THIS IS ME...I WAS HERE...FUCK YOU (a/k/a my INFAMY DVD REVIEW)
The illmatic metalwork of SABER AWR
My feelings were mixed when the DVD came across in the mail this morning. Just the list of featured artists
gave me pause, deep breaths, huge ups and downs.
I'm thankful that anyone is distributing any graffiti documentary in these days and times, believe me. I'm pleased that director Doug Pray mixed things up a bit in terms of representing NY, LA, and other smaller cities. It's fortunate that any female artist ended up in this flick.
The film is heavy with footage, interviews, and of course art - trains, walls, empty L.A. "riverbeds", freeway signs, etc. - courtesy of TOOMER TKO (Total Kaos) of Los Angeles, CA. He is the star. He sets off the film with an anecdote relating the Native Americans' feelings on "Mount Rushmore" directly to today's feeling of the average american citizen on Graffiti. That someone came in and took a mountain that did not belong to them, carved it in the images of the head thieves in charge, and who the fuck want what?
TOOMER is a brilliant, intelligent, gifted product of the L.A. streets. He explains the genesis of his crew, TKO, "we're not a gang, we're not a boy scout troop...we're a bunch of vandals who hang out...". He describes the life of a graf artist in the streets of Los Angeles as being stuck in the middle - "gangs don't like you, cops don't like you" and gives countless examples of racial profiling and of he and his crew members being painted as the cholos and gang members they worked so hard not to be. He casually mentions his felony convictions for Graf, explaining that he has been arrested, done his time, come out, and done it again...it's his mission in life. TOOMER suggests that gangs tag walls to mark their territory, but that Graffiti artists and writers do it to say, "THIS IS ME...I WAS HERE...FUCK OFF".
Kicking it on the porch with his homeboy B-Real of Cypress Hill, TOOMER looks as on B-Real breaks it down. "The streets...are the galleries. You can see the art for free. But you might pay for being in the wrong place."
Another Cali legend, SABER AWR/MSK, is represented beautifully in the film. His mother explains that SABER is her son, but also an urban legend of sorts. That he is raceless - some people think her son is Mexican, some think he is Black, some think he is a "short white kid" (he's actually tall). He goes on to explain the myth further - that the rumours of his demise have been greatly exagerrated. (NB - one of the only pieces of art I ever considered purchasing from a gallery was a SABER piece crafted entirely from metal in his savage letter style which many find indecipherable. I am a fan of SABER.)
He further describes the precipice of his Graffiti persona (and his life in general) - that he'd just chosen his name, SABER, based on the combination of the letters; when suddenly a car ran down a woman who was standing close by and her head split open. He turned around to see his homeboy being jumped on the other side of him by some bangers. Hence the uber-wildstyle of SABER's letters - now I understand.
With respect to the rest of the individuals in the film, this is a review, and I will offer my opinion. I mean no disrespect to any of the other artists profiled. EARSNOT IRAK is the physical embodiment of the alife/l.e.s./hipster-graf scene and I applaud him for it. I've never heard of "JASE" but my brother-from-another-mother, JASE TWC/KIL, is one of L.A. OG graffiti artists and while Philly is not L.A., the respect for the originators must stand. Kind of like the homie CHINO BYI telling me there are some fake BYI-wannas running around Los Angeles these days... All due respect to CLAW, she's getting money, and she's also repping hard for the L.E.S. boho/fashionista scene. However I would have wanted to see MUCK or BLUE or TOOFLY or LADY PINK featured in her place.
And I will take this moment to flip the words of the mighty LORD SCOTCH 79TH a/k/a KEO TOP to dismiss "Joe Connelly, the Graffiti Guerilla"..."HE DIDN'T GO OVER US, WE WENT UNDER HIM". He can cover works of art with buff until his arms fall off, but the creative energies of the artists he disrespects and attempts to remove are alive in spirit. And when his life expires and he breathes his last breath, he'll see the other side in another place where real Graffiti Guerrillas run shit and there are a lot of back-to-the-essence B-Boys and B-Girls waiting to return the favor.
In the midst of writing this on my lunch hour, the ether sent me the answer as to why TOOMER TKO and SABER AWR had so much screen time. Edwin Licona of Image Entertainment took this project on as his first venture as a Producer, in conjunction with his own company, Above Ground Rule Films. He explains a little of how it came together with Director Doug Pray. "It was a combination of a lot of things, and I partnered up with another group called Paladin a music label we distribute. It started about two years ago, that litttle documentary that you see took two years to set up. We just identified some of the graf writers that we wanted to feature, it was a combination of a lot of people being in the right place at the right time. As far as the soundtrack, at that moment in time i was able to get a pre-superstardom Kanye West song and we got KRS 1, Talib Kweli and MF Doom, we got a lot of good stuff."