Mexicans were busy covering walls with messages and icons, and Americans started to notice. Yes, murals can mean something; they can speak for the people and they can breathe life into old, decaying parts of town. And so the works and influences of the great Mexican muralistas — Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and José Orozco — trickled into American pop culture.

In murals' premature American beginnings, they were painted for a number of reasons, one being their distraction capability. "Sure, painting murals in the slums didn't solve any problems," says Fahlman, "but they sure made the streets look pretty."

And they made building interiors pretty, too. Diego Rivera was even hired to paint a mural in Rockefeller Center, only to have it painted over when someone noticed that one of Rivera's characters was Lenin. This was not the first and certainly was not to be the last time a mural was to be buffed out or painted over. But Fahlman says that's part of the existence of a public work.

The Pabst Blue Ribbon mural was tagged and painted over in early August, as the marketing campaign ended.
The Pabst Blue Ribbon mural was tagged and painted over in early August, as the marketing campaign ended.
Graffiti artists and taggers add their own murals, characters, and commentary in the so-called "graffiti alley" behind stores on McDowell Road between 18th and 19th streets.
Graffiti artists and taggers add their own murals, characters, and commentary in the so-called "graffiti alley" behind stores on McDowell Road between 18th and 19th streets.

"When their works entered the public sector, artists could no longer be prima donnas. But the keepers of those murals also had to keep the artists' intentions in mind," she says. "Sometimes a mural's message became outdated or the neighborhood changed or the work just couldn't be restored."


Roosevelt's mural row is literally in Greg Esser's backyard. He and his wife, Cindy Dach, live a couple blocks away from RoRow and they own eye lounge, along with some other properties in the neighborhood. Esser's got a unique perspective. Not long ago, he took a day job as director of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission — and he's working with murals there, too.

"All I can do is hope that it's not tagged," Esser says of the commission's latest project in L.A. a community mural envisioned and painted by inner-city kids with the help of program coordinators. A huge wall just east of Los Angeles International Airport now features a vision of the city skyline surrounded by bright green rolling hills and blue skies in a whimsical, coloring-book style.

Add it to the list of Esser's tagging worries. More often than not, he says, the graffiti crews and lone taggers who go after murals are after respect and instant fame.

Ironically, a tag often has a chance of lasting longer than the original mural.

"Taggers have realized that their tags stayed up longer on murals because the building owners and the commissioners of those murals can't afford to bring back the original artist to repair the mural," Esser says. "So tagging on a mural has become code for longevity."

And a Los Angeles legal battle has resulted in victory for one muralist.

In 2008, artist Kent Twitchell sued the U.S. government and 11 other defendants, claiming that a mural he created in Los Angeles was painted over without his knowledge and consent. (Esser was not involved; he didn't work for the county at the time.) Twitchell's six-story 1987 painting of Ed Ruscha — widely regarded as an American forefather of Pop Art — was falling apart and had been covered in graffiti.

The court ruled in Twitchell's favor under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act and the California Art Preservation Act. Both require that the artist be given a 90-day heads up before any alteration or removal, even if a mural is in disrepair.

Twitchell scored $1.1 million — the largest amount ever awarded to an artist under state or federal law.

But the mural, sadly, was gone for good.

Today, a similar fate faces L.A.'s mural-covered highway walls. They were commissioned to usher in the 1984 Olympics and because they've since been obliterated by layers of taggers' spray paint, they, too, face removal — as soon as the city can notify the artists and pay for the safety barricades ($3,000 a pop). The city's looking for volunteers and donations.

Esser says the problem is only getting worse as graffiti artists' work — often layered on another's — gets noticed and the artist is approached to do commissions or show in a gallery.

"[Graffiti] has become a career path," says Esser. "Ultimately, every artist wants to and should be paid for what he or she creates . . . and obviously there's a difference between the artistic element and vandalism, but we need to figure out how to promote and curate aerosol art without destroying a legacy."

"It's a respect thing," says Joerael Elliott, a popular Phoenix artist whose intricate and complicated style can be seen in murals on the sides of five15 on Roosevelt, Way Cool Hair Salon on McDowell, and on the Caravan dive bar on Camelback. His work has also graced some of the downtown community's hippest homes, including Daniel Wayne's, of Lola Coffee.

"Graffiti, street art, urban art — it's all a social symptom and a reaction to arts programs and funding being cut. When someone writes on another person's work, it's a sign of disrespect," Elliott says. "You can read a city by its calligraphy."

Esser says he's had discussions with those who have tagged eye lounge in the past. "There's an issue with the concept of 'selling out' in the street art community," he says, "and there's a romanticized view of the 'starving artist.' [Being] paid isn't selling out — it's part of being successful and making a living doing what you love."

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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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