Best Place to Spot a Stencil 2011 | Northeast corner of Fourth and Garfield streets | People & Places | Phoenix
Sure, there are plenty of sidewalk spots and electrical boxes in Phoenix that are decorated by a few secretive street artists in town.

But when we want to see something fresh and impressive, we head to the northeast corner of Fourth and Garfield streets. Just behind reBAR, around the corner from the fading Soldierleisure mural, theres an abandoned, red-brick building whose boarded-up windows serve as frames for some of our favorite stencils. Artists Nomas and SIKE have been here HMPH and CITIZEN, too.

Theyve sprayed Madonnas, monikers, gorillas, and political messages onto the buildings plywood and paper-pasted front door, and theyve given us a sure-fire spot to catch some seriously cool artwork.

By day, you'd hardly know it was there. Take a stroll down Farmer Avenue in Tempe after dark, though, and you'll undoubtedly come across a glowing purple bicycle permanently fixed atop a tree. The bicycle, the tree, and the purple string of lights all belong to local Tempe artist Eric Iwersen.

Why stick a bike in a tree? Why wrap it in purple lights? We're not certain. The answers lie with Iwersen. We are grateful, however, for his eccentricities, as the purple beacon has often pointed us in the right direction — toward home — after a drunken night at Taste of Tops.

Even if you don't actually ride the city's light rail, we bet you've stopped to admire the public art at light-rail stops from the comfort of your car. One of our favorites is visible not only from the road, but also from the ground and even the sky, as it sits above Tempe Town Lake — right below Sky Harbor Airport's flight path. Artist Buster Simpson's display of LED lights puts an ever-changing rainbow above the lake, reflecting colors in the water. Stop and stare at the bridge long enough, and we know it sounds corny, but you might just feel like that bridge is speaking to you. Try it.
Three years ago, Mark Dudlik wrote an open letter that pissed off the Phoenix design community — he wrote that the local design scene was dead. What the local designer meant was that support for local design wasn't strong enough, and if nothing was done, talented and creative people would inevitably skip town. The community reacted, and Dudlik was ready with a solution. This year marks the third Phoenix Design Week (October 1-18), which has grown from a few days of exhibitions and get-togethers to a three-week showcase with a national conference. The annual event gives designers from a variety of backgrounds (communication, graphic, industrial) and cities from around the country plenty of excuses to get out of their studios, talk about culture and creativity, and work together on new design ideas for Phoenix.
On our to-do list: Learn how to letterpress. Okay, so it's right below organize all the closets and master the KitchenAid — it's going to be a while. That's fine, because gallery HAZEL isn't offering letterpress workshops quite yet. Sign us up when they do! We love to visit this sweet little space on First Fridays so we can behold the glory of a fully functional vintage letterpress — and the super-cute stationery that's been made with it. We can't wait to soak our hands in ink . . .
In the weeks leading up to Best of Phoenix, our culture blog brought you 100 images of the city. One of our favorites comes from artist Melissa McGurgan, who created a series of letterpress prints in an homage to Phoenix. The prints feature common local descriptors, including Dry Heat, Snow Bird, and even Tent City, but our favorite part is the witty attention to detail — teeny-tiny handcuffs and tents for our sheriff's favorite spot, and a lovely roadrunner/snowflake combo for winter visitors. McGurgan manages to poke gentle fun and elevate this place to an artier level at the same time.
You won't find local artist Shelby Robertson's pimpest works on the shelves of your local comic book shop, though he's illustrated for the likes of Marvel, DC, and Verotik. A self-taught artist and founder of independent publishing house American Dischord, Robertson plays with the big boys of the comic industry but still takes hand-drawn pin-up commissions for around 50 bucks a pop. His rendering of heavily detailed and well-muscled figures has been compared to fantasy artist Frank Frazetta and late Witchblade co-creator Michael Turner, which means you'll get more than your money's worth if you throw down for a portrait. And like Frazetta and Turner, Robertson is fond of penning curvaceous vixens in barely-there clothing. Our favorite is Latex Alice, a sultry version of Lewis Carroll's heroine — she makes a Barbie doll seem normal and proportional.
Zombies might be the "in thing" in sci-fi and fantasy right now, but there are other ways to get your brain-eating comic quotient in without picking up The Walking Dead. Local author John Layman, former editor for DC's Wildstorm branch and author of the fun Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness crossover, branched out on his own in 2009 with his indie comic Chew, which follows a detective who has the unusual ability to recall the experiences of anything he eats. Not surprisingly, the character is a vegetarian most of the time; that is, when he's not chomping the dead flesh of victims of murders he's investigating. It gives new meaning to the phrase "take a bite outta crime." A Chew script was picked up for a Showtime comedy series in May, making us proud that Layman chose to call Phoenix home before he hit the major leagues.
Punk rock has never been particularly kind to the art of growing up. There are few stranger sights than a 50-year-old sporting a Mohawk. But Brad Dwyer, who used to shout in punk band Gary's Agenda and currently performs as Brad the One Man Damned, knows how to tell the stories of an aging punk with charm, tact, and humor. His comic, Epic Tales of the Mundane, centers on his day-to-day life — learning to change his daughter's diapers, adult acne, riding the bus, struggling to interest his wife in the DC Comics re-launch, and daydreaming about robots fighting giant mutants. Dwyer's comics are sly, self-deprecating, and hilariously poke holes in the old axiom about burning out before fading away.
There are the jocks and cheerleaders and tight-assed businesspeople and average Joes of this world, and then there are the folks who just don't fit into one of those stifling categories. Some end up burrowing into hidey-holes with LAN games and bags of Cheetos. Others go the academic route and become experts on deciphering dead languages. But the most intriguing club for those on the social fringes is the Dark Ones, the mysterious sponsor behind such events as the Bazaar of the Bizarre and DarkCon. In addition to its major events, the group hosts parties at comic book conventions and regular meet-ups to view fantasy flicks or discuss historical costuming. You don't exactly need to know the secret handshake to be a Dark One, but not everyone is deemed worthy of joining. Noobs have to be sponsored, and you must be a member for five years before becoming a full-fledged Dark One. We don't know exactly what powers come with that privilege, but with any luck, the job at least comes with a horde of minions.

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