Chew | Buzz Blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Posted By on March 18, 2009, 9:06 AM

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Local graffiti often gets a bad rap, with a good portion of it being gang signs or random artistic destruction. But the majority of it around SLC is actual artwork.

--- Beyond the Trax lines and randomly tagged spots can be found a slew of legal graff walls, featuring works from some of the most talented artists we have here in Utah. I got a chance to chat with one local graff artist “Chew” about getting into graffiti as well as his work and designs, thoughts on graff art as a whole, our art scene and a few other topics that came up.


Gavin: Hey Chew! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Chew: I'm a 32 year old business owner/graff artist and father of two daughters. As far as my "graff career", I am fortunate to be in the position to be able to actually do graff-influenced murals and get paid for it.

Gavin: What first got you into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Chew: I got into art when I was two years old or even younger. Basically I've always drawn and done things with art. My earliest inspirations were probably TV, cartoons and newspaper comic strips.

Gavin: How did you get drawn toward Graffiti and how did you first get involved with it?

Chew: I was first drawn to graff in seventh grade. I think I was 12. I remember seeing a special about graff on PM Magazine UTAH and it intrigued me. Also I remember seeing a few tags (as well as some gang writing and punk rock tags) around bus stops and the areas where kids skateboarded. The way I first got involved was that a group of my buddies, all fellow artists, and I started writing names on paper and tagging desks, lockers and bus stops. We were drawing more "hip-hop" and "gangster" influenced type art. We weren't gangsters, but were well aware of the current trend. So we started writing on stuff as a joke originally-to make fun of gangsters and just to say "Fuck You." to the world really. It all started out rather primitively, and like wildfire, spread and grew. Within a year, I had discovered two books, called Spray Can Art and Subway Art, which influenced me to expand onto the bigger picture of graff beyond vandalism. Around that time we also began to develop "crews". The first real crew I was in was SADK, which was before I was 16.

Gavin: What were some of your first pieces like?

Chew: Although I was an artist prior to any exposure to graff, my very first pieces and characters were very basic. They were painted with "dollar cans" from Wal-mart. (I still use some of the same paint today.) They were done at night on the back of a building or under the freeway somewhere. It was all new to me then, with no method to our madness.

Gavin: In your experience, is there any real way to learn Graff, or is it more trial and error?

Chew: The only real way to learn graff is to start from the bottom, and that means actually doing it. It can't be taught accurately without actually experiencing it. You can study it, be a fan of it, follow it, document it, but to be a graff artist you've got to do it and actually participate in true graffiti to be it. And to be good at it, you have to do it for a long time. So I guess you could call it trial and error.

Gavin: When you create pieces, do you put them on paper first or do you work from vision in your mind?

Chew: On a more complex mural I do work from references, thumbnail sketches, etc. But I never complete the work on paper, only to duplicate it on the wall. When I paint actual pieces, it's a flow, and I see more as I go. I do have a general idea of what the finished product will be based on colors I have available, where I'm painting, who I'm painting for and/or with, time limits, weather, police, etc. This art form is affected by its environment a lot. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't.

Gavin: How do you decide where to create a piece and how it will look on that particular site?

Chew: Now days, being a seasoned graff artist with many responsibilities, most of my pieces stay on a select few "legal walls" that I'm able to paint when I want. If it's a mural job or an out of state project, I decide where and when based on the job. I also decide how it will look based on each job and how much I'm being paid and how much the subject matter interests me. If I get to paint what I want and where I want, I'd say that the finished product will naturally turn out better.

Gavin: Do you get hassled by the police for your work, or do you tend to stay on good terms with them?

Chew: At the present time no, I never get hassled by the police. If anything, when they see me painting, a lot of them will compliment me on my work. In the past, even when I was painting a legal wall, most of the police were so ignorant about what we were doing that they would harass us and even rough us up a little. This was because of their prejudiced attitude of us using spray paint and painting graff style on walls that we had permission to paint on. But now I'm on good terms with them.

Gavin: What are your thoughts on Graffiti as a whole in Utah, both good and bad?

Chew: Wow! My thoughts on graff as a whole... the good- I've always thought that graffiti is a good way to decorate the city. It's pretty and often rather advanced now. Graffiti influences many different forms of art, murals, advertising, etc. In Utah, it's cool because graff kind of spices it up a bit. It gives me something to look at when I drive around. And the bad-Vandalism clean up costs money and there are better things we could be spending money on. Graffiti can influence any idiot to destroy and ruin property. It's definitely not always beautiful.

Gavin: Does it ever frustrate you that its not really recognized as a major art form here, or do you enjoy that underground status?

Chew: It's frustrating that it doesn't get the respect here that a major art form would get. But it is nice to have the underground rawness and realness in graff as an art form. Challenge is good.

Gavin: Do you ever look over other Graff around the city for what others are doing or do you concentrate more on your own pieces?

Chew: Yes, I constantly look for new graff as I'm driving. I love to look at other graff and see what others are doing. Seeing what the younger generation is pulling off makes me excited and motivates me to try harder when I paint.

Gavin: You've done some work on the old 337 Wall downtown. How did you get involved with that?

Chew: Yes, I did have a couple of pieces on the 337 project before they tore it down. Even now there is a small back wall there and I've got a piece that I just did with my friend, Guts, who is also the one who hooked me up with a place to paint on the original project.

Gavin: Do you do commissioned work for people? And if so, what's the process like?

Chew: I often do commissioned work now. The process is that people want a mural, canvas, graffiti design, etc. I've been doing this a while, so a lot of people are referred to me. I also get referrals from other jobs. I have several works, in Utah and Wyoming mostly. I bid the jobs, get hold of the money up front to cover the cost of supplies, etc. Then I spend all of my free time from my full time job completing the commissioned job. Then most of my clients are so pleased that they pay me what we agreed and give me a huge tip to show their appreciation!

Gavin: What do you recommend for people looking to get into doing Graff?

Chew: I recommend to either doing it and doing it right or just being an artist. Regular artists tend to be better rounded and have fewer limitations. Also, graffiti is illegal.

Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on our local art scene, both good and bad?

Chew: Our art scene is cool I guess. There are some galleries, festivals and events, some graffiti and other stuff going on here too. There are many amazing artists from Utah and quite a handful of graff artists here too. But the thing about this art scene is that people could step it up a little more. They could push harder to be better or produce more. It's still small here. As we grow, our art should continue to improve.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?

Chew: We can all just do our thing and focus on our own production level and it will be bigger and better.

Gavin: What can we expect from you the rest of the year?

Chew: You can expect me to be involved with a few local art shows. Also, I'll be completing a few jobs in Salt Lake and in other cities too. I'm going to do a little traveling. You can expect to see all of the main legal walls here with big Chew pieces on them. You never know, there may be a few surprises this year as well.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Chew: Well naturally I'd like to promote my own family business, Mark's Ark, Inc., which is the pet store located at 4875 So. Redwood Rd. in Taylorsville, Utah. We specialize in exotic reptiles, amphibians, arachnids (yeah, spiders), and fish. It's an awesome place. I'll save the rest for another interview. For all of you "big mural lovers", you should to to Mark's Ark to check out the always changing mural work going on the side of the building.

On Topic...

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