First-Hand News fm Iran

CNN is on here at my hotel room in Buffalo, and the main news story is how “citizen journalists” in Iran continue to cover the breaking stories with cell phones, Twitter, and FaceBook. Iranians are risking their lives to submit video footage to network news stations. Over on Huffington Post, Nico Pitney is blogging about Iran, using sources from all over the web, and doing a bit of vetting to discount some fake citizen journalism.

As some of you may know, I have stencil work from Iran over on Stencil Archive. I don’t know the artist’s real names, nor any details about their lives. But I do understand that doing graffiti in Iran comes at a great risk. Larger than the risks that other artists face, since graffiti is considered an evil Western-influenced activity by some fundamentalist Iranians. Since the protests started, I have been concerned about the artists, fearing their safety and hoping that they’re keeping things real in the streets. They’ve gotten in touch and are OK. But extremely excited and concerned about losing their votes in the recent election.  They have reacted by doing what they do best during these amazing times in Persia. They’re keeping art in the streets!

My data mining has dug up some blogs, and Dub Gabriel has started blogging for a friend in Iran who is telling his version of the story. Here’s a photoblog that I have gone to to look at photos. Here is a Flickr stream of some current art in the Iranian streets. Iran is blocking some major web sites (like YouTube), but Flickr seems to be available. And it’s easy to get around the government blocking: Dub Gabriel is easily helping his friend in Iran post information, probably via simple email exchanges. So posting some of these sites is a simple act that I can do to help the thousands of green-clad people in the streets of Iran.

Twenty years ago, Chinese students occupied Tianamen Square, and were eventually brutally crushed by the People’s Army. Last night at my presentation at Hallwalls, I showed some photos of the street art and stencil work in Iran. I made the comment that things might have ended differently in 1989, had the students used cell phones and cameras to let the whole world instantly watch and witness their experience with seeking freedom and democracy. I don’t know if today’s coverage in Iran will bring a huge change with their culture, but I know that our ability to witness it first hand is a sweet experience. CNN is showing international rallies supporting the Iranian democrats, and I am sure that those attending these rallies are snapping pics and taking phone vids of the scene. And they’re MMS’ing them to friends in Persia. And they’re instantly posting them online.

Together, we can witness what is happening half the world away, and thus our compassion expands for those who desire the basic freedoms we all should have. Hopefully, this will drive change in the world and bring lessons of unity and equality that we should’ve learned over and over again. If not, then we will once again have to see similar uprisings happen, and have to relive the painful images of oppression. That being said, don’t forget the recent struggles in Tibet, the ongoing pain in Palestine, and other suffering around the world of people who don’t have the technology to give us the first-hand experience.

Toronto Street Art Bike Tour

Up on my domino soap box (as Tino displays Stencil Nation), I explain how bikes and stencils taste as good together as peanut butter and chocolate. Last Saturday, forty people came along for Tino’s two-plus hour tour of the city’s cut-out wonders.


Originally uploaded by rtlechow

Street Art Four Hours Straight

Friday night ended up being a random chain of events. I had no plans really, and considered a Blue Jays baseball game. But Goran Bregovic was playing his Balkan beats for a free concert, and that seemed much more important to go to. After wandering by the book store to check in with them, Tino just happened to be at the cafe next door. Charlie from the bookstore introduced me and it was finally great to meet one of the featured photographers in my book face to face.

Tino knew about the concert and decided to go. I’d planned to meet up with a pre-party but Tino said that they were all down at the square where the concert was going to be. So we hopped on our bikes and rode down into Toronto’s version of Times Square on Yonge St. (complete with animated ads running up the sides of buildings). There was a crowd, but we found the party via a trumpet call and a ghetto blaster blasting Roma beats. Once we arrived, I re-met some folks I’d met in Portland last June during the Car Free Conference. They were plenty drunk already, and we all danced our way deep down into the crowd and close to the stage. Guess a boom box of Roma beats spreads the Red Sea for a good spot to dance.
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Soggy Drive, Soggy Sneaks

The Trumbull-Plex presentation went well last night. Jhon showed up with a large platter of Middle Eastern food and began to set up for the show. Nicole Macdonald showed up with a digital projector and her movie “A City to Yourself.” We got things set up quickly, so I found some spray paint in the shop area and sprayed a stencil on Trumbull’s door. Instead of the usual red flags, I sprayed black flags in honor of their philosophical leanings.

