Street Art Camp Puts Young Artists Up Against the Wall, Paint in Hand
The teenage years are a scary time for both parents and young adults as they fight acne, each other and peer pressure. Apathy is the watchword along with angry, angsty, and annoyed -- of everything.
Arturo giving some graffiti advice
This is not true of all teens though, and it's especially a false description of the kids who attended Street Art Camp at the Dallas Contemporary. These kids were equal parts eager, patient and artistic superstars. Unlike most summer camps, this is not some weeklong activity parents have forced their progeny to attend; the kids not only want to be there, but for many its the highlight of their summer.
The campers ranged in age from 13-year-old Ethan, a Booker T. hopeful to 17-year-old Plano High senior Max. Of the 15 campers, about half attended camp last year and a few admitted to previous, not-so-legal graffiti experience.
Thankfully for me the camp began with a crash course history lesson on all things graffiti. Most of the kids already knew about famous street artists like Cornbread, Shepard Fairey and JMR -- who would later personally explain his mural outside the Contemporary. Plus they already knew the lingo, terms like all-city -- graffiti by one artist all over the city, and bombing -- big bubble letters, signature of typical graffiti. Clearly these kids knew their stuff and were ready to get painting, but first, a little more instruction and planning was needed.
After the history lesson, Patrick and Autumn, Dallas Contemporary employees/camp counselors, described to the kids an ancient time when the Internet and Instagram didn't exist and print was used to communicate art and ideas. The mystified campers flipped through old graffiti fanzines for proof and inspiration. The campers were practicing drawing letters when a couple members of Sour Grapes walked in.
When you're a teenage graffiti-loving artist hopeful, Sour Grapes are probably the coolest people you'll ever meet, and the nicest. Arturo Donjuan, street name Arma, and Tomas, a.k.a Crow, introduced themselves and explained what Sour Grapes is about, though its safe to say most campers are familiar with Oak Cliff's most famous graffiti crew.
After Arturo explains that in graffiti "you can do whatever you want, no right or wrong" the kids gather their paints and put on their masks -- an important feature to protect them from the fumes. All the painting was done inside, and despite an open door I left the first day feeling slightly inebriated.
The kids watched in awe as Arturo demonstrated the evolution of single spray paint line into an ornate letter.Then the campers took to their own slabs of cardboard, sketches in hand, to create their art.
I attempted to create a letter of my own, and its no easy task to keep a steady stream of paint at a close, but not too close, distance without overdoing it so the paint doesn't drip. My piece turned out more free-form abstract art than distinguishable letter of the alphabet. I can't say the same for the talented campers who wielded their cans like experienced graffiti artists. Not every letter was perfect, but every kid practiced diligently with awesome results. The end of day one was a definite success and I, along with the campers, couldn't wait for what was next.
As explained by Arturo, first and foremost every graffiti artists has to have a street name, so the beginning of day two was spent brainstorming ideas. Street names are meant to signify something, be it a childhood nickname, or story, or in Arturo's case, a name given by a mentor. Sophia became Sopa and Cory became Curls, indicative of his hair, and the kids practiced perfecting their names via spray paint.
Ethan hopes to attend Booker T.
Graffiti wasn't the only type of art the kids delved into; they made mosaic-like space invaders
and worked with stencils and screen printing too. Other artists dropped in throughout the week like Anna, a rare female street artist from California who now lives in Dallas and paints under the name Vicco.
Sour Grapes and Co. would walk around the studio dispensing advice and guiding campers in their designs. The campers, some home-schooled and others soon-to-be Booker T. students, listened and focused, absorbing any and all advice from the self-taught crew.
The last day of camp was something special. Thanks to myself, camp director Autumn, and a few parents, the campers were hauled to the free wall -- a designated area in Oak Cliff where graffiti is legal. A 100-degree temperature couldn't scorch the kids' excitement as they painted on stretches of warehouses alongside members of Sour Grapes.
When asked what they like most about graffiti, they had trouble articulating. Edie, who will attend Highland Park in the fall, likes it "because you can do so many different things." Other campers like "the fresh culture" and some think the best part is "just a bunch of artists getting together, making art."
Though difficult to detail, its obvious these kids love graffiti. At camp they didn't just get to practice their art with talented teachers, they learned about the history, how to do graffiti legally and most important that their art can be more than just a hobby.