Leaving His Mark | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Leaving His Mark 

Blake Donner's love of zines and graffiti gets a second life

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Most people experience trains in the audible sense, as a late-night bellow from a horn. Or visibly, from a car window along the highway, as a blur of steel, diesel exhaust and splashes of colorful spray paint.

Close-up views of these hunks of steel sometimes reveal subtle chalk drawings,which captured the imagination of the late Blake Donner. Between 1998 and 2003, he published eight zines documenting various forms of old-school train graffiti.

Donner, who died in 2005 with three of his friends in a cave-swimming accident in Provo Canyon, and his zines, are in the spotlight now because of a new book, The Fifth Goal 1998-2003: Transcendental Graffiti Zine.

To this day, the eight black & white photocopied issues Donner produced using a cut & paste system are among the most expansive archives of this style of train graffiti, says Travis Low, a bookseller at Ken Sanders Rare Books whose Hierophant publishing house co-published The Fifth Goal.

"As far as I can tell, there's not another zine completely focused on this type of graffiti," Low says. "There's not another zine that found this many guys and interviewed this many guys from the graffiti scene."

Low and Donner met in their teens. Among other endeavors, the two performed music together, with Donner as the singer and Low on bass in the hardcore-punk band Parallax.

The Fifth Goal zines, Low says, tracked closely with Donner's spiritual journey and the impossibly full life that he lived before dying at 24. Low says the first four zines, which each numbered 30 pages or more, were heavily dosed with Donner's interest in the Hare Krishna religion. Low says Donner dedicated himself completely to the religion, living for a time as a monk in Krishna temples in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Eventually, though, Donner grew disenchanted with the religion, and the following four zines shed that influence, and started focusing almost entirely on graffiti. Also gone, Low says, were any attempts to document spray-paint graffiti, which Donner was adept at creating.

The final installments of the zine "pares its focus down completely," Low says. "All of the spray-paint graffiti is gone, and it just focuses on these old chalk monikers, chalk-drawn icons by hobos, by train workers, by just people traveling."

Some of the photographs in Donner's zines, Low says, were provided by the documentary filmmaker and photographer Bill Daniel, whose 2005 film Who Is Bozo Texino shed light on the same vagabond and rail-worker graffiti that Donner was interested in.

The style of graffiti documented in The Fifth Goal is stark and simple. The monikers, symbols and drawings are a distant cousin of the flamboyant and bright spray-paint graffiti of today.

Donner's Fifth Goal zines featured much more than just photographs. He also tracked down many vagabond and rail-worker artists, and published stories and Q&As about them.

The long reach of Donner's zines and his magnetic personality ultimately led to the concept for the new book. Low says it came together in 2012 at a book conference in Colorado, where he met Adam Davis, a Portland, Ore.-based bookseller.

"As soon as he found out that I was from Salt Lake City, he asked me, 'Oh, there's this amazing zine that came out of Salt Lake City, The Fifth Goal, have you heard of it?'" Low recalls. "He used to ask everybody this question if they were from Utah or if they were involved in graffiti at all, and he never found anybody until he asked me that day."

That same night, Low says he and Davis decided to make the book.

In addition to complete reproductions of all eight of The Fifth Goal zines, the new book includes essays from, among others, Donner's mother, Laura Hamblin, who teaches English at Utah Valley University, as well as Low and Davis.

All of the proceeds from the book's sale will benefit the Donner/Galbraith Scholarship Fund at Utah Valley University, where Donner and his friend Jen Galbraith were going to school when they died.

The book, like the type of graffiti it documents, is disappearing quickly. The first run of 250 copies sold out during presale. Low says a second printing of 250 will ship in early February. More information is available at DivisionLeap.com.

"It's both a tribute to my friend and it's a cool anthology collection of the zine," Low says.

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