This weekend, graffiti crews armed with scaffolding, aerosol cans and colorful nicknames will roll into Indy for the 11th annual SubSurface paint jam. It's an event that attracts top-caliber talent from across the country and showcases an art form that's bold, entertaining and many times misunderstood.
In the words of local organizer 6Cents, participants are looking to further embed their "tentacles" into the Fountain Square area, where their work has, in most cases, received positive feedback in recent years. Seven large walls were "subsurfaced" there last year. All seven have been approved by building owners for new paint in 2013, and five new walls have been added to the mix.
The first two SubSurface events were held in 2002 and 2003 in Broad Ripple, but by 2004, a newly-elected village association declined to host future events. Ironically, much of the artwork from that earlier period still decorates Broad Ripple walls.
Next stop was the American Tent and Awning building on South Palmer Street, a near-southside abandoned warehouse known for years as a "free wall" location where painting was allowed. For the next seven years, every Labor Day weekend, SubSurface writers met there to turn out large, colorful and innovative artwork that, for the most part, no one saw.
"SubSurface consistently produces some of the highest level of true mural art in the city, that is, fine art on a larger than life canvas," says Shannon Wilson of BRIDGE Collective, an organization dedicated to promoting local artists. "However, Palmer Street is not easily digestible for some people. It was not the location in which to move SubSurface to the next level. To me, the next level, involves getting the work in places where it will be seen and appreciated by more people. Artwork on this scale can create a very inspirational backdrop to the daily life of a neighborhood."
Another problem with the Palmer Street location is its reputation for being available to all comers. It's a living canvas that changes week to week. Murals are covered by lesser quality work, that lesser-quality work by tags, then those tags by other tags. It's big, bright and raw.
For its 10th anniversary in 2012, the group hoped to move their event back to Broad Ripple. But finding the village's leadership still largely unreceptive, SubSurface teamed with Wilson and Mike Graves (the other half of BRIDGE Collective) to move the event to BRIDGE's own neighborhood of Fountain Square.
Wilson then set out on a task of securing legal walls by contacting property owners and issuing follow-up emails. Her serene, non-threatening manner helped open doors and dispel misconceptions about graffiti artists. Many SubSurface attendees are award winning commercial artists, gallery exhibitors and product designers who feel their works can enrich a neighborhood.
And while Fountain Square is as much a destination for property destructive tagging as any other urban neighborhood, SubSurface murals have remained unspoiled. "No walls from last year's event have been tagged or painted on," Shannon said. "We feel this is out of respect for the quality of the art itself."
Jeanette and Taki Sawi, owners of Santorini's Greek Kitchen, are enthusiastic supporters. "They are extremely talented," Jeanette said. "The professionalism of the art makes the alleys along Prospect Street more inviting and less attractive for the local taggers."
Friday, Aug. 30
Post-Graffiti Abstracts closing reception and moderated discussion at Primary Gallery, 6-10 p.m.; featuring SubSurface artists from Chicago, Indianapolis and Northwest Indiana (also open Aug. 31, 1-4 p.m.)
Saturday, Aug. 31
Live painting in Fountain Square area throughout the day
SubSurface after-party at White Rabbit Cabaret, from 10 p.m. ($5, 21+); hosted by DJ Dicky Fox with TopSpeed, Echomaker, The Proforms and Hinx Jones
Sunday, Sept. 1
Followup live painting in Fountain Square area
Tuesday, Sept. 3
Midwest Graff, a showcase for Midwest graffiti artists, opens at IUPUI's Cultural Arts Gallery; featuring Tead, Wake Up, Sacred, 6Cents, Steph, Traz, Flex, Oms, Ish; up through Oct. 2
Saturday, Sept. 14
Scratching the SubSurface event, 1-4 p.m., offering neophytes an entree into the graffiti scene via discussions at IUPUI's Cultural Arts Gallery and a guided tour of walls painted during SubSurface
2013 Crews and Artists:
BrameUW, Indianapolis: NYC-raised writer featured in Graffiti Hall of Fame
Crazy In Style Artists, Northwest Indiana: Pioneers of graffiti from Chicago's old school
Deph, Los Angeles: Known for 3-D styles and and rich rendering techniques
Devious, Cincinnati: Painted the robot on back of the New Day Meadery building
DF Crew; NYC, Cincinnati, Denver: A highly influential, nation-spanning crew
FAB Crew/IWS, Indianapolis: Famous for colorful and whimsical murals
Metal Fingers: Closely associated with the freight graffiti movement
Momentum Art Tech, Chicago: Known for concept driven murals