or removed the doors from their car and poured paint inside it in the name of art? Defacing anyone's property, whether public or private without their permission is a hostile act against them and is a crime. Society has gotten to the point that free expression is permissible no matter what. Individual expression, artistic or otherwise, is acceptable only to the point that it does not negatively impact another human being. Grafitti is not a victimless crime. It costs business owners, private citizens and all of us as taxpayers, a considerable amount of money each year to clean up the garbage these "artists" "create". And for Castaneda to claim that another artist's work is not valid art because they were paid for it speaks volumes about his ability to call himself an artist. A true artist respects the work of others whetehr they agree with it or not. Castaneda is a selfish thug that has a clear disrespect for others and shows that he is not a true artist by the fact that he cannot accept what others do as art. His overly inflated ego shows that he is so insecure in his abilities as an artist that he has to censor the works of others. Pathetic.

Conegallery
Conegallery

One last commet.. whose idea was it to name, names? To NARC on one of downtowns outstanding artists? Regardless of the reporters or NT's view on the subject of tagging... what do you really get out of making sure you ruin the life of someone else, in the process of writing some article and making sure you point fingers? It isn't as if the New Times does have page after page after page of prostitution ads and smut advertising, which if investigated could easily ruin much of it's advertising dollars. If something bad happens to someone we all love so dearly in the arts, as a result... well expect the unexpected.

Conegallery
Conegallery

If we're talking gang writing and gang tagging or scratching and defacing buildings or beautiful murals created by artists to beautify an area, just to destroy other people property maliciously, I'm certainly opposed to that!

But we've got advertisers calling commercial ads " Murals" ... when all they are, are little more than billboards for some upcoming show.. and I find that very offensive. Even if it's for some up coming arena performer.. why not instead paint all over the arena where the event is to be held or pay for billboard advertising? Get the crap ads off the walls of the art venues.. please! It's insulting.

Conegallery
Conegallery

I think it isn't really tagging just any murals, but those being used to commercialize some show or advance the interests of advertisers who have nothing to do with the independent arts and it's movement in the downtown area.

So in as much as on can ask, is art tagged over a capitalist mural ~designed to sell a product for someone else, not associated with the hard work of those who have made the Roosevelt art community viable, wrong? I wonder.

The Liquor Commercial on the building at the NW corner of 4th Ave and Roosevelt (before it was finally removed) was a perfect example of capitalist trash being deposited in the Arts... just another 'Big Box' advertiser trying to make a buck off of the hard work of the few artists and venues in the arts, who are lucky to make a dollar here or there... It made me want to puke when I saw it..

So the question isn't "is tagging happening to all the murals being create in the independent art areas'.. the answer is 'no' ..

But are the greedy advertisers that are using the arts for their gains having their so called 'murals' defaced the same thing... the answer is 'no' ... they deserve a bit of defacing if you ask me.

beatrice
beatrice

There is a difference between vandalism and someone sincerely wanting to make an artistic statement. And of course, art is in the eye of the beholder, so each person will think differently about what falls into the "art category". However, people make choices every day about what kind of art or statement they want to make, and in what manner - and I see a lot of unbridled anger behind some of the tagging I've witnessed (and absolutely a double standard). People claim they are against "the man" but they aren't damaging the "man's stuff" - just fellow artists and small business owners. Half the time they are wanting to be famous or get that big gallery show; what's anti-establishment about that? I will say that we have watched pure vandalism with people scratching or etching their tags into windows, and slathering big painted tags on whatever they can find. I even finally shut down my Stop n' Look windows, partially due to the indiscriminate tagging. And that was a venue where dozens of artists were provided stipends from our own private funding for 12 years to buy materials and create installations in the large storefront windows. I personally caught a tagger who had smeared some kind of etching junk on the windows in big letters (they were Lexan but it was still very difficult to clean off) and was in the process of throwing dirt and gravel in the slime when I caught him. Is this an intent to create art or to destroy some else's project? If people want to make a political statement why don't they do it where it counts (on true corporate entities) and not on the property of other artists and small business owners who are struggling to get by or to make a difference in their neighborhoods? We also had a fantastic Rose Johnson mural on the Paisley Violin wall that was painted by kids in our neighborhood with Rose several years ago, and it was partially funded by our Weed and Seed Coalition. One night some taggers came through and virtually obliterated the mural (after having been untouched for about 6 years). It was so badly damaged with large letters (certainly not just someone who wanted to be "part" of the mural) that the owners eventually painted it completely over because it would have been too difficult to fix. The tag wasn't a 'nod' to the mural - but an attempt to destroy it.

Whats' the old saying? It's much easier to tear something down than to build it?

Notart
Notart

I've seen some AMAZING murals on the sides of buildings from Paris to Phoenix. It tooks HOURS to create those works of art and the people who did it are ARTISTS. There is no more ART to writing 1070 on a wall and crossing it out than if I were to piss on the wall and call that piss art. (I guess that would make me Pisscasso?).

Anyone with an IQ above 75, or who has a clue, knows that scrawling 1070 over a REAL piece of art, drawing a heart around it and crossing it with a line is NOT art unless the "artist" is 3 years old. This is NOT art, it is VANDALISM. The "artist" should be forced to repair the damage at his own expense AND spend some SERIOUS time in prison.

You break into someone's house and steal something worth a thousand dollars and get caught, you go to prison. You deface someone's property and it costs them a thousand dollars to repair it, it is NOT art. It is a crime and needs to be punished to the maximum extent of the law. If we're lucky, maybe THEY'LL be violated in prison and the perpetrator will get off since all they were doing was "leaving their mark".

