A while back we were lucky enough to have a reason to travel to Chicago for the annual Meeting of Styles graffiti festival. Say what you will about the Mid-West, but there are worse things in the world than being friendly. During the course of an extended weekend a whole host of strangers – of all ages, colours, creeds and jean size – shook our hands warmly and said: “Welcome, to Chicago”. Admittedly, one of these people was a Scientologist seeking to brain wash me to the fruity words of Ron L Hubbard, but generally speaking, what’s not to like?
After a beery opening night, the following afternoon we headed off to somewhere that could only be described as deepest, darkest suburban Chicago where a 100 or so graffiti writers and crews converged on a ‘permission wall’ to show their stuff. (Where exactly? All you need to know is that cabs refused to come and take us back to the city. It was somewhere in Zone 8…or was it 9?)
Chicago doesn’t have a lenient graffiti policy – painters can be fined up to US$1000 and repeat offenders can do jail time. I got into conversation with a lovely women in one of the crews who told me how happy she was to see her brother there painting for the first time since he got shot; and how having lost the use of one arm he was now developing a new painting style with his other hand. It occurred to me that painting was not only a healing activity, it could also serve as a positive and constructive alternative to gangs and other potentially violent or criminal enterprises in run-down neighbourhoods like Zone 8. I couldn’t help but wish the Second Amendment of the American Constitution referred to the right to carry spray-paint cans, rather than deadly arms.
Political musings aside, it was a great day and as a new-comer, an amazing opportunity to meet a whole lot of talented local graffers and see a unique side of Chicago. We were lucky enough to watch the Mars and Thor crews in action. We documented the day thanks to our good friend Jon Reiss, artist and director of the graffiti series Bomb It! See the video here.
Keep your eye on the Meeting of Styles site for forthcoming events in Chicago and around the world. Organised out of Germany by graffer MG, it’s visiting unlikely places such as Belgrade, Venice and Zurich alongside the usual suspects like NY, London and Chicago.