Kathy Sue Traylor is the department secretary in the Communication Design Dept at Kutztown U. She doesn’t think of herself as an artist, but she loves to see creativity in bloom. She often pokes her head in the illustration studio to look over students’ shoulders. She always gushes over the artwork our students are creating.
Earlier this month Kathy Sue got to visit Ghent, Belgium. Her husband Bruce, who works for Mack Trucks, was sent to visit a Mack facility there. One evening walking down an alley, Bruce and Kathy Sue saw a young man in a hoodie spraying a graffiti mural on the wall.
Not being shy, Kathy Sue asked what was going on. The young man Matthew Dawn was wrapping up a graffiti workshop. He invited Kathy Sue to learn how to tag the wall with her name and initials. Seeing his paint-covered hands, she wasn’t sure this was a good idea. Matthew lent her latex gloves and persuaded her to give it a try. He asked her to write her name in pink to get the hang of the nozzle. Then he set her up to paint her tag a bold red K.T.
Kathy Sue tells us this was an experience she will never forget. She pointed out that the graffiti changes every night and by the next day someone had already painted over her initials. She recommends checking this blog for other examples of art on the alley’s walls.
More of Matthew Dawn’s work can be found at matthewdawn.com. If you visit his site you can view murals at other locations, like the example below. He is not only a fine graffiti artist, Matthew Dawn is a great cultural ambassador for the city of Ghent.
SCOM stood in a doorway in Oaxaca and told us some hairy stories of his life as a graffiti artist. He grew up in L.A. His mother came from a remote village in Oaxaca.
As a kid, he was George. Sometimes his Mom would bring him to visit family in Oaxaca. One day, his L.A. high school art teacher showed his notebooks to a California art college. “That’s so weird,” says SCOM, “cause she was always flunkin’ me, but I guess she saw potential.” He met the art school admission committee and they offered him a full scholarship. But, he had to come back for a formal interview.
Unfortunately, right before his big interview he got busted for painting graffiti. He called the art school from jail to reschedule the meeting. They must have had caller I.D. They gave the scholarship to someone else.
“So I just went down to Venice Beach and started painting. I did it for a couple years. It was probably just as well I never went to art school, ’cause I did way more painting. I developed my style, ya’ know? And people bought my stuff. My friends said, ‘Hey, how come you got money, when you don’t got no job?’ I said, hey, this is my job.”
Shots Fired in West Oakland!
Graffiti can be tough. “Once in West Oakland we got shot at. One night me and my partner were painting the back of a billboard on a warehouse. I like the backs better. They stay up longer. We had lookouts down below. So, this homeless guy sees us. He gets out of his little plastic tent, and he says he has asthma and the spray is bothering him. So we are thinking this over. But then I hear this scrape of metal on concrete and the homeless guy drags this big wrench out of his tent and swings it at my buddy, the lookout. Just misses his head. And we are like O.F !”
“I say, ‘should we go down and help him?’ and my partner says, ‘Nah, it’s too far down, just wait.’ The lookouts run off. But then the homeless guy starts bangin’ on a metal door. The door flies open. Out comes a big white guy looks like Elmer Fudd, with the stupid hat and the shotgun!”
“Just like Elmer Fudd, but he has beard. Comes out with his shotgun and first thing he says is, ‘Where’s the problem?’ Our buds are long gone, but the homeless dude says I think I see two more on the roof. So F! We move behind the posts. We don’t even breathe. We wait like an hour and we thought it was safe to come down. But, NO! Elmer Fudd was there waiting for us. I heard the shotgun blast and the buck shot was bouncing of the walls all around us. We just ran and didn’t look back. That was West Oakland. East Oakland is supposed to be the tough place, where are the murders are, but in East Oakland the people were nicer to us. They were clapping for us. So you never know.”
Can I Buy a Vowel?
Question: How did you get the name SCOM? “Well, I was writing a lot, I came up with this phrase, Society Creates Monsters, then I shortened it to SCM. Painted it everywhere. SCM. SCM. Then some dudes said, ‘You know, man, SCM is the tag of a gang you don’t want to mess with,’ so I added the O. SC-O-M. Now, I am SCOM.”
SCOM’s paintings on canvas can be seen at Taller Siqueiros and Projecto Chicatana on Porfirio Diaz in Oaxaca. His littlest paintings sell for 150 pesos, about $12. His biggest works can be seen in tunnels and on the backs of billboards all over California and Mexico.
My friend, César Chávez, a great young Mexican artist, is in Kutztown. He was the master printer for the ASARO collective back in 2006 when Oaxaca’s streets were filled with tear gas and protesters’ blood. After a teachers’ strike got out of control hundreds of thousands of people marched on Oaxaca and took over of the city. At least 20 people, probably many more, were brutally murdered by right-wing gangs and policemen. U.S. media covered the story briefly when Brad Will, an Allegheny College grad, was shot dead while photographing a march.
Things settled down by 2007 when I met César in the then clandestine studio of ASARO, or ” The Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca.” By day ASARO sold prints in the street, at night they stenciled or pasted their political art on the city’s walls. I curated one of ASARO’s first U.S exhibitions at Kutztown University’s Library. Despite a budget of $300, The Allentown Morning Call called KU’s show one the best exhibitions of 2007. The KU ASARO collection traveled to other schools like Ohio U., Marwen in Chicago, and UNC, Charlotte. Many other supporters spread the word about ASARO. Princeton University created a website of their ASARO prints. The best digital archive is at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ Art of Dissent website.
In 2008, along with Dr. John Pohl of UCLA, I curated a large Oaxacan print exhibit, La Tinta Grita, The Ink Shouts, at LA’s Fowler Museum. The L.A. Times wrote, “Even if you know little or nothing about the complex political events that inspired it, the art’s technical skill and emotive power is hard to miss.” It was a big event. I got to fly out to California for the exhibition. Unfortunately, no ASARO artists were able to attend, even with official invitations. The U.S Embassy in Mexico City denied them entry visas.
Kutztown University is fortunate César managed to negotiate the red tape. Though he has been a visiting artist in Spain and Japan, this journey to Kutztown is his first to the US. It is difficult for a young single male from Mexico to get a visa to come to the U.S. legally. His visa fees came to $320. Interestingly, Mexicans are charged fees that others, Canadians, for example, don’t have to pay.” Angel” mixed media drawing, by César Chávez
It is far easier for U.S citizens to visit Mexico. I’ve been back to Oaxaca every year since 2007. I’ve had the privilege of working the hand-cranked printing press beside César late into the night. He and I hung an exhibition of prints dedicated to the murdered women of Juarez at ASARO’s Espacio Zapata Gallery.
Born in 1979, César is one of ASARO’s senior members. I’ve watched him patiently mentor the younger artists of the crew. He calls me “maestro,” teacher, but the truth is César and his young compadres have taught me more than I can express about the power of creativity and community.
Eckhaus Event: Mexican Potluck Dinner & Oaxaca Videos. Oct 6 at 6. 157 W.Main St. Kutztown
Charla with language students (in Spanish) Oct 11 at 11. Defran 120.
He will spend much of his time in Sharadin’s Printmaking Studio. As a Visiting Artist, he will demonstrate relief printing techniques for Kutztown art students, as well as create a new print in the studio.
The Communication Design Dept. has been most generous in helping César’s journey. Dean Mowder and Prof. Evan Summer have also been supportive. Rohrbach Library and the Modern Language Dept. have lent a hand. Torrey Smith designed a super exhibition brochure. Thanks to everyone who made or bought the fundraising prints. You saved the day.