Spraying Chicago: A Tale of Two Walls

Written by Mike Cazares

Throughout the city’s history, Chicago has been marked by the North v. South side divide. From Al Capone’s gang (south) vs. Dean O’Banion’s (north) to the Cubs (north) and Sox (south), Chicago is known for its northern (upper-middle class) and southern (middle and lower class) rivalry. Within this divide, Chicago is composed by neighborhoods.  Just as New York has its boroughs, Chicago has its neighborhoods, 77 to be exact.

Art by @motick // Photo by @mickcaz73

Crews come together from Chicago’s colorful and vibrant ethnic neighborhoods. A crew is started by like-minded individuals who share the same goal, to paint the city. New graffiti artists benefit from joining a crew for the camaraderie, learning different styles and techniques.

Crews come together from Chicago’s colorful and vibrant ethnic neighborhoods. A crew is started by like-minded individuals who share the same goal, to paint the city. New graffiti artists benefit from joining a crew for the camaraderie, learning different styles and techniques.

Despite a law rendering it illegal to sell spray paint in Chicago (city ordinance 4-4-335) coupled with a lack of funding toward art programs, Chicago has put up beautiful graffiti permission walls. I asked two curators from Chicago’s best known permission walls a few questions.

Art by @gapeone // Photo by @mickcaz73

In 2010, Project Logan was created in Chicago’s Logan Square on the north side. I sat down with Flash, curator and founder of Project Logan, from ABC Crew. Flash has been in the Chicago graffiti scene for over 25 years and has been responsible for bringing artists from all over the city for productions on the Project Logan walls.

How long have you been a graffiti writer and with which crews?

I was given the name Flash because of a camera I had. I started doing graffiti in 1982, but I was arrested and left in 1987. I am a member of ABC crew. In 2003 I started working with other artists to organize walls and graffiti driven events.

 

What influence or contributions have these walls made to the neighborhood?

One must understand the neighborhood in which the walls are located. In 1993, the city of Chicago started a ban on spray paint.  By 2003 everything and anything associated with graffiti had been white washed. Any talk of graffiti driven murals was discouraged.

I came back and I saw a huge void in my own neighborhood. I returned to a lot of negativity, people telling me this art form belonged to the south side, and community non-profits closing the door.  There was a real effort to discourage painting anywhere in Logan Square.  It was only when I started collaborating with Anysquare, that I started to receive the support I was looking for.  [According to their site, “Anysquare is a volunteer collaborative and artists network whose mission is to support, produce, and promote collaborative projects.”] I want to decriminalize graffiti and destroy the notion that it’s not an art form.

Today Project Logan is the only rotating wall on the north side of Chicago, with seven panels for crews to rotate bi-monthly. We feel that this wall is a tribute to something started long ago and hope that generations will continue to paint long after the walls are not there.

Art by @flash_abc // Photo by @mickcaz73

Have you seen a change in attitudes toward graffiti since you started?

We started to change the face of the neighborhood for the better. Logan Square has changed dramatically. The neighborhood understands what we are doing. We took a dark corner of the city and awoke it for all to enjoy and learn from.

 

What influence has Project Logan had on the younger generation of artists?

The wall is a positive opportunity of an artist that wants to succeed.  It teaches fundamentals, from planning the wall to painting it and documenting it when they are done.  The hardest part for any graffiti artist is to see their name or work come down. All artists that paint on the wall agree to the terms and understand it will come down, which helps them grow as an artist.

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Brighton Park has a mix of independently owned shops and industrial areas, which have helped graffiti stay alive. Many of the businesses offer commission or give permission walls to graffiti artists and crews to paint in hopes it keeps the gang graffiti off the walls and out of the neighborhoods.

Moving from the north side of Chicago to the south side, we arrive in the neighborhood of Brighton Park, a primarily Mexican neighborhood.  Brighton Park has a mix of independently owned shops and industrial areas, which have helped graffiti stay alive. Many of the businesses offer commission or give permission walls to graffiti artists and crews to paint in hopes it keeps the gang graffiti off the walls and out of the neighborhoods. Much of this has been facilitated by CMK curator, Obe.

Art by @theaircrew @stuk.one @mr_rusto // Photo by @mickcaz73

How long have you been doing graffiti and with which crews?

I’ve been doing graffiti for 18 years. I’ve been in IWM Crew, IW, and CMK. My roll in CMK stared out as a street soldier, who would cover the city with our crew’s letters. As years passed I became a well-respected member who would produce legal and illegal graffiti. I later evolved into a well-organized writer who would host events at one of our best known walls, Crawford Steel and invited the best writers to paint Meeting of Styles for over ten years.

 

How did CMK crew from and when did the CMK walls start?

I’m 3rd generation CMK. My understanding is the crew formed from 28 Nation which started on 28th street in Bridgeport. ANGER started Crown Me King (CMK) with the idea to be one of the most and ambitious graffiti crews in Chicago.

The walls were started sometime in the 1980’s by Dzine of Aerosoul.  They were just around Crawford Steel but now they have expanded across the street and down the block.

Art by @earth_crusher // Photo by @mickcaz73

Do you know which countries have been represented on the walls?

France, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Canada, Japan, and Great Britain.

Art by @cujodah // Photo by @mickcaz73

Have you noticed a change in graffiti today from when the walls started?

As far as the early 2000’s until now, they definitely have changed.  There’s more respect at the walls, better plans, and productions, bigger events and the reputation of the wall has exploded throughout the world and internet.

 

What are the future plans for the CMK walls?

The walls from now to the future shall always be painted with respect, style, and creativity from all types of artists, not only graffiti.  We like to see people express themselves and we will continue to host events year after year.

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These walls of Project Logan and CMK are preserving graffiti history and culture. They help bring beauty and a positive message to neighborhoods suffering from crime and poverty. Many neighborhoods are seeing the benefits of using graffiti to adorn their businesses in the community and have now commissioned or given permission to graffiti artists to paint. It is critical that we preserve these locations for future generations of artists to grow and for communities to prosper.

Art by @burn.365 // Photo by @mickcaz73