Recent mural destruction a blow to E’ville’s arts & culture

7 mins read

The fake documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop opened up the underground world of street art to the masses and made a star out of the mysterious Banksy. His works have become so valuable that the walls he’s painted on have literally been jackhammered away and sold. This small beaver stencil in East NY is being shown for $20 a view by enterprising neighborhood kids. Meanwhile, here in Emeryville, the works of talented local artists are being destroyed at a rapid pace.

The collaborative mural above on Adeline by local artists “Dead Eyes“,”PTV” & “Bella Ciao” recognizing the deceased street artist “Reefa” was recently buffed by the property owner leaving a blank, grey wall in its place. Reefa, AKA Isreal Hernandez, was a promising 18-year-old street artist from Miami that was killed by police from a taser shot to the chest in August. “I personally enjoy it” says noted Emeryville artist Scott Donahue (Who’s been known to install a piece of Guerrilla art from time-to-time) referring to neighborhood street art pieces “but I realize the stance of the city and property owners and if they remove them, I’m not going to squawk about it”. Triangle neighborhood resident Sarah Sheaffer was disappointed by its removal “It is such a shame. It was huge and beautiful and I didn’t see controversy when we saw it. People stopped and admired it and frankly talked to each other!”

How much longer until this piece on Holden & 45th is destroyed?

Cannon Dill, “Gats” and Chris Granillo may not be household names to most, but within the burgeoning East Bay Street Art scene, they are every bit as famous as Picasso, Matisse or Van Gogh. Emeryville has a reputation of supporting the arts with its annual art exhibit and public walking tour of 30 notable pieces … but apparently this only applies to commissioned, traditional pieces. Ironically, Emeryville is probably best known for its “Guerrilla-style” Mudflat Driftwood sculptures that were removed by CalTrans in the 1980’s.

Nick Saraceni is a volunteer & resident artist at The Pallet Space gallery on San Pablo. A relative newcomer to the East Bay scene, he’s curated quite a collection of street art photography through his Instagram account (Follow him @Charizard22). I chatted with Nick about the East Bay Art scene, the difference between art and vandalism and what is lost for a city’s culture & identity when these murals are lost forever:

1). Can you distinguish street art from “tagging” for those unfamiliar with it?
This is a tricky question for me to answer because I am neither a street artist nor a tagger, so I am kind of on the outside looking in. I caution you that my limited observations relating to the difference between the two comes from a position of pure admiration and ignorance. Depending on your taste and your definition of art, the line between street art and tagging can be a bit blurry, but for the sake of simplicity, I like to separate the two by the ethic or message behind the paint. Generally speaking, street art usually has a poignant message behind it, and is an outlet for artists to express themselves politically or poetically. The intent behind some street art is less to destroy or deface public property, and more to encourage inhabitants of the region to stop for a second and think about things outside of their everyday troubles. Tagging, on the other hand, often involves a more destructive ethic, where there isn’t much of a message beyond “I was here.”

2). Who do you consider the most influential East Bay street artists?
Tough question… Muralists like Cannon Dill, Brett Flanigan, Ernest Doty and IROT have painted some of the largest and most colorful walls in Oakland. Chris Granillo has both organized and painted entire blocks of alleyway in East Oakland. Can’t forget about GATS either … his masks are some of the most widely recognized and emulated graffiti characters in the Bay Area.

3). Can you recommend any resources for those that are interested in knowing more and appreciating Street Art?
This Banksy related article “Why taggers hate Banksy” helps articulate the distinction between the two. In addition, watch this “Voice of Art” YouTube series on GATS:

[youtube id=”e6I4i-_9JZ8″ width=”620″ height=”360″]

4). Do you know of any attempt to preserve the collaborative mural on Adeline by neighbors or the artists themselves? Did the property owners acknowledge any of them or provide any warning?
It was my understanding that the property owner initially authorized the artists to paint the wall on Adeline; otherwise, the artists would not have shown up and spent so much time and paint on the mural. I’m not aware of any warnings that were given, but I also was not around for the painting.

