Late last night on a brick wall in Buena Park I learned to spray paint—basic coloring and single-stroke lettering. Not that I’m promoting graffiti (there was paper taped to the aforementioned wall, upon which I painted with sprayage), but I now have a new point of view on the art that many call “unsightly.” Visual artists command, depending on their preferred medium, a sense of finesse and grace (Jackson Pollock excepted)—including those that tag. With a brush, there is an “easily” manageable degree of control, precision, and foresight (comparably), but with spray paint, there’s an element of surprise, and no way to turn back. Knowing your medium is obviously a central theme, but with a tiny nozzle at the top of pressurized can, how much is foresight, and how much can you actually control it?
First off, spray paint comes out at different angles, strokes, and speeds. A brand new can has a bunch of paint particles in the can with their engines revving like high school seniors shooting Hangover Part III, a half-empty can is a bit more manageable (noticeably less dripping) but still produces a substantial spread, and the can on its last spurts, is just as sad as it sounds…on its last spurts. Throttling the escape route of spray paint is easily recognizable as a life lesson, or an acting lesson, or simply a painting lesson—make the bold choice, commit to it, and accept your decision. Limply depressing the nozzle will produce an uneven, spotted stroke; exciting to a microscope, but completely negligible from afar. Pinning the nozzle down into submission literally floods the tip and bombards your paper (or intended medium) with a rushing river of vivid ink. (If you didn’t realize, to use spray paint, you probably have to be painting on a vertical surface, meaning gravity will showcase your heavy-handedness with a drip fringe rivaled by Aladdin’s magic carpet or Yosemite Sam’s moustache.) Finding that happy (nozzle pressure) place takes a little experimenting, and I think of it similar to Othello (the game, not the play)—“a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.”
The result of this spray painting endeavor was on display today (for the first of four times) at Promenade Park in Long Beach as a part of LBTAC’s portion of Watts Village Theater Company’s Meet Me @Metro II. A mural was taped up to a structure, and for a sneak peek at our show, jump to minute 45 of the link below to catch a recording of the live stream from earlier today.
And so, the new acquaintance of spray paint has more than provided a set piece for a show, it has revealed a moral message through the massive misconception of tagging being only for gangsters and troubled individuals. The precision and artistic prowess that these artists of the night exhibit are things that some of us may never be able to parallel, and sadly, they themselves may not even realize the potential that is narrowly focused into this act; but I saw something, and although I am only one man, that’s one more person in the world that has realized something important about themselves. If it wasn’t for a theater company in a city I had only heard about from Dr. Dre, I would have never full realized how much work goes into that “unsightly” tagging that many disregard as art.
To share a popular quotation (among actors, and hopefully more):
“Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”
To share a not so popular quotation from an artist I admire:
"Act from the depth of your feeling imagination. Act for celebration, for search, for grieving, for worship, to express that desolate sensation of wandering through the howling wilderness. Don’t worry about Art. Do these things and it will be Art.”
-John Patrick Shanley
The art is there. We don’t have to make it, we just have to recognize it.