We didn’t start on time since no one had showed up at 8pm and Jhon said that everyone felt that 9pm was always the start time at Trumbull-Plex. So the movie began around 8:40, with about 10 people in the comfortable chairs. Third generation Detroiter Nicole’s movie showed scenes of an empty Detroit as she spoke about what the mostly emptiness means to her. She showed fields of grass and flora with rotting houses in them. Some were painted orange by students, maybe in protest to the decay around them.
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Pedaling Thru Motor City

The sun finally shines today in Detroit. Which is a good thing, since I’ve borrowed a bike from Trumbull’s bike shack. Headed out towards Third St. with things looking chilly and overcast for the day. Then the sun pops out from behind the haze and the clouds turn fluffy. Time to peel off the hoodie.

Jhon from Trumbull gave me some great tips for where to discover stencils. Hit the ped bridge over Highway 10 and found some. Found some on Willis St. in front of the Avalon Bakery. One was a great paste up supporting Pingree for Mayor. I found Pingree’s statue later, with another paste up of him on the pedestal (Someone had added a funny mustache). The plaque said that he was the “The Idol of the People” and had been the first to warn citizens against the evils of private corporations. After biking through the post-Fordist ruins of the city, which has slowly lost buildings to encroaching nature in the past five decades, I now understand why this former mayor is popular with a stencil artist and his friends.
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Modern Times Skillshare Pics

Last Saturday afternoon turned out to be hot and sunny, so I thought I’d have about 3 or 4 people attend the scheduled skillshare at Modern Times books here in the Mission. I had the table moved out into the store, thinking that I’d end up sitting alone, cutting out my own stencil, but I only got to make about five cuts. 10 people showed up (on time), tipped to the event by the SF Weekly listing, so they helped me move the table into the back area of the store. Then about 7 more people showed up, so I had the MT people set up two more tables to work on. Like a kindergarten class, we had to share pencils and Xacto knives, and MT gave me some cardboard for everyone to cut on. I had enough paper to go around, and one attendee cut up his piece of mylar to share.

I began with a 5-10 minute introduction about making a stencil. Several people had made stencils before, so I asked them to sit next to those who hadn’t made one. Some people showed up with no idea to draw and cut, so they went to the free papers, magazines, and info section of MT and cut images based upon photos and art that they found interesting. I spent the rest of the skillshare walking around, answering questions, and giving tips. Scott Williams showed up with a bag full of his stencil journals, so people took breaks to sit with him, ask questions, and flip through his art. He also brought cut out stencils, cutting mats, and a worn out Xacto knife to share. All of the supplies he offered were promptly utilized.

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During Hard Times: Adam5100 Adds Stencilada PS

While getting in touch recently, I asked Adam5100 if he’d like to paint his amazing, 6-foot-long hand stencil at CELLspace. His reply: “as long as the hands are coming out from under the building.” No problem. So we made plans to do it this morning around 10am. That ended up being about 11:30am but timing didn’t matter. Adam showed up with his stencils in a roll, I opened up CELL to use the gallery as a staging area, and we went to work sweeping the sidewalk and then putting up the stencils. While Adam rolled the black layer, I had to pick up the leaves and trash that kept blowing into the paint. We were talking about how hard it is to be an artist right now, especially on the “nickel and dime” level as Adam put it. But, during these hard times, those of us used to starving are knocking out amazing works and deeds. Adam was well into the second hand (make the right hand by simply flipping the stencil over) when CUBA stopped by to talk about painting murals on the Florida St. side of CELL.

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May 14 KALW Interview…

Stencil Nation on Cross Currents

Had a great bike ride over to the KALW studio near McClearen Park this morning and interviewed with Penny Nelson for Cross Currents. The engineer, a bike commuter, told me another route that sent me through the park and then down Mission St. in the Excelsior District. Found some stencils along that ride home! They posted the show early so here’s the goods. Fast forward in about 3 and a half minutes to hear my segment. About 10 minutes long total.

June Middle America Tour Announced

This is it! The final Stencil Nation tour which will end the Year of Stencils (which began last June with the book opening). What an amazing (road) trip it’s been, giving me hope that humanity is not completely lost in a consumer/TV/Xbox/Twitter haze. All your help, hospitality, support, cooking, schleping, encouragement, and couches/futons/beds can only support the fact that there are amazing people throughout Stencil Nation who see kindness and community within the whole art and graffiti worlds. I am grateful and indebted to you all for all that you have done along the roads that lead to that next stencil!