5). Tell us about what is lost for the culture of a neighborhood when these murals are removed by the city and property owners.
Ah man, where to begin… How about the fact that N.O. Bonzo, an extremely talented artist from Oregon, was in Oakland for just a couple of days and agreed to paint two gorgeous female figures next to a super intricate GATS mask. Not long after that, six other local artists came and filled the surrounding black walls with color. Now, the giant collaboration only exists in photographs.
Instead of driving past a colorful and detailed collaborative painting, now local residents can only hope to see a boring blank wall as they pass. Where the mural would have likely deterred taggers from leaving their mark on that particular surface, the wall again becomes a blank canvas for anyone passing with a can of spray-paint. The idea here is that for a tagger to leave his mark on a mural, he makes a conscious decision to “diss” the work of another spray-painter. Such an attack on another painter’s work leaves him liable to lose friends and gain enemies in the graffiti community. Now, those same neighbors that complained about the mural being painted may have to accept the fact that blank walls in these parts rarely stay blank for long.

6). Do you know of any legal recourses that can be taken to prevent property owners & the city from “buffing” culturally significant murals?
[Unfortunately] No

7). Non-profits like the Oakland Superheroes Mural Project & Estria Battle have sprouted up to make the creation of murals a community project. Tell us your thoughts and if they are recognized as legitimate by the street art community.
These community mural projects are awesome! Any time you can get local youth groups involved in creating art, you’ve strengthened your community. As far as whether or not the “street art community” recognizes these murals as legitimate– a very tough question to answer. When the graffiti world is comprised of different sectors, all with different ethical codes, what is recognized as legitimate art to a muralist or character painter, may not be recognized as legitimate to a tagger or a bomber. There is not one school of thought, or one set ethical beliefs in the graffiti world.

8). I know you don’t speak for the entire Street Art Community, but what are your thoughts on the Graffitti “War” between waged in West Oakland.
Quite frankly, the article makes me sick … To add racial tension to an already sloppy mess of issues seems like pretty bad form to me. But then again, journalists get paid to sell a story and raise eyebrows. Artz has certainly been ruffling some feathers with his recent articles. Honestly, you could write an entire article highlighting some of the problems with his race article. I had a long list of bullet points I was going to send you, but I got too worked up at one point and deleted all of it. Here are two that I salvaged:

  • “their neighborhood was under assault by predominantly white newcomers armed with spray paint” — In this day and age, to have a writer framing his article in such a way that he pits whites vs. blacks, using terms like “newcomers” and “other tribe…” Like I said, it makes me sick.
  • ‘ “One person told me we need Sharia law for taggers,” she said.’ — Not only has he drawn a divide between black and white, but now he’s calling upon religion, and specifically, Islamic Law to further raise eyebrows. What bugs me here is he ends a paragraph with this quote and doesn’t bother to go into any sort of explanation. You can’t expect to drop something as heavy as “Sharia Law” into your article and have readers just say, “Oh okay, I guess that makes sense.”

9). So talk to us about the mission of The Palette Space and the evolving art scene along San Pablo & The Golden Gate.
Purdey Darrow is the owner, chief artist, and curator of Pallet Space, which is not only a shop that sells antiques, art and oddities, but also a collective of artists and volunteers that all pitch in where they can to keep Purdey’s ship sailing at the speed of sound. Purdey also organizes and hosts community events every Second Saturday of the month, often with live music and art. The mission at The Pallet Space is, first and foremost, to pay rent every month. Although the shop receives a steady stream of visitors throughout the week, most come through simply to take in the marvels of the shop, rather than buy its merchandise. Here, I’m probably the guiltiest of all of them. But, the truth of the matter is, the art and antiques business is super tricky because you constantly have to cycle new and unique items through the shop, even though there might not necessarily be a demand for them. So Purdey’s aim has always been to change with the times, and with the demand– to sell objects and services, while also providing a place for artists and philosophers to find inspiration.

I’ve only been in Oakland for about a year, but the Golden Gate district, and specifically San Pablo Avenue seems to be turning into a hub for creative spaces and people. I know I’ll forget at least a dozen places, but establishments like Actual Cafe, The Compound Gallery, Grease Diner, and The Pallet Space provide no shortage of artistic resources.

10). Do you see any upside from the “Gentrification” happening around E’ville and the Golden Gate to supporting the arts in these areas?
I generally cringe when the word “gentrification” is used in conversations about art because there are so many stigmas and generalizations that come with it. That being said, it is uplifting to see a rise in organized community and youth based art projects. The more art funding and art galleries that pop up in a neighborhood, the greater the opportunity for organized community and youth art projects. Rock Paper Scissors Collective is an awesome example.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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