Behind the Google building in Venice, California, last Saturday, April 21, a celebration of paint, color, and style occurred pushed by DJ OG Huskie’s spinning disks. The celebration is a collaboration between a Southern California based graffiti crew called Setting The Pace and the internet conglomerate known as Google for the STP Foundation’s ‘Our History: Celebrating Four Decades of Los Angeles Graffiti.’
Through it, all walks STP’s Executive Director, Bruno Hernandez. He is a soft-spoken man with a goal to bring together artists from different generations in a display of unity and good spirit.
According to www.stpla.org, “The Setting The Pace Foundation is a group of creative and collective artists from different industries.”
Bruno started his infamous graffiti crew 31 years ago as a dusty teen making his way across Los Angeles and the surrounding areas via the now defunct, Rapid Transit District buses. Every Sunday, Bruno planted seeds of greatness deep in the fertile soil of Sherman Oaks Park. Those seeds took root in the minds of the illustrious cast of savage vandals whose numbers quickly grew.
In the early 90s, the graffiti scene changed and took a violent turn as ‘tag-banging’ became the norm. Setting the Pace Crew stood as a fortified resistance to these new influences. Despite enduring deadly beef, along with life-changing altercations, Bruno and his STP Crew emerged as one of the top-notch graffiti art organizations in Los Angeles.
To protect the innocent, those who were creating art then and are still around today are known as the teachers and those who are new to the graffiti scene, after the year 2000, will be called students.
“Truthfully, STP Is family first. So, I was just there to support, represent and embrace everything we stand for,” said one student artist from the 2010s.
STP’s influence on the street art scene is made apparent by the turnout of highly talented artists from various crews around Southern California to show their well-earned skills in a public art showcase. Together, the younger ‘student’ artist get up next to the ‘teacher’ artists, whose careers stretched back past four decades, and in some cases served as actual mentors to those younger generations of artists and writers.
Although this installation was designed to be temporary, the vinyl sheets that made for the black canvas are inexpensive, removable and reusable. Bruno and the STP Foundation hopes that it goes out as a message that artists can be rallied, in peace, to create clean, beautiful artwork that everyone in the city can appreciate.
Everyone in the community came out in peace, with no incidences. Industry vets shared the yard with newer artists who all expressed appreciation for the historic relevance that the moment meant for them. Venice residence as well as tourists passed through, talked with artists, ate food from the Taco Vato Food Truck and watched the artists create their latest piece.
“That event [Our History: Celebrating Four Decades of Los Angeles Graffiti], wasn’t just about painting like it’s an ordinary day,” added a student artist. “For me, it was a to celebrate STP teaming up with Google to create a public space for us to create. For everyone else, it was a day to show four decades of graffiti history and thirty years of evolution. You may not realize it from an outsider’s point of view, but there was a lot of history in the air.”
There is one thing that always shines through, unique skill. The well-balanced color choices of one of the student’s pastel blue and lavender piece with its sweeping curves that end in short spiral curls stood as a striking contrast to the crisp lines and styles of the teachers on the other side of the yard. The stylings of the two groups of artists could be plainly seen, as one side attempts to break from tradition and express their art form through broken and expanded shapes, while the teachers stayed true to classic geometry and crisp edges.
The only break from this form was the two competing skulls. The teacher’s skull possessed all the classic elements of a 3D character fading into the darkness with grimacing highlights that through color, allowing for the veteran artist true control of the light. The student artist, whose skull was also very intricate stayed colorful, abstracting the skull and its aspects ending in a more vibrant and lively display that lacked the dark emotion of the teacher’s.
It is in these moments when the earned experience of the teacher and learned understanding of how to skillfully apply the medium comes into play.
In the buildup of the artwork, the teachers can be seen laying full backgrounds as a classical painter would before painting his subject on top of the background layer. Other teachers use all the layers, including the stripped buff paint pattern made by the nylon canvas being pressed against the fence by the rolling paint brush. While most artists, both student, and teacher alike, shunned this pattern painting over it in solid tones, one teacher used the pattern as part of the color scheme inside his fill in.
The students, who all started later than the teachers, skipped these steps, preferring to attack the background as an afterthought and not in combination with the subject matter of their piece. This resulted in flatter artwork. This difference in the way these two groups attack their finished artwork can be generally explained by the understanding of paint quality over the years. The teachers did not have the access to the quality or array of paints that the students have. The teachers, especially the 80s artists came up during a time where there weren’t specific “graffiti” brands that specialized in coating color with one coat, so layering and working with the environment became more important. This environment was savage and bringing your art to the wall was a statement of pride and earned the artist respect. Your art had to be crisp or it meant danger.
However, one way the student artist gained the upper hand is when one compares lettering styles. Each teacher has a known style that has been around for 20 plus years, while the students all strive to break that classic mold in some way. Nontraditional colors, lines, and blends all push each artist’s piece forward in new and unique ways. The lack of application techniques will always haunt the younger artist, but each writer there realized that just by being included in this historic event, meant that one day, the youngest writer will be moved to the veteran side and a new generation of artists will attempt to break all the conventions that their experiences will teach them.
In today’s Instagram painting video age, having to brave danger to learn the skill is not necessary. This fundamental difference is what the moral of this graffiti story is. It is the classic approach versus the progressive approach. Where today markers are sold in a rainbow of colors, the teachers had to bust open markers, exchange ink and reassemble the marker to get new colors and variety. And since there was no internet, they had to figure out the colors on their own.
When you saw the classic artists bailing down the street, fingers inky, paint on his sleeves and shoes, backpack empty save little black book of styles, you knew that he had been putting in work. You didn’t even have to ask. You saw his tag on the cover of his book that showed style. No Instagram pages to remember his work, they carried around actual photos or the clips from the newspaper that showed their landmarks.
What of the new school artist? Well, they will have to show why they deserve the honor of being remembered, just as the veteran artists already have. At the ‘Our History: Celebrating Four Decades of Los Angeles Graffiti’ event, the strongest of the newest generations stood up next to the strongest of the older generations in an act of peace and goodwill. Each artist possessing both talents as well as dedication to the art of graffiti painting.
Just as it did this weekend, those who honed their abilities will rise to the top and become a legend and those that do not will sink to become the forgotten. No writer wants to be the one that no one has ever heard of, so each pushes themselves to create better than the last piece.
The final quote of the student artist, from the youngest group, sums up the vibe of the day, “Being surrounded by the best of the best is not only inspiring to me but will inspire many generations of younger artists to come.”
This statement was made apparent by the scores of younger writers who all came to show love to the legends like Hex, Flex, Gas and legendary crews like UTI and OTR. This showing of style, culture, and love is the vision of Bruno, and his Setting the Pace Crew.
For more information on the Setting the Pace Crew or the STP Foundation, go to www.stpla.org.
Reon One and various members of the Setting the Pace Crew contributed to this article.