Sunday, February 6, 2011

Brick wall at McElheran's Fine Furniture fits in with the hood

Some might think him a victim of vandalism. Jeff McElheran is really more of a patron of the arts.

In a classic tale of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," the local businessman turned the huge, south-facing wall of his upscale furniture store over to a graffiti master and gave him carte blanche, even paying for his spray paint and other materials.

"We would get tagged fairly regularly, not so much in the winter, but definitely during the summer," McElheran explains. Tired of repeatedly painting over it, he instead commissioned a local graffiti artist to create something beautiful and discourage others from vandalizing his property.

"We wanted to show that we can give these artists -- because they are artists -- we can give them an opportunity to really show what they can do, and so far, the response that we've had has been nothing but positive," said McElheran. He plans to regularly change the graffiti splayed across the huge, 17-by-five-metre brick wall of McElheran's Fine Furniture, a prominent feature of the view rounding Jasper Avenue onto 124th Street.

"We've got all the art galleries around us, and what better spot for an artist to show off his work who generally can't show off his work," he adds.

Graffiti artist Trevor Peters, a.k.a. Kurly, jumped at the chance to legitimately tag the coveted wall. "I've stared at that particular wall for years, and I've always wanted to paint it," he admits.

McElheran connected with him through word-of-mouth -- as it turns out, Peters went to school with McElheran's younger brother. "That's why I've always known I just couldn't touch that (wall), because I know the family," says Peters.

So when he was invited to let loose on the wall, he wanted to use it as a showcase. "I wanted it to be tasteful. I wanted to show that graffiti can be more than just tagging, markers and drippy paint."

At first, he planned to emphasize the images rather than simply tagging the wall with his name and a few symbols. "I learned that from another artist who said, 'When you die, do you want people to just know your tag name?' So I've developed my style into more imagery, where people can relate to it more. It's not just like hip-hop New York graffiti with my name."

At first, Peters wasn't even going to include his name on the painting, but McElheran told him he wanted it to have an authentic graffiti look.

"I'm like, 'oh really? Then I'm not going to hold out. I'm going to do a graffiti piece too,' " he adds. "I guess his idea was that the kids on the street would relate to that and respect it. So I tried to mix both elements into it -- images and real graffiti."

Since Peters completed his work last fall, no one has tried to tag it.
McElheran says he's not condoning graffiti done illegally, without the permission of property owners or on public space where graffiti are not allowed. But he does want to give graffiti artists