A mural on the building that houses Grandma’s in da Kitchen honors Breonna Taylor and Jatarius Tolbert. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

A mural on the building that houses Grandma’s in da Kitchen honors Breonna Taylor and Jatarius Tolbert. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Everett’s a canvas for nation’s most talented graffiti artists

Graffiti on downtown buildings, painted with the owners’ permission, showcases the street art.

Paintings of two young faces cover the back of the building. Between them, the word “FOREVER” is painted in bright orange, pink and green.

Stars surround the graffiti portraits of Breonna Taylor and Jatarius Tolbert.

Jatarius looks toward the sky. The painting is based on a photo from his obituary. His mother owns the restaurant inside the building, Grandma’s in da Kitchen. It’s at the corner of Hewitt Avenue and Marine View Drive.

Sharon Tolbert fell to her knees when she saw the painting of her son.

“I couldn’t believe it, I just started crying, there was my baby,” she said. “That was one of the best days I could truly speak to. It’s such a blessing to go out in the back and have him with me.”

The mural was completed during an event called Grill and Chill, where about 60 graffiti artists from around the U.S. visited Everett for a few days in the summer. It was co-hosted by Jason Grim, owner of Everett’s JAG ArtWorks, and a graffiti group called Graffaholeks Northwest.

The event was held in conjunction with “American Graffiti: From the Streets to Canvas” at the Schack Art Center in Everett. “American Graffiti” was a groundbreaking exhibit that explored how graffiti as an art form has shaped self-expression in the United States.

During Grill and Chill, business owners could either get a mural for free or choose a theme for $500. Large murals typically cost thousands of dollars.

Tolbert was inspired by protests over the summer against racism and police brutality following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I wanted something that spoke to unity and togetherness, and spoke to what was going on,” she said. “Then they took it from there.”

They decided on a portrait of Taylor, who was fatally shot by police on March 13, 2020, at her apartment. She was 26.

Tolbert did not know her son would be included in the piece. Her husband, Robert, arranged it with the artists. Their 17-year-old son was accidentally shot and killed by a friend six years ago in Tacoma.

Jatarius used to talk about owning a restaurant with his mother. Tolbert opened her Southern-style eatery about a year ago.

“He’s right there with me every step of the way,” she said. “I felt accepted and that the artist just took the picture and got every single detail, they took their time, they put their heart and passion into it.”

Tolbert shut down her restaurant for a time during the pandemic. At this point, she’s trying to stay open. Soon the building may be for sale, she said, adding that she’s working on buying the restaurant.

“I’m trying to stay in the building that I have,” she said. “Just because my baby’s picture is back there, just because I’ve worked so hard.”

She has only heard positive feedback about the mural. She hopes people start to look at graffiti as an art form, not as vandalism.

Grim, the owner of JAG ArtWorks, would like to see the same thing. He wants local graffiti artists to have more time and space to practice their skills without fear of legal problems. In some cases, graffiti can lead to felony charges.

With Grill and Chill, Grim tried to show what people could create if they had that kind of freedom. He plans to push for a free wall in Everett, where artists can paint without getting in trouble. He estimates at least 1,000 graffiti artists live in the Seattle metro area.

“If you give them time and space, they’re going to blow your mind,” he said.

Apexer examines his graffiti installment at the Schack Art Center. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Apexer examines his graffiti installment at the Schack Art Center. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

On a recent rainy Thursday morning, Grim walked into an alleyway behind his shop near the intersection of Colby Avenue and Wall Street.

Around a corner, one of the cinder block walls is covered with a painting of a man who is smiling. A halo hovers above his head.

It’s a portrait of a late graffiti artist named Dream. The piece was completed by three artists, including one who goes by King 157.

This kind of work usually stops others from painting nearby, Grim said.

“If it’s actual graffiti done by actual graffiti artists like this, nobody is touching it,” he said. “If you went over a King piece, you would never be allowed to graffiti again because everyone would hate on you.”

Nrvek won the Scrap Can Battle during Everett’s Grill and Chill event. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Nrvek won the Scrap Can Battle during Everett’s Grill and Chill event. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Grill and Chill is a national event that is hosted in a different city each year. Everett was chosen because it’s near Seattle and has open walls to paint on that big cities don’t always have anymore.

Grim also has good relationships with building owners, who gave permission to paint on the structures.

“The way I sold it to everybody was like, ‘Hey, do you want something that looks good or for people to keep tagging your walls?’” Grim said. “‘Because it’s only going to keep increasing, you might as well have something that looks really good.’”

He found 130 walls that could have been painted in north Everett. Around 20 were actually selected. He’s already got plans to host another graffiti event this year. He said he hopes to turn it into an annual happening.

Grim worked closely with Carol Thomas, advancement development director at the Schack. Thomas also hopes to see more street art in Everett. She still runs into pieces downtown she has never seen before.

“It brings delight and surprise at every turn,” she said. “It’s kind of a little bit of serendipity. What it does, is it stitches the city together with art.”

One of Grim’s favorite pieces is in an alley near the corner of Hewitt and Oakes avenues. It has a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle theme, where graffiti covers two floors of the building. It took 12 artists to complete it.

Grim describes it as “slimy, sewer-style stuff.” It shows green liquid pouring out of pipes, with graffiti lettering near the street. Turtles and other characters cover the side of the brick building, built in 1910.

Grim became interested in graffiti growing up in Los Angeles.

Keger paints the final touches on his work in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Keger paints the final touches on his work in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“I was a tagger, so I was just a straight-up vandal,” he said. “I would go around and write on buses and tag seats and everything. I was just a little kid, though, so it seemed fun and edgy at the time.”

He moved to Everett about eight years ago after getting a job in the area. Once here, he got more serious about street art.

A few years ago, he started to buy art supplies for himself in bulk for wholesale prices, and sold what he didn’t use. He opened his store in 2018.

His first shop was on the upper floor of a building on Hewitt Avenue, in a space for artist studios. It wasn’t long before he moved to the street level. He started to get more business, and customers asked for graffiti products.

“That’s why we started specializing more in graffiti,” he said. “Now 75% of our sales are spray paint for street art, murals, graffiti, what have you.”

About a year ago, he moved to the new location at 2940 Colby Ave.

Grim keeps an eye on all the new street art around downtown. He hopes to preserve it.

When people think of graffiti, many picture violence and gangs. But that’s not how it is, Grim said.

“Graffiti, it’s an art form, and it’s a cultural art, there’s a huge culture around it,” he said. “They’re artists. These people are artists.”

Street art in Everett

In conjunction with the “American Graffiti: From the Streets to Canvas” exhibition, the Schack Art Center and JAG ArtWorks brought new street art to downtown Everett last summer. About 60 artists from all over the U.S. painted murals around town. If you missed them, take yourself on a tour of alleyways and parking lots near these landmarks.

• Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave.

• JAG ArtWorks, 2940 Colby Ave.

• El Paraiso Restaurant, 2801 Colby Ave.

• Alexandra’s Salon, 2910 Hoyt Ave.

• ONB Automotive Repair, 3002 Grand Ave.

• Grandma’s in da Kitchen, 2831 W. Marine View Drive

• La Casse Construction, 2726 Rucker Ave.

• Everett and Rucker avenues

• The Wright Stuff Antiques, 2818 Wetmore Ave.

• C&G’s Antiques, 1810 Hewitt Ave.

• Law Offices of Nicholas Fisher, 1812 Hewitt Ave.

• Sidekicks Grill & Lounge, 1709 Hewitt Ave.

• Engineered Sports Therapy, 2205 Wall St.

• Western Facilities Supply, 2914 McDougall Ave.

• Espresso Avenue, 1807 Everett Ave.

• Ed’s Transmission Service, 1811 Everett Ave.

• Word of Truth Christian Center, 2822 Hoyt Ave.

• Rubatino Refuse Removal Inc., 2812 Hoyt Ave.

• Big J Mini Mart, 1806 Broadway

• Marion’s Barbershop & Shave Parlour, 2011 19th St.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the spring issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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