From the Mini Stack to law offices to two-story suburbs miles outside metropolitan Maricopa County, the Valley is known for a sprawling façade of muted beige and brown, camouflaged in the desert. This weekend, a group of area artists plan to change that.
Dozens of creatives are banding together for a four-day paint-a-thon, each using their own materials to design large-scale murals on a number of Valley businesses. The event, Paint PHX, is the brainchild of Thomas "Breeze" Marcus, a Phoenix-based artist who fell in love with graffiti in the late 1990s.
The citywide art show, which starts as early as 6 a.m. daily, will happen live from Thursday, March 6, through Sunday, March 9. Though the public is certainly encouraged to watch, the event was organized to allow muralists the opportunity to mass-create pieces in real time and with true collaboration.
Over the course of the last decade, street art has risen from a marker of territory and personal expression to a recognized art form, now housed in museums and even at times selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. For Phoenix, the prominence has grown in the last three to five years, with walls transformed into public murals: a splash of color among dirt lots and peeling paint.
"One of the main reasons I believe Phoenix streets have become more colorful is because a small group of artists saw a mass amount of blank canvas and a city full of concrete. [They] got sick of looking at buff marks and decided to brighten it up on their own dime and accord," says artist J.B. Snyder.
Snyder, one of the Valley's premier muralists, quit his day job four years ago and has been painting professionally ever since. His work can be seen on walls from Seventh Street to Grand Avenue, and in galleries and businesses in central Phoenix and Scottsdale -- including an upcoming art show, entitled "Closure," at The Hive for Third Friday.
"After business owners started to notice the city changing, they started to commission the artists, and that has spiraled into what the city is currently looking like today," he says.
Paint PHX has the potential to shine a national light on the outdoor art scene, he says, but mostly it showcases how far these painters have come as an art community in a considerably short time span.
Admittedly, murals and graffiti have adorned public and private property throughout the Valley for decades. Marcus attributes the popularization of what is commonly referred to as street art to the release of the film Exit Through the Gift Shop. The documentary, which hit theaters in 2010, chronicles works by the infamous British artist Banksy, Shephard Fairey, and Invader, among others.
"It really put the long existing mural and graffiti movements into the spotlight by calling [it] 'street art,' with all styles of work being lumped under one umbrella," says Marcus, who is recognized for his interwoven, colorful pieces. His art form transcends his Native American heritage and goes beyond the expected graffiti-style lettering. "For those of us who have already been creating art in the Valley and downtown area for the last 20 years, 'street art' is a fairly new term."
"As the movements have gained international exposure by one commercialized name [referring to Banksy] in recent years, it also has inspired artists who never painted a mural, letter piece, or stencil to create large-scale public works," Marcus says.
Art hubs like Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue, and Calle 16 (located on 16th Street between Thomas and McDowell roads) have become what Marcus calls "epicenters for local mural movements [with] wildfire popularity."
The three will be the primary locations to house the murals. Barrio Café and The Hive, both in Calle 16, are sponsoring the event through wall space and paint support. Shorty's 602 Auto Sports, near Sixteenth and Van Buren streets has also donated wall space. It's this kind of cooperation, particularly from independent local owners, that has allowed the movement to flourish in the downtown area.
"I attribute the mural movement to artists motivating each other to brighten up the city with encouragement from local businesses, providing them with a legal wall to paint," says artist Tato Cavareo, who will be working on a number of pieces during the weekend-long show.
"I really like seeing Eric Cox's working starting to pop up around town," he says, going on to cite Marcus, Snyder, Lalo Cota, El Mac, Colton Brock, and J.J. Hohner as street artists to watch. "But there really is too many to list."
Paint PHX will feature these names and numerous others. Artist La Muñeca and crew will re-do the north and south walls of Dulcería Pico Rico, located on Sixteenth and Yale streets. Its current façade features the likeness of Hello Kitty as well as an array Disney Princesses -- many of which are beginning to fade, while all boast sour expressions unbecoming of their respective characters.
Gabriel Pecina will take the wall on Just Blaze off Camelback Road on 10th Street. Artists Ishmael Duenas, Adrian Dominic, and Page among others will give the parking lot of Bragg's Pie Factory on Grand Avenue and McKinley Street a makeover. Other muralists participating in the event include father-and-son duo Such and Champ Styles, Doug Miles, and Lady Rise. Marcus has also enlisted the help of out-of-towners from Tucson, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles.
Caraveo will be painting a few pieces around town. He's already started work on a mural for Lost Leaf's beer garden and will also paint a wall across the street at Think! Graphic and Printing Solutions. He and Snyder will be collaborating on a third piece, Caraveo says, but the location has yet to be confirmed.
Snyder, who opened his Roosevelt area shop, Fifth Street Paint Supply in late January, will not only be partaking in the pieces as a painter, but also as a business owner. The shop is the unofficial destination spot for these aspiring and established artists to buy materials like Montana Colors, a high quality spray paint known for its glossy shine and fade and weather resistance. Snyder will be painting the north side of Film Bar and may collaborate on a few other walls, he says.
Fifth Street Paint Supply will also donate a wall to the project, getting a facelift courtesy of artists Cogs (SOA) who will be working on his piece throughout the weekend, Snyder says.
"Paint PHX was born out of seeing other painting events across the country and internationally for years," Marcus says, "and needing to see Phoenix have an event it can call its own."
Marcus says he has participated in these kinds of mass painting events since 1997 and traveled Miami for a similar event called Art Basel as recently as December. He calls Paint PHX a grassroots event: for artists, by artists.
"It's a celebration of our city's achievements with the recently evolved 'mural scene,' 'graffiti art scene,' 'street art scene,' ... whatever you want to call it," he says. "We hope it inspires artists to elevate themselves and push boundaries by creating their best works to date."
"The next step is for more artists to step up the quality of outdoor work and craftsmanship while getting paid properly for their work," Snyder says. "Artists [need] to keep pushing for larger scale public art funded by the state or large corporations. [It's] time to penetrate into the heart of the city and go up from there."
Most residents only see these intricate, detailed designs as they pass by in their cars at 35 to 50 miles per hour or when crawling during rush hour. Yet the lack of defacing and vocal opposition from the public allows artists the opportunity to explore the medium of graffiti art -- a style that, largely until the last decade, was closely tied to the stereotypes of gang territory and low-income neighborhoods.
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"It seems as though most of the general public has really taken ownership and appreciation for the recent boom in murals around the Valley," Marcus says. "[But] of course, graffiti writing and lettering is still the red-headed bastard stepchild of all these styles."
Paint PHX happens daily from Thursday, March 6, through Sunday, March 9, throughout Central Phoenix, highlighting Calle 16, Roosevelt Street, and Grand Avenue. Watching is free and open to the public; independent artists must seek out their own walls and use their own materials. Visit the Paint PHX Facebook event page for details or to participate.