The Street Art of War

From Graffiti To Muralists, Two Artists Explain What The Scene Is All About

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The Street Art of War

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The first drawings on walls date back as far as 64,000 years ago by the cavemen. It was a red hand stencil by the Neanderthals in a cave in Cáceres, Spain. Simple depictions of the wildlife that roamed the lands way back when soon followed. Images of bison, rhinoceros, and bulls littered many a cave the primitive man once called “home.”

Graffito continued in the centuries following with the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians to the names and poetry written on the streets, in protest, of the ancient Greeks and Roman Empire respectively.

While the debate whether graffiti, from the Italian word “graffiato meaning scratched, is considered an art or vandalism rages on today as society has begun accepting the former. Work from famous graffiti artists such as Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and more have had entire exhibitions dedicated to them by various museums. The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art to name a few. Graffiti, while proponents are technically considered vandalism, is now widely accepted as art.

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The more contemporary graffiti writing that is synonymous with the art style today originated from Philadephia, Pennsylvania in the 1960s and quickly migrated up north to New York by the 70s.

“I loved watching the art on and as the trains went by and on the handball courts in Astoria growing up,” said Anthony Roveto, a 46-year-old construction foreman and longtime graffiti artist from Queens.

Roveto, better known by his tag name “Merk,” began his foray with street art back in 1985. “Merk” already knew some friends and people in the game so it was only a matter of time until he joined himself. During his initial years as a graffiti artist, “Merk” would follow and tag, figuratively and literally, along with his mentors and would learn one of the biggest rules of creating graffiti.

“It is always good to have someone with you whenever you are about to do graffiti. They have my back and I, theirs,” said Roveto. Today, “Merk” is the mentor and has his mentee’s accompanying him during his latest pieces.

“Merk” working on a multi-burner piece in Queens, New York.

“Merk’s” specialty is these exuberant multiple colored and layered pieces known as multi-burners or wild style. In fact, these multi-burner pieces that decorate many a railroad cart and walls account for the majority of post on his Instagram account, remerkable1985.

And multi-burners are not pieces that can be completed in a matter of minutes, unlike the more well-known graffiti bubble letters.
 
“Typically, a multi-burner takes anywhere from four to five hours to do,” added Roveto while rattling his red aerosol spray paint can with his right hand. “Merk’s” hand stained by an assortment of different colors one would think his hand was a palette used for painting.
 
And in a way, it was.
 
Majority of that time is used perfecting his multi-burners. As an older graffiti artist in the scene, every piece is seen as an opportunity.

“You want to prove it to yourself and the scene that you are still good at this. Every piece is an ability to do better,” said Roveto wiping the sweat off his forehead with his hoodie. He was on hour three of his latest multi-burner piece.

Today, “Merk” is as active in the community after a ten-year hiatus from tagging to start a family. Which he did, but returning was always on his mind.

“What they never mention about this life is how hard it is to leave it. Especially when you get older,” uttered Roveto.

Who knows, maybe his 16-year-old son, Sal, or 14-year old daughter, Sabrina, will join him and follow in their father’s footsteps. Or rather, handprints…

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A mural can be defined as a painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall. The origins, just like that of graffiti, can also be traced back to the cavemen. Modern mural art did not come about until the 1920s with the Mexican muralism art movement from the likes of Diego Rivera and others. Which was also used in protest of the government following the Mexican Revolution.

“I have been painting murals now for over half my life. Fifteen years easy I would say with the last ten being commissioned to do so,” said Scott Bradley Ferguson, a 32-year-old muralist from Denver.

Ferguson’s fixation with all things art began since he was a little boy. A rebellious one at that. As a kid, Ferguson quickly saw through all the fakeness that comes with life. The “matrix” as he referred to it. He would play video games and draw as his escape from reality.

It was not until high school where Ferguson saw art as not just a hobby, but a possible career. In a government class, no less.

Scott Bradley Ferguson working on the early stages of a mural

“There was a kid in class sketching on his black book. I asked him if I could take a look and shortly after he began sharing his tips and secrets with me. He must have trusted me,” said Ferguson.

Each mural for Ferguson presents a new challenge. After receiving an offer, Ferguson takes time scoping out his “canvas” to get a sense of what direction to go with his mural. Unless he is specifically asked to draw something. On average, Ferguson is commissioned a “couple thousand”  per mural with the cost of paint and supplies being covered. Most of the time.

Along with creating murals in Colorado and New York, Ferguson has also taken his talents to “The Golden State.” San Francisco and Los Angeles to be exact, where Ferguson spent some time living in both in the early 2000s. He noted that the graffiti scene, in San Fransico especially, was “amazing”.

Scott Bradley Ferguson resides in Queens, New York today. Eagerly awaiting his next wall to call his own.  He is currently working on a mural in Williamsburg for Vegan restaurant the Loving Hut. Maybe one can catch him at work, with his dirty blonde hair and beard that make him resemble Jesus Christ, as the mural will not be completed until later this year.

Interested in more of Ferguson’s work? Check out his Instagram page “scottbradleyferguson” or website https://cargocollective.com/scottferguson for more.

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To those who still view graffiti, murals, or any other form of street art as vandalism, take heed of these words from “Merk” and Ferguson:

“Graffiti started as vandalism. Some are and some are art. Not everyone can draw and create graffiti so naturally what one can’t do intimidates them. Hence the outcry for it being vandalism,” said Roveto.

“I mean what is art at the end of the day? That is subjective to the viewer. Anyone can make a choice to do anything and we all know that making this choice comes with it being illegal to a certain degree,” added Ferguson. “So to anyone or group of people that try to definitively tell you that it is not art, (expletive) all that noise.”