What is the one element of hip hop that really isn't legal even if you have a cabaret license? That's right homegirls and homeboys, it's graffiti.
[Italian, pl. of graffito; see graffito.] A drawing or inscription made on a wall or other surface, usually so as to be seen by the public. --Dictionary.com
And once you look up graffito, you'll find one definition to be: n: a rude decoration inscribed on rocks or walls.
Rude, ay? OK, well if that's the case wouldn't graff artists be considered rude by extension? Rude, uneducated, primitive ... Sure, maybe in the '50s, when the writers at Webster's were bombing.
I walk into to Sean Kernick and Ann Marie Bolyan's Raleigh apartment; instantly I'm handed a bag of wasabi peas.
"I want something crunchy,"Ann Marie says as she looks in the fridge. Sean is politely trying to push the peas on us when Ann Marie remembers that she has some cereal in their studio. Their apartment is so neat, neutral, classic and clean that Martha Stewart would eat off the floor. The walls are white with framed photos, Van Gogh prints and an original Vaughn Bode. Art and furniture books are stacked under shelves with dim, lightly scented candles. The vibe is very calm, very Zen. In fact, it was extremely modern (not primitive) and certainly not rude.
Sean first got the burning sensation for graff in Philly. "I was with a friend of mine who was writing with DIVINE in a crew called the ANC," which is still his Philly Fam, "based out of West Philadelphia. I could draw real good when I was in high school, so he kinda pushed me to go out with him, 'cuz he did letters. That was my first team-up, with DIVINE. He did pieces [lettering] and I did characters [pictures]. When I was younger in high school, we would bomb here and there, but we would actually find spots that were like, in-the-cut hard to find spots, and we would go do pieces, like full blown colors, giant. They were illegal spots; we would scope 'em out, take turns watching out, but after getting arrested a couple times, it takes the fun out of it."
"The first time I got arrested was in Philadelphia. I got caught on the train tracks. At the time in Philly, graffiti was a big deal. There was an election coming up and there was a lot of graffiti, so graffiti became the main topic during this election."
... Hold up, Sean. This is my column. I wanna say something. Excuse me Philly politicians, but what the hell is cleaning up graffiti gonna do? How about feeding some starving people? If the issue is vanity, why don't you get bums of the streets first? It is mos def easier to put people in shelters than it is to wash a wall and book heads in jail. OK, I got it out. Continue. ...
"The mayors were nuts giving people jail time. So we got arrested during this time period, we were painting on these train tracks where nobody even goes, homeless people live back there, we used to paint there a lot, just a chill spot. Train cops caught us. It was just a nightmare. We were locked up for three days, just putting us through the system. It was really kind of a hellish experience. That kind of shit will really make you think twice about something. But when you have a love and passion for it, you'll find out a way that will work for you."
Sean has certainly done just that. He moved down here with Ann Marie (his girlfriend and fellow artist) about a year ago. Since the move from New York and his New York crew, HGS, Sean has "been painting a lot more down here than I was up in New York, 'cuz in New York it's just so hot! And it's just so many people painting. It's so dangerous, it's so hard to do and so competitive."
The scene down here is pretty small and in no time Sean teamed up with local crews IAM--with artists AIM, FLTR and SNOZ--and then NSM (thanks to YORS, who recruited him). AIM was his first team-up in North Carolina. "We just started piecing every weekend. He would come out sometimes and bring his family with him, we'd head out the spot we go to and make whole day of it."
OK. I know some of yawl are thinking, "Omigod, these guys are bringing their kids to do graffiti." It is really not that different from any other art projects. And it is legal when it is done on a legal wall. Like the piece AIM and Sean did to commemorate Sept. 11 at the N.C. Museum of Art. Yawl had to have seen it. On the old prison, right off of Blue Ridge Road. Yes, everybody, that thought-provoking "mural" is graffiti. Now I know yawl dig it, and if you have a bare building and are willing to buy the paint you can have a mural as well.
"A lot of people want it but then they won't, and none of us have money," Sean says. "We'll do it for paint."
Yawl probably have no clue about how sweet that deal is. People are very funny about art. They don't appreciate it unless they can own it. Maybe that is why so many people have issues with graff. But if you pick up this paper and if you grab a Time Out mag in NYC this week you will be able to own a print of Sean's work. The picture in Time Out is promoting Prince Paul's party at the Soho Grand Hotel in New York. If you don't know who Prince Paul is--he is a well-respected hip-hop producer for starters.
There are so many other things that Sean has been and is doing (like his graffiti service, where he will prepare a graffiti-like print for you when you give him the text--a perfect gift for any occasion) along with some fantastic stories, including one where Ann Marie hung up on Phase 2. But I want to make room for his work. So I will leave with a quote from Sean:
"What I am trying to stress with graff is the artform of it all: the importance of self-expression and the style behind it, the history behind it, the rules, and how important it is to have style and compassion for that public art."
www.seankernick.com --that's what's up!
Contact K8 Erwin at K8@indyweek.com.