L84thetrain
L84thetrain

I wish someone could explain the cultural reason why most metro taggers are hispanic, and how they see their unwanted graffiti as "art"? I was employed for almost 30 years for the BNSF railroad, and I saw taggers wreak havoc on virtually all of our locomotives, box cars, etc. I'd estimate that 1 out of 1,000 of the equipment that was "tagged", could be somehow be classified as art. Most of it resembled drug induced graffiti to me.

While I don't personally know Mr. Castañeda, the article eludes to him having a criminal background. It's hard to find supporters of your handiwork, when most have come to know you as a criminal. Hopefully Mr. Castañeda will explore his true artistic talents, and find some canvass to affix his artwork to.

SNOOZ
SNOOZ

seriously if i were the cops i would start checking peoples facebook and myspace. dumb taggers putting their work on internet. Im sure the city is not going to do anything to mr Castaneda. Even though a couple weeks back they gave a tagger 5 years in jail. Dumb taggers is what they are.

autoculture
autoculture

We (Auto Culture) were not at all aware of the political message that Bobby Castañeda was attempting to align with the mural. Although we all have our own independent views on the issue, it is not what we discussed and not what we want representing the shop. Bobby has been sent a message to retract his statement to the New Times. The mural was inspired by the other artwork on Roosevelt and something we have wanted to do for a long time. We thought that Bobby had a good standing in the art district and were excited as he was to support local artists and the art district. We will continue to show support by offering up some more space to respected artists as well as continuing with our original idea of rotating the mural spot.

Israelhinojosa
Israelhinojosa

im a tagger and i hate when people tag over other artists work. I hate when so-called taggers just tag a wall for the hell of it. Tagging is suppose to be with pride tagging up ur name with pride not that chicken scratch i see all over phoenix.

Badboyjoe
Badboyjoe

Taggers are FAGS, you ruin our city with your Faggy TAGS, if the media got together and posted in their papers and in the news that EVERYONE who TAGS is a HOMOSEXUAL, maybe they will stop!! STUPID FAGS

A Realist
A Realist

@ByteRider, I like street art also as long as the painter has the property owner's permission. I think there is nothing more frustrating than having your own mural or property defaced by some juvenile vandal like Castañeda.

A Realist
A Realist

Criminals like Castañeda may call himself a fine artist, a mural artist, a graffiti artist, a tagger, a writer or a burner but I call the way I see it. He is a juvenile vandal.

George
George

Wow. Castañeda is a P-H-O-N-Y.

ByteRider
ByteRider

I like street art, it's very creative, answers to no one, and touches not only on artistic style but social and political moods.

And the nice thing is, if you don't like it, it's gone in a few weeks with another montage of paint.

Mistalee
Mistalee

Graffitero ethics 101-

Painting better art over crappy tagging is cool.

But

Painting shite tagging over better art, as Castaneda has done, is the act of a tool and a poser. Castaneda is a pisher and needs to learn respect, both for others and for the art. Right now he is just advertising his own cluelessness and lack of talent.

Mcmikecause
Mcmikecause

This article misses the mark in so many ways it is offensive. Shouldn't be surprised coming from the perpetually out of touch reporters at new times, but still it's gross. Murals have always been a part of downtown PHX. Thanks for noticing, and givivg credit to someone who isn't even local! You guys are terrible. Pagacs murals are amazing though. Pay better attention NT.

SEEN IN THE BRONX
SEEN IN THE BRONX

SEEN SEEN SEEN ON EVERY SUBWAY CAR IN NEW YORK CITY. SIGNED, YOUR NYC TAGGER SEEN. MY HOME IS THE SOUTH BRONX IN NEW YORK SHITTY. YOU GUYS ARE HACKS OUT THERE IN THE DESERT.

Jim
Jim

HERE IS ONE FOR YOU, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL 81 BIG RED MACHINE. DEAL WITH IT

Sox
Sox

i guess you have not seen his work you ...retarto .for the new year check out his work before you run of at the typing

Rayne Rainey
Rayne Rainey

"To NARC on one of downtowns outstanding artists? " you can't be serious. For one thing just using that word reminds me of the brat screaming "tattletale" after he lit the cat on fire. Anyways BC's whole thing is about getting his name out. It's not anonymous if everyone knows his piss mark. Ill bring my dog by if you like that kind of uninvited input.And tell me your not serious calling him outstanding. In what - putting his scrawl where it's not wanted -maybe. If you dont like the murals -dont get one on your place. if I want BC's work Ill buy a canvas - my house and office are not his to change.And finally - a threat ? Really? expect the unexpected?????Your killing me

Bro
Bro

doesn't banksy write on things? ever heard of mr. brainwash? re-experience art bro

Jambrewer
Jambrewer

mr castaneda ... has and will continue to bugg the shit out of you FOREVER

Francisco G
Francisco G

I think you are stereotyping graffiti writers being mostly hispanic. Graffiti writers come in all colors and cultures. We do live in Arizona where the "hispanics or Mexicans have been living before it even became Arizona.If you study art history, you will realize that graffit can be art. I don't respect the fact that that guy tagged someone's mural because that's amature stuff. I was a graffiti writer now I paint murals, but I never went over someone else mural unless they went over mine. http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.c...

Julie Peterson
Julie Peterson

Mcmikecause, it sort of sounds as though you read only the beginning of the article; most of it's about the Phoenix mural scene, past and present. Maybe the marks you think it's missing are not the ones it was aiming at. Feel free to respond with the points you think were omitted.

mikecause
mikecause

HAHA!You're right! I only read the first page.. I thought it ended there. Dumb. Actually I guess I was wrong, this article is great and seems like the research is pretty thorough.. I like how it included Barrio Cafe and the 16th St. movement. PIcked on Bobby too much I think, especially considering you're not positive he is the one that writes "resist". But thanks for telling me, I didnt realize it was a full story!

 
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