The Fastest Walls in the West

by doglord

Underground Diaries, Part 25

There was a time when the public graffiti walls now known as the Venice Art Walls had traffic that rivaled any L.A. rush hour. The following article was written as that era was coming to a close.

venice graffiti walls

Wake up and smell the Krylon! Actually, I don’t recommend it, though I often do it. Not because I’m into huffing paint, mind you, but because I often roll directly out of the wrapper and up the local bike path past the public graffiti walls at the Venice Beach “Pits.”

Writers there often “get up” before I do… “get up” as in get their graffiti up on the Pits walls. And with a good onshore breeze, the paint fumes can be downright dizzying to passersby, as dizzying as the speed at which the graffiti changes on what have to be the fastest walls in the West.

“You spend all day here on a production,” says Dytch, a legendary homegrown graffiti artist, “and kids are literally waiting to roll you out.”

By “you” he means your work. By “production” he means a large, carefully planned design. By “kids” he means punk-%#! &@#$!s who paint over your work before it’s had a chance to dry.

Even on short winter days, walls at these former barbecue pits on the beach are often completely repainted four times. “Easily,” says Stash Maleski, the Pits’ volunteer manager for more than six years. These days he spends most of his time picking up discarded paint cans and removing tags from the surrounding neighborhood.

The walls at the pits are so frequently painted that, when the paint peels off in sheets, it can take something like ten guys to heft the old paint onto a truck to cart it away.

It hasn’t always been thus. Graffiti at the pits goes back several decades to the Dogtown years, when the hood was rundown and a much larger walled picnic area served as a secluded spot for all manner of illicit activities.

In the late 1990s, Venice undertook a big beach front renovation project and the Pits were threatened with demolition. Their importance as a vibrant part of the arty local community earned them a stay of execution. A portion of the walls were left standing and graffiti artists were allowed to go on painting. Maleski, a dreadlocked former graffiti artist himself, would perform quality control to exclude hate-speak and obscenity. There wasn’t a big problem. There weren’t so many writers then. Those who came to the Pits respected each others’ work.

Things change. Graffiti is popular again. Not with people whose property has been tagged, but with a whole lot of kids and, as a result, with Madison Avenue, art aficionados, fashionistas, and the like. If graffiti hadn’t been completely commodified in the past, it has been now — corporate logos, soft drink cans and billboards (it was already on them illegally).

People can make bank with graffiti. And they’re doing it in increasing numbers.

Maleski credits digital technology (in combination with the lack of more legal graffiti walls) as a big reason for the upsurge in traffic at the Pits — and for the lack of respect for other peoples’ work. With the popularity of the Net and sites like MySpace, more people see graffiti photographed at the picturesque Pits every day. Their stature grows. More and more wannabe writers come for a day at the beach, to shop and gawk at the crazies on the boardwalk, and to get up at the Pits. So what if their masterpieces are immediately gone over? They use cell phones or digicams to photograph them first — on the same walls that graff art legends like Dytch and the CBS Crew have written. Then they upload the photos to the Net where they’re forever immortalized.

Drop by the Pits on a weekend day and you’re likely to find amateurish writers waiting in line to share their amateurish “work” with the world. It wouldn’t bother me if it weren’t at the expense of large, well-thought-out-and-executed productions by writers who’ve honed their skills for years. I’m surprised the newbies have the nerve. The good news? The bad work is never up for long…


Underground Diaries
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