The graffiti artist known as Apexer works on a graffiti installation at the Schack Art Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The graffiti artist known as Apexer works on a graffiti installation at the Schack Art Center in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

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Schack charts graffiti’s journey from the streets to canvas

A new exhibit of more than 80 murals shows how graffiti has shaped our ideas about art.

A wall of graffiti off Hoyt Avenue — a yet-to-be-finished mural of colorful spray paint — sets the stage for the new exhibition opening today at the Schack Art Center in Everett.

“American Graffiti: From the Streets to Canvas” is a powerful look at how graffiti has shaped America’s idea of art.

Executive director Judy Tuohy, who curated the show, has put together artwork by more than 20 American graffiti artists who have risked arrest in order to express themselves artistically.

“It became clear we really had to amplify these voices that are oftentimes overlooked,” said Abby Powell, spokeswoman for the Schack Art Center. “We have to showcase their talent and their skill, because oftentimes it is lost.

“The fact is, graffiti artists are true artists.”

“American Graffiti” is a groundbreaking exhibit (a first-of-its-kind in the Pacific Northwest, Powell said) that explores how graffiti as an art form has shaped self-expression in the United States.

All of the work presented in “American Graffiti” has never been seen before, making the exhibition a must-see. When the exhibit closes Sept. 5, all of the art will be returned to a private collector.

“This is a rare and unique opportunity to see so much street art in once place,” Powell said.

The featured artists, from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Boston, Phoenix and, yes, Seattle, each go by a graffiti name to protect their identify. They include Cornbread, Kaput, King 157, Jase, Ichabod, Fatso, Meres, Apexer, Neon, Ghost, Zore and Tloks.

Graffiti emerged in the 1960s and ’70s in inner city neighborhoods as way for urban youth to express themselves. The spray painted writings and drawings popped up on walls, tunnels and freight cars all over the U.S. The art form gave a voice to the disenfranchised.

But because of its origins in illegal activity and political subversion, graffiti has had a fraught relationship with mainstream art. It is rare for graffiti artists to be counted and appreciated for their talents. Most are self-taught and don’t profit from their work. A lot of times, the art is buffed out or painted over and, therefore, lost.

Even so, the graffiti aesthetic has been incorporated in conventional artists’ work for decades.

Then a local fan of the graffiti art form had an idea: This private collector, from 2003 to 2012, invited graffiti artists to his home to replicate their original art onto canvases and skateboard decks. In this way, their work is preserved.

“He realized a lot of the graffiti he was a fan of was disappearing,” Powell said. “He realized he was in a place where he could pay these artists to recreate these masterpieces on canvas, so that way these are saved for future generations.”

The collection itself proves that these artists are committed to their craft. They traveled hundreds of miles, risking going to jail, just to express themselves and have their work be seen.

“American Graffiti” showcases 85 paintings from the man’s collection. The exhibit is organized in four categories, with work spanning from the 1960s to the 2000s: The Earliest American Writers of the 1970s; Freedom Tunnel works; Freight Car Collection and Street Artists on 60 6-by-10-foot canvases and 25 skate decks.

In addition, there is a street-size replication of graffiti from the Freedom Tunnel in New York, which stretches over many canvases. Nearly all of the tunnel’s walls were repainted in 2009, so most of the original murals are gone. Today, all of the walls that were repainted have been covered with new graffiti.

“He is really excited to see all of their pieces in one place,” Powell said of the private collector. “Because that’s never happened before.”

If you go

“American Graffiti: From the Streets to Canvas” is showing at the Schack Art Center in Everett through Sept. 5. See the exhibit from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett. Admission is free. Call 425-259-5050 or go to for more information.

Also: JAG ArtWorks, an art supply store and gallery adjacent to the Schack Art Center, will be hosting a “West Coast Graffiti” art show in conjunction with the American Graffiti” exhibition. Also through Sept. 5, see work by 30 artists, of all ages and skill levels, from all along the West Coast at 2940 Colby Ave., Everett, from 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 2 to 8 pm. Friday and Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The Schack Art Center reopened on June 10 with Snohomish County’s OK for Phase 2. As per the governor’s orders, the number of visitors in the gallery at one time is limited. Staff and visitors are required to wear masks and maintain 6 feet of social distance.

Summer street art in Everett

As part of the “American Graffiti” exhibition, the Schack Art Center is bringing new street art to downtown Everett this summer.

Watch graffiti artists Apexer and Neon paint a mural on the south wall of Schack Art Center through June 27. The mural is paid for by the Community Foundation of Snohomish County Arts Fund.

Work on a mural off California Avenue on the north wall of El Paraiso Restaurant is scheduled for after the Fourth of July. The artwork was created by Invisible Creature, a Seattle-based design firm. Funding for this project is provided by Skotdal Real Estate, the city of Everett and the Everett Cultural Arts Commission.

Next up is a mural featuring the artwork of Camano Island artist Blake Taylor. It will feature a dragon motif and will be painted near the eastern entrance to the Schack Art Center. Work on that mural is expected to start in July.

The last in this street art series involved commissioning local artists to create artwork banners that will be hung throughout downtown Everett during the summer. This project is sponsored by the Community Foundation of Snohomish County Arts Fund. This project is expected to happen in July and August.

Source: Schack Art Center

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