≈≈≈≈JUNE (and the end of the Year of Stencil Nation) ≈≈≈≈
June 7 at 2pm:: Quimby’s Bookstore, Chicago, IL
June 10 at 9pm:: Trumbull Plex, Detroit, MI
(with 8pm viewing of A City to Yourself)
June 13 at 6pm:: This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, Toronto, ONT, Canada
(with Martin Reis and Janet Attard, for Bike Month)
June 17 at 7pm:: Talking Leaves/Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY
June 18 6pm to 9pm:: Mac’s Backs (street fair), Cleveland, OH (no pres)
June 19 at 5pm:: Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (with skillshare)
June 21 at 5pm:: Boxcar Books, Bloomington, IN
June 24 at 7pm:: Mad Art Gallery, St. Louis, MO (with Peat)
June 25 at 7pm:: Star Clipper, St. Louis, MO

Wet Paint Cinco de Mayo

Out of the desert, where I hiked some blazing trails, and at the end of the Southern Cal tour. Winding down what was an amazing time down here, dropping the rental off, catching the bus back north to San Francisco. The tour resumes for about five more dates, and then off to Middle America in June (dates announced soon!). Right now, some photos from the Wet Paint event in Tempe. Was having so much fun at this event, time flew. I did manage to cut a signature stencil and used it on some books. Koleszar never stopped stenciling the whole time. Even during my presentation. Here are some pics I took, and Koleszar took, of that nice day.

Koleszar’s Stencil Bunker

Had a great day in the heat and humidity at Wet Paint near ASU in Tempe. Painters hitting the canvas while soul spins on the turntables. People taking time out of a weekday Cinco de Mayo to stop by and check out the painting. Koleszar was making people happy by throwing together great art that all could enjoy. Jess and the crew at Wet Paint went all out for a great Stencil Nation outdoor art event. More on that later this week. For now, pics from last night’s arrival to the end of the ‘burbs

Christine Marie's 3D shadows inspired me to make this red/blue piece in Koleszar's garage studio
Christine Marie's 3D shadows inspired me to make this red/blue piece in Koleszar's garage studio
Koleszar goes small with a 5 color Belton can-ette
Koleszar goes small with a 5 color Belton can-ette

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So Nice, The People of Stencil Nation

Not enough time in the day for all the amazing things that can be experienced. Must figure out how to expand the concept of time to fit it all in. Wanting to share with you all the continued good times and amazing hospitality that I have received on the Southern leg of the California tour. And after sitting in the blazing car for six hours, driving to the Tempe, AZ burbs to meet up with Koleszar and see his mighty spray painted fortress (my room has stencil art on the walls), I am wondering if it is at all possible to dictate a blog entry to an application that can type it all out to post? While driving. Woah. That was a bit geeky on my part. Apologies, but I am sitting at the School of Spray Paint here in the urban sprawl.  Thinking geeky thoughts. And thinking about Koleszar’s neighbors: cows and horses and cacti. Oh, and a scorpion or two….

So April 30 finds me saying goodbye Swiv Tackle and hello UC San Diego. I show up to find my very own parking space, reserved with my name on the sign. In all of my stencil geekdom, I think I have now achieved a level of uber-geek, thanks to my very own parking space.

I find Groundwork no problem and land into a group of energetic and active young college students there. Who have great books to look at and free pastries to munch on. The food coop next door closes and a group of workers there come to the presentation. Some artists are there too, one of which wanted us all to tag his skin with Sharpies (“You know you’re gonna soak up all the toxic ink, right?” “Sharpies say they aren’t toxic on the label.” “Yeah, right.”) Great crowd, even though they don’t get my sarcastic Swine Flu joke I told. And still a great crowd after the food coop people leave to see a friend snowboard on a hill of fake snow (sponsored by Red Bull), because I sold a pile of books at this stop. Best in a while. And the Groundwork crew hung out while I put up some stencils on their counter. And then I got invitations for dinner and invitations to check out UCSD’s Graff Hall. So humankind’s amazing capacity to host and be sweet and supportive continues on this tour. I think I love this experience more than anything (even stencils).

The Graff Hall is a stairwell of the UCSD Arts Building. Stencils are around this building too, so we wandered up the stairs hunting stencils. And found a bunch. I even found a cut stencil that said “Zeus,” which most likely fell out of an artists portfolio. Adding it to the Archives. Later, I found the Free School house no problem and met the great people there. While hanging out for my host Brian to show up, we watched/listened to YouTube (There’s a definite trend here). We watched a hilarious video as we waited. The guy speaking is supposedly in a dark closet on acid saying all this crazy, sometimes offensive stuff. I can deal with the offending bits because this guy goes into insane visions soon after. “No way!”

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