Street art moves indoors

Painters bring West Coast graffiti-style art to The Warehouse Gallery.

As Jet Martinez worked 12-hour days on street art mural at The Warehouse Gallery, he heard talk about crime and graffiti.

“We heard a dialogue about bad and good graffiti artists—not a judgment about artists’ skill, but about criminals,” he said.

But Martinez and fellow artists Apex and Chor Boogie blast common misconceptions of street art. The California-based artists produced four floor-to-ceiling murals in less than three weeks for an exhibit called Colorfornia: New Forms In West Coast Street Art.

Photo: David Broda
Artists used spray and traditional paint for their contemporary art exhibit that is now on display at The Warehouse.

The attendees of Thursday’s opening ceremony, a total of 370 people, “were surprised about what could be done with street art,” Martinez said. In conjunction with National Hispanic Heritage Month, the exhibit is showing at The Warehouse, 350 W. Fayette St., through October 29.

Thanks to the vision of gallery curator Anja Chávez, the artists used spray and traditional paint to inject Syracuse with a contemporary art form that has taken the West Coast by storm. The sponsors, Tucker B. Culbertson and the Delavan Center Inc., provided housing and studio space. 

When she visited Syracuse three years ago, Chávez was “struck by all the great buildings and empty spaces.” She considered the city’s potential for vibrant street art.

“With some history of empty spaces, why doesn’t it happen here?” she said.

The community provided a warm reception, Martinez said. His Mexican folk art-inspired piece sparked conversations.

“A lot of Latin Americans showed their appreciation,” he said. “We were talking about Mexican visual culture—not about drug wars—and highlighted the positive part of the culture.”

Although Martinez missed his youngest child’s first birthday and first steps, and while

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials confiscated $400 worth of paint brushes, he said the project “really paid off.”

Each artist created the temporary murals on panels in off-site studios. Apex spray painted geometric shapes reminiscent of urban architecture and Boogie spray painted emotional abstracts delineated by bold figures. Martinez used traditional paints to expand a symmetrical scene one might expect on a small scale. All the works are vivid and the visitor may mistake their varied textures as tactile.

Local artist Oscar Garcés, whose first large-scale mural is displayed in the gallery’s street-facing window exhibit, received advice from the West Coast artists. They inspired him with recommendations, including inexpensive art supplies such as a fast-drying spray paint that Boogie suggested might enable work in inclement weather. 

“I told him to keep believing and don’t expect anything—I don’t expect anything—because if you do you will be let down,” Boogie said.

Both he and Martinez praised Garcés’ work and Chávez said his mural, “Transcendence,” is magnificent.

“I want to expand the arts, murals, basically anything artistic,” Garcés said. “I want to be part of it. I want to give some color to the city.”

Now back in California, the other artists hope to return. Boogie said the artists will assist the “need to expand horizons” in Syracuse. He hopes to work with Apex and Martinez on an outdoor mural, perhaps on the Warehouse.

But don’t ask him to come back in the winter.

“Summer is the only time I will visit New York,” Boogie said. “I’ve painted out east in winter … and your hands will stick to a can, and you have to keep the cans in hot water—I’ll never do it again.”

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