Readers’ Note: In September of 2013, I traveled to Houston for an international graffiti arts festival. This article was never published but gives a preview of the festival.
Aida Cro grasps the green paint can in her small, delicate hands, her fingertips already stained and her beige cargo pants messy to the constant colors of a rainbow. A cropped, black tee hugs her tiny frame while she teters on the edge of a large wooden box.
She needs the height of the box to lift her, for she is spray painting a wall-to-wall mural. Her canvas is the backdrop for a large, abandoned warehouse stretched between several small businesses and a mall on the south side of Houston off Kingspoint Road. She is not a criminal.
Cro is one of 150 artists converging on Houston for an international graffiti art slam. Cro, from Mexico, represents nearly a dozen countries that have come to this Meeting of Styles (MOS) art slam to create public art. The three-day event was assembled from an international network of graffiti artists beginning in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 2002.
For German artist and founder of MOS, Manuel Gerullis, Houston is only one stop on a tour across the world ending with the final event in Mexico. Gerullis recently stopped in San Antonio, bringing several other international artists along with him while completing a wall mural at a local gallery and paint shop, the Paint Yard.
While visiting San Antonio, Gerullis also pointed out that the southern and Mexican influences within the city would provide a perfect setting for wall murals.
“The way I see it down here – San Antonio – the southern influence and the Mexican influence make it kind of open minded for mural paintings. I think there is a big potential in it – more or less every city across the world has created ugly walls,” Gerullis said. “There is large potential for San Antonio to supply walls and the more walls that are supplied by the community and the council and the city; I’m sure it will attract more and more artists. The potential is there, it just needs to urbanized.”
Anthony Rose still is a newcomer when it comes to the Houston art scene. But the 24-year-old painter believes that his home city of San Antonio provides these same type of events if only on a smaller scale. Rose also commented, that for him, art has always been in his life and the graffiti art form is just one more skill to add to his list of talents.
“I have been into illustration my entire life,” Rose said. “I used to draw my own little comic books in middle school.”
“MOS aims to create a forum for the international art community to communicate, assemble and exchange ideas, works and skills, but also to support intercultural exchange,” reads their mission statement.
The history behind the international forum stems from the German city of Wiesbaden’s destruction of a well known monument of graffiti and mural art. After the completed destruction of the monument, the spirit of keeping public art alive grew. In 2002, the movement officially developed the first International MOS.
And since that date, MOS has launched more than 75 events in sixteen countries across the United States and Europe. They have been known to attract thousands of spectators on a global scale.
For the artists, some professional and others still disguising their identity, one factor remains the same. The need for art.
UP Art Studio, a downtown Houston gallery that has been open for more than a year, specializes in urban and contemporary art. Their web site describes a gallery that “represents an undervalued genre of artists and it is the studio’s owners’ goals to help remove the negative connotation assumed by many that this form of art is vandalism … but rather is Graffiti and Aerosol Art and is a true art form.”
Zac Alex Castro, the creative director for the gallery, was on site with Arcade Crew, artists venturing from the inner communities of Chicago to be part of the event. Castro noted that while graffiti holds a negative connotation and is criminal in many cities, public art is one of the truest forms, perhaps because of the easy accessibility.
“I think it may be ease of access, meaning it goes straight from your brain to your arm to the can to the wall,” Castro said. “It’s not like a piece where you are sitting in front on an easel and you paint it out, you steady it and maybe do some sketches. A lot of these artists are working off of one piece of paper and that’s it.”
Castro’s gallery holds a lot of community outreach while slowly working to make graffiti a more positive source within the community.
“Events like these – where there are legitimate shows – are really good for the community,” Castro said. “We invite the artists out in a forum that every one is open to see.”
Some artists also noted the sense of community stemming from this still relatively unknown art form. Ana Maria Ortiz (@anamarietta), originally from Puerto Rico, has been in Houston for a few years. She notes that Puerto Rico gave her a more individualized sense of recognition for her work. But she also enjoys the art scene. Ortiz said her art helps her to conquer social anxiety.
“I want to develop myself in this society by painting,” Ortiz said. “I am not trying to be recognized. I’m just trying to be social … It’s hard for me to start a conversation with people. I don’t hate people. I love people. But I can’t be social, because I have a disability and it scares me. I get really anxious and nervous. So, I started doing some thing that people can admire me for without me having to speak, having to talk and without having to explain myself.”
For other artists, who have created massive followings due to their skills and public exposure, the international art slam proves to be a place where they can experiment and create. Anat Ronen, a Houston resident originally from Israel, has created public art since 2009. Her work can be found in Houston, Los Angeles and Israel. Most recently, her mural work was displayed at the Station Museum for Contemporary Art in Houston (exhibiting May 25-Aug. 25 of 2013).
For Gerullis, graffiti art is more than just a scene or a public display, it is a lifestyle.
“I think it (art) takes a special type of people because they are living for producing stuff. They are less consumers, more producers,” Gerullis said. “They all share the love and the passion of being creative.”