The Ghetto’s Art Gallery

As 2:00 a.m. approached, I sent my friend a message to make sure that our plans were still on for the night. While I waited for his response, I got my gear ready. I put on my black North Face and quietly packed Rustoleum cans in my backpack. Most of them were black and chrome, my favorite. I put two meanstreaks and a couple of fat-caps in my pocket when my phone vibrated. I saw my friend and his older brother parked in the alley with the lights off. Carefully, I opened my window, hoping that it wouldn’t make noise. I jumped out and left it ajar.

As I walked up to my friend and his brother, I could see the smiles that they held on their faces. I loved seeing the passion that they had for the art. We couldn’t spend a day without writing our graff names on something. Walls, rooftops, freight trains, windows, dumpsters, even stop signs. It was “everything goes” when it came to what we wrote our names on besides churches, schools, and privately owned property. We might be vandals, but we have our morals and limits.

We spent most of our summer break sketching in our black-books, critiquing each other, and listening to E.C. Illa or Typical Cats. I was still fairly new to the game at the time so I worked mostly on my handstyle and throwies while they worked on wild-styles and burners.

We drove along the Orange Line while we talked about some spots they knew about. These spots that they had carefully scoped out for a couple of days were visible from the Orange Line train. Some were rooftops, and some were backsides of buildings. Either way, I was eager to paint as it was my first time doing something that’d actually get some recognition. I was referred to as a toy, but we all have to start somewhere.

We pulled over on a sketchy residential street and parked. I was already anxious as it was, and the unfamiliar area didn’t help. I put my hood on, grabbed my backpack, and followed the crew. The lights shined a golden filter down the all-too-familiar Chicago alley: gang graffiti on the garages, broken glass on the rugged pavement, and a few dumpster rats, of course. Eventually, we walked up to the back of a tall building at the end of the alley. My friend handed over his backpack to me and scaled the dumpster that sat next to a window ledge. From the window ledge, he made his way up an unstable fire escape. We tossed our backpacks up to him and climbed up. At the top, I found that there were no walls. Instead, I came across rows of short banks that faced the train tracks behind us.

We were worry-free on the rooftop of the building. I could see the city’s beautiful skyline in the distance. The lights at the top of the Willis Tower glistened like stars. In the air, the aroma of the Backwood my friend had sparked pierced my nose. The shaking of spray cans interrupted the whistles of the Windy City and we got to painting.

The following morning, we jumped on the Orange Line on Pulaski heading towards the Loop. All along the rooftops were pieces of graffiti. It was like the South Side’s own ghetto art gallery. Most people on the train couldn’t care less about the pieces of vandalism that surrounded them. When our pieces came up, we gazed with pride, knowing that that was our own exhibit.

Meanstreak- A solidified paint stick marker.

Fat-cap- A spray can nozzle used for a wide coverage of paint.

Black-book- A graffiti artist’s sketchbook.

Handstyle- A graffiti writer’s unique style in his tag.

Throwie- A quick and relatively simple 3D piece of a graffiti artist’s name.

Wildstyle- A complex form of graffiti that consists of 3D letters, a variety of colors, and lots of detail.

Burner- A stylized graffiti piece of a graffiti writer’s name which can be said to be a simpler wildstyle.

Toy- An inexperienced graffiti artist who is new to the scene.

From the 826CHI Student Publication: A Flower Blooming in the Dark

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