For Graffiti Artists the Writing’s on the Wall

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Text: Denise Nelson Prieto

 Graffiti art is one of the most misunderstood art forms, at a historic and chaotic crossroads between culture and crime. Throughout the city we see evidence the medium is alive and well, and the weekend of October 7th will mark the 7th annual celebration of graffiti culture.

The Borderland Jam encompasses an entire city block at the quadrant of Coles, Third, South Cotton and Fourth streets, adjacent to the Frontier Foods building. The event is an effort to showcase the immense talent and creativity of graffiti writers from around the globe.

“We’re mainly trying to bring established graffiti writers from other cities, and even other countries,” said Myker Yrrobaldi, one of Borderland Jam’s organizers and accomplished graffiti and tattoo artist.

Although he said the inception of the Jam happened in 2010, grafittiing that area dates back to the 90s. The Jam’s progenitor occurred at the abandoned grain silos next to the El Paso Rescue Mission.

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For Yrrobaldi, the act of graffiti is as important as the end product. “It’s raw expression . . . and much different than the art you see in books and galleries,” he said. “We know it’s a subculture, it’s not for everybody, and we embrace it.” He also acknowledged the stereotypical “illegal” aspect associated with the art, although the Borderland Jam is a sanctioned event and on the up and up.

Like many writers, Yrrobaldi views graffiti writing as a visceral experience that can’t be executed on a neat, clean canvas. The art form is a reflection of true, unrefined and at times crude introspection and expression.

He, along with fellow writer, local hip-hop artist Zyme One, noted for many, part of the allure of the art form indeed lies in its less than legal associations. In fact many local billboard and freeway overpass signs have been adorned with images by taggers. As Yrrobaldi pointed out, most likely there was a certain amount of leg work that went into it.

Additionally, the tag itself should not be dismissed as mere scribble. Zyme One recognized the creative nature of tagging. “I can’t downplay tagging at all,” he said. “I’ve seen tags that look like calligraphy.”

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The span of the curated walls near the Frontier Foods building stretches over an entire city block, and Yrrobaldi estimates the length at about a mile. The sheer size of the event rivals any public art display, including Chalk the Block, which in terms of numbers,touts itself as the area’s largest public art show.

Thus far, the Jam has remained a true DIY project, with expenses covered by the artists themselves. Yrrobaldi said they’ve shied away from major sponsorship, mainly as a way to remain autonomous in their creativity and to stay true to the message behind the movement.

He noted the expense of gathering supplies and securing lifts and scaffolding rack up a lot of money, well into the thousands. That hasn’t seemed to stop anywhere from 150 to 250 graffiti artists from around the world from flocking to the jam. “We do it for the love of it, the props and the recognition [by other artists], more than in the hopes of getting money for it,” he said. He did mention however it would be nice that if the people who’ve used the site’s images as backdrop in the countless photos he’s seen would give a shout out to the artists.

At its heart, graffiti, like all art, is a form of self-expression. It demands to be recognized and literally shouts at you “here I am” with its bold, in-your-face design, elaborate lettering and rich color schemes. Take a cruise to the graffiti district in Segundo Barrio and you’ll notice hundreds of unique pieces which range from dazzling displays of the various writers’ tags, to bold and intricate depictions of personal, political and social commentary.

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The “Derailed Thoughts” exhibit opens October 7th at Fab Lab, 601 N. Oregon. It compliments the Borderland Jam as it showcases model freight cars adorned with graffiti. Hosted by Albuquerque t-shirt Hometown Heroez, the event usually takes place there. The exhibit aims to highlight the culture that’s sprung from painting on railroad cars.

Zyme One is capitalizing on the exhibit. He’ll have some model trains he picked up at the flea market for sale, along with other merchandise that sports his signature “Cholo Monkey” design. “It’s not a monkey anymore; it’s a ‘monzeey,’” he revealed “That’s an anagram of Zyme One.”

The artist has been a fixture at the Borderland Jam and is part of the graffiti crew TNR, which he says stands for “The Nation’s Roughest” or “The Next Revolution.”

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Like Yrrobaldi, he forayed into the realm of graffiti writing as a teenager through tagging. “I started off tagging, but like a lot of writers, I evolved,” he said. “I got into piecing, which is just a bigger tag, but more elaborate; there’s more time to it and more creativity.”

Graffiti no longer sports the stigma of a purely subversive art form, and has even made it’s way into pop culture, much to the chagrin of artists like Zyme One. “Nobody cared about graffiti until it became lucrative,” he said, alluding to the Sprite commercial that depicts the logo in graffiti.

The public is invited to a rare glimpse into the art and creative process of some of the most talented graffiti writers at the Borderland Jam.

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