Call 2015 a transition year for SubSurface.
The annual Labor Day weekend gathering of graffiti writers, now in its 13th year, is moving the paint schedule up, scaling back and sharpening its focus. The event will now take place on June 27-28, once again concentrating work in Fountain Square. Quality over quantity will be the target this time around. Adding new real estate is not the group's major priority.
"Scheduling paint over Labor Day weekend is something that plagued us every year" said Dan Thompson of Fab Crew, a SubSurface spokesman. Similar events, like Colorado Crush, were starting up and Mega-festival Paint Louis has traditionally run at the same time. "Guys that we'd call up would already be committed elsewhere months in advance. Not only were we splitting the talent, but it kept us from attending events that we wanted to go to ourselves."
Scaling back its size became another step the group felt necessary if it were to continue delivering strong work. As the number of painting spots grew each year, so did a need to police them. In 2014, admittedly a potential "free-for-all," not all of the art produced lived up to the group's standards. "It can take years to secure the properties and make the owners comfortable with what we're proposing," said Dan. "Then we contact artists that we want and match them up against the walls. Last year we had a few instances where some friend of a friend of a friend would show up, come across a blank wall and just start spray painting. Artists that hadn't been invited were painting walls that hadn't been secured. There's a lot of eyes on us. Everyone is watching. If a guy runs over a paint can somebody left in a parking lot, that's our fucking problem. In the eyes of many in the city, graffiti is reckless and has no artistic value. The goal of Subsurface is to present something more."
Another growing pain arose that the group hadn't anticipated. Securing additional wall space had become an ongoing quest as each year new "headline" artists were added to the growing list of veterans. It wasn't so much a problem of finding building owners that liked their idea — some ended up liking it too much.
In sitting down with Fountain Square property owners, SubSurface proposed that graphics would be painted over and changed each year during their annual gathering. This gave businesses a new look and locked in another space where artists could paint. Come paint season, more than a few of the owners didn't want to let go of the previous year's artwork. They wanted it to remain permanent. Some pieces, like the stylized robot behind New Day Meadery, have even been referred to as landmarks.
Subsurface Graffiti Expo 2014
Crews from across the Midwest spent Sept. 5-7 in Fountain Square, creating 12 new aerosol murals around the neighborhood as part of the Subsurface Graffiti Expo.
Changing dates and scaling down are steps the group thinks will serve them well in years to come. SubSurface doesn't look for this year's streamlined roster to be any less impressive. Amuse 126 will be the featured artist for 2015 painting the large wall behind White Rabbit where last year's Doctor Doom is currently portrayed. Accomplished street artist Reuben Aquirre from Chicago is coming. Metalfingers crew out of Cincinnati will be painting and Indianapolis-based Fab Crew/IWS will create two pieces, one in Fountain Square and one near the event's location of previous years on South Palmer Street. Additional talent are on call and a final lineup may not be known until days before the show. "We're in talks right now with a guy that does big monsters with tentacles growing out of their faces," added Dan.
Plans for 2016 are already under way and those plans will involve SubSurface moving into new territory. "For a change, businesses have been approaching us," said Fab Crew's Thompson. The old south side and Broad Ripple are both under consideration. Broad Ripple has a special appeal to the group because it was where Subsurface began 13 years ago.