REVOK on the cover of the WALL STREET JOURNAL

May 26 2011 . 01:37am

As Their Work Gains Notice, These Painters Suffer for Their Art
Mainstream Success Puts Graffiti Artists in Law-Enforcement’s Sights—and in Jail

LOS ANGELES—To the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Revok is a renowned artist whose bright, sprawling work is worthy of display in its latest exhibit.

To the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Revok is Jason Williams, also known as inmate No. 2714221.

Last month, Mr. Williams was sentenced to 180 days in county jail as a result of a probation violation from a graffiti incident, just days after the opening of a major museum exhibit dedicated to "street art" that features his work. Unable to post his $320,000 bail, Mr. Williams sat in jail for four days before the sentencing.

It may be illegal on the street, but inside the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, a new exhibit celebrates the history of graffiti, featuring work by artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. WSJ’s Tammy Audi reports.

Law-enforcement officials around the country are prosecuting graffiti artists with harsher sentences than ever, pushing for felony charges, real prison time and restitution payments as they seek to wipe graffiti from the streets. At the same time, the art world and corporations are embracing the form like never before."You can make a case that graffiti and street art is the most influential art movement since the great innovations of the ’60s," says Jeffrey Deitch, director of the L.A. museum, known as MOCA. "Before this show, no American museum had ever done an ambitious historical exhibition."

Law enforcement sees this as a historic moment as well: "This is really the first time in the history of law enforcement that we’re making significant gains on identifying who the [graffiti] taggers are, and building a case against them," says Lt. Vince Carter, who heads the sheriff’s graffiti unit. "We’re in this war against graffiti and we’re doing everything to stop it."

In years past, authorities usually didn’t go out of their way to prosecute the artists, most of whom use pseudonyms to protect their identities.

Now, law-enforcement officials in major cities around the country are sharing information, creating catalogs of graffiti work by artist. Police can use evidence of past vandalism to obtain search warrants, and "stack" charges to prosecute graffiti vandalism as a felony.

Shepard Fairey, the L.A.-based graffiti artist famous for his portrait of President Barack Obama, which hangs in the Smithsonian, was arrested in Boston in 2009 on his way to celebrate a museum exhibit of his work. Mr. Fairey was eventually charged with 30 felonies for putting stickers and posters on stop signs and guard rails. Mr. Fairey disputed the charges.

Most of the charges were dropped, but Mr. Fairey was sentenced to two years probation for misdemeanor vandalism and prohibited from carrying stickers in Boston, his attorney said.

Police worry that graffiti exhibits encourage vandalism. But graffiti’s popularity has also helped their cause, as once-elusive artists come out of the shadows. "I think when law enforcement can identify a well-known graffiti artist, then that artist will become a target," says Ton Chi Nguyen, Mr. Williams’s lawyer. He says Mr. Williams "does not view himself as a tagger or a vandal. He views himself as an artist."

The street-art show at The Geffen Contemporary—one of the facilities at MOCA—features a neon-painted ice-cream truck topped with a cigar-smoking clown head. It has drawn thousands of visitors.

Some graffiti artists sell their work at private galleries or online. Others are hired by corporations to design ad campaigns or special products. In some cases, they are hired to paint murals. The works of the street artist known as Banksy, who hides his identity, have produced international fame and led him to create an Oscar-nominated documentary. In 2008, Sotheby’s sold a painting by another artist "which Banksy has defaced" for $1.8 million. Adidas and Pepsi have hired graffiti artists to create designs and marketing campaigns for their products.

Mr. Williams may be the only prisoner in L.A.’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility previously commissioned by Levi’s to design a jacket. (On sale at the MOCA exhibit for $250).

Mr. Williams, 34, a prolific painter active in Los Angeles since the late 1990s, has said he wanted to be a graffiti artist since he was a teenager.

Last month in Los Angeles, he was arrested as he attempted to board a flight to Ireland, where he was hired to paint a mural. He was arrested on a warrant for violating the terms of his probation stemming from a 2009 vandalism incident in Los Angeles. Mr. Williams failed to report for community service picking up roadside trash and didn’t pay $3,500 restitution to cover the cost of removing the graffiti, his lawyer and sheriff’s department officials said.

Prior to his 2009 arrest, investigators had been on the trail of Revok for years. "I’m happy he’s been identified and captured, and now he has to pay for what he was doing," says Randy Campbell, a retired California Highway Patrol Officer who now helps cities trying to fight graffiti.

Law enforcement officials say they are responding to community demands to combat graffiti. Police say they aren’t making a judgment on whether graffiti is art. As long it is painted on public property without permission, it’s a crime. Los Angeles spends $10 million a year to scrub the stuff off walls.

"These vandals don’t have any respect for property," Mr. Campbell says. He added that Mr. Williams’s work "was half-way decent. It was big puffy letters, multiple colors, nice shadowing."

Lt. Carter, the Sheriff Department’s antigraffiti guru, says that "out of curiosity" he went to the MOCA show where he was struck by the sight of a decommissioned municipal bus painted over by an artist named Risk. "Now people are going to see that bus and want to write something on some other bus. That’s my job to stop that graffiti on that bus," he said.

As for the artistic merits of the rest of the show: "I refrain from passing judgment."

Write to Tamara Audi at:


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The Making Of Birds Of A Feather at MOCA | Video

May 10 2011 . 02:41pm

Artists Lee Quinones, OG Abel, Cern, FUTURA, Loomit, Push, RISK and Sano document the creation of their monumental artwork "Birds Of A Feather" (2011).

Created for Art in the Streets at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, April 17–August 8, 2011. Video produced by MOCA in collaboration with TEAM G.

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Retna Talks MOCA, Graffiti & Fashion with Fabiola Beracasa for ELLE

May 04 2011 . 11:59pm

While in LA for ELLE’s Women in Music party, I took a minute to catch up with Retna, the breakout LA street artist who’s among the lucky few chosen by Jeffrey Deitch for MOCA’s Art in the Streets show.  Retna, aka Marquis Lewis, has a heart warming smile to offset his devilish glances, and happily told us how he grew from a “graffiti artist” and landed in one of the most important street art shows to date.

ELLE: When did you know this was your calling ?
R: I liked graffiti when I was about eight-years-old, but it wasn’t really called street art at that time, it was just graffiti.  When I first saw it I knew that was what I wanted to do I just never really thought that it would turn into a career, you know? I just did it because it made me feel good, or it made me happy when I looked at it, but I never would’ve thought of where it would go…

ELLE: When did it turn from something that you loved, and did passionately, to something you could actually live off of?
I think that was maybe the past seven years.  [I] got into design, my first forays into actually making money off this or being able to make somewhat of a living off this was designing graphics for clothing companies.  So I was designing for this Japanese brand doing some cut and sew stuff; I think at that point I saw, “Hey I can do these graphics, and you know I can pay for other stuff that I want to do,” and then little jobs just started carrying on and it kind of kept leading to other things.  I did a lot of stuff just from the heart for free for the longest time and, well, you do things because you want to do them and you don’t want to sit around and wait for people to pay you.  You think, “Well fuck, I’ll just go make it happen.”

ELLE: What does it feel like to be part of Jeffrey Deitch’s Street Art Exhibition?
R: It feels great.  I’m really excited to be a part of it, it’s definitely a little overwhelming [as] it’s my first museum showing.  It seems like it came a lot earlier than I expected.  As a kid you want those institutions to recognize you and make you feel like you’re important.  I acknowledge [Jeffrey’s] commitment to what we do and I’m really honored to be a part of it.  It’s exciting to be in a show with all of these people that you grew up looking up to and it’s kind of mind blowing.  I would’ve never thought that they’d come visit me at my studio when I was eight-years-old, looking at these books that they were in.  They’re the greatest people and then to be around them and to actually exhibit with them, it’s kind of something unreal.

ELLE: There’s always that argument that when you move the graffiti, the street art indoors, into a museum into a gallery, it loses something.  How do you feel about that?
R: That’s all on the person viewing it. I think what’s great about that movement is that some guys still do both… so I think the idea early on with graffiti or street artists was you always want things that you can’t have, you always want to be in that spots that you can’t be in or you know people don’t want you to be in—so when we wanted to climb and paint this building we needed to figure out a way to go do it—so I think with the museum it’s just another aspect of that same mentality.  We wanted to be in there, so we figured out how to get in the door and put our stuff all over it.  Or, a couple [of] people crack the door and then the flood gates [open].   I feel that if it wasn’t for all of those, my predecessors doing all of the early work from the 70s and 80s and 90s and what have you, I wouldn’t be able to be there.

ELLE: You’ve worked with fashion companies before, how does fashion influence your art? Or do you feel that there is a correlation for you?
R: I’ve been heavily influenced by fashion, and a lot of that work was influenced by like Art Nouveau and stuff like that.  It still relates to some of my other work where I do matadors and bishops and these pieces where the clothing is just a little bit older, but I’m still kind of following along those same lines.  I obviously love and enjoy looking at fashion magazines, mostly women’s fashion, not really interested in men’s fashion so much.  I just think it looks great and it’s art.

ELLE: Did you ever get in trouble for doing graffiti?
R: Yeah, I’ve been arrested a good amount of times. My mother was just devastated.  She came here from El Salvador, worked two jobs and tried to send me to some of the best schools and I gravitated toward graffiti early on.  So for her it just hurt, it was really a disappointment.  She loves it now.  She’s more protective of the work.  She used to throw away a lot of my work early on, but that’s also what made me better.  She was my biggest critic at the time.

ELLE: Where do you see Retna going from here?
In my mind’s eye? To the end I guess… yeah, till the end of time…

-Source: x

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THE SEVENTH LETTER x MOCA exclusive tees available online

April 26 2011 . 10:38pm

Get yours at:


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Art in the Streets | ArrestedMotion

April 26 2011 . 03:04pm

Here’s some great pics found on

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