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Subsurface: The art of the spray can


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2012 marks the 10th year for Subsurface, a collective of some of the best graffiti artists from across the nation. This year, they’re going big; it might even be considered their coming out party, complete with celebrity artists, panel discussions, gallery showings and after-parties.

In addition to the complete makeover of the two Near Southside buildings on Palmer Street that have been home to the event since 2004, five additional walls are slated for painting in the Fountain Square area. That means more artists and many more cans of paint.

Last year, anywhere from 750 to 1,500 cans of art-quality spray were used during the three-day paint fest. Big Car Gallery and iMOCA have signed on as sponsors.

An estimated 40 to 50 artists, or “writers,” as they refer to themselves, are scheduled to attend. Crews from Chicago, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Portland have already been assigned wall space, in addition to several high-profile teams from across the state.

Dave Chino, former graffiti editor of The Source magazine and a world-renowned graffiti artist and documentarian, will fly in from New York to take part.

“This is without question the finest collection of talent that we’ve ever assembled,” says Dan Thompson of Fab Crew, a major organizer of Subsurface. “I don’t think we’ve yet created the event that we want to show people. This year I think could be it.”

The pre-history behind the annual gathering began years ago when Thompson and fellow writer John Moore, aka Gems, began attending similar events in other major cities.

“We went to a thing in ’98 called Paint Louis that was like nothing we’d ever seen,” says Thompson. “This wasn’t the East Coast, or California. This was smack dab in the heart of the Midwest. And because there was no other event like it, everybody was there. All of the guys we’d heard of or seen work from in graffiti magazines were painting. The vibe was amazing. It’s been our dream to do something on that scale here in Indianapolis ever since.”

Plenty of color

The American Tent and Awning building at 205 E. South Palmer St., along with the Koch building across from it, have been ground zero for the Labor Day paint party since 2004. The site has transformed an otherwise nondescript near Southside neighborhood into a colorful backdrop frequented by photographers, video crews or merely the curious for prom photos, music videos and any project that has an edgy urban feel. It’s an ever-evolving landscape; no panel is sacred. Some artwork may last only long enough to snap a photograph to prove it was once there. It is not unusual to find a solitary writer or out-of-town crew at work in the dead of winter, adding some new vision, stylized signature or random squiggle over the top of someone else’s.

Then, on Labor Day weekend, Subsurface crews return in mass to wipe everything out with a coat of solid base paint and transform the entire brick canvas once again.

Attendees of this free event will be exposed to a wide variety of styles and combinations of color, from complex “wild style” lettering to full-scale visionary murals. Metal Fingers (MFK), a crew comprised of top-notch writers from across the nation plan to incorporate oversized photorealistic portraits into their artwork.

Developed over years of trial, error, influences and practice, each crew and individual has worked to carve out a style that can be recognized as their own.

According to Thompson of Fab Crew, style is “like an accent in speech.”

Fellow artist Gems relates it more to an individual fingerprint. “Each one is unique,” he explains, “like a snowflake.”

The Fountain Square area is a major focus this year as the annual jam seeks to expand its presence. Local team Fab Crew plans a large-scale mural of oversized moles riding coal cars through an underground mine on one sidewall of the Koehring building located on Prospect Street. DF Crew, one of the most respected graffiti teams worldwide, has been assigned prime wall space in the area. Metal Fingers will also be painting in Fountain Square.

What goes on each assigned panel will be at the discretion of each artist or crew. The amount of space allotted can be anywhere from a few square feet to half a block long.

An after-paint-party will be held Saturday night at White Rabbit Cabaret, where several local acts will perform. And a one of a kind sketchbook containing hand-drawn original artwork from most of the participants will be raffled off as part of the evening’s festivities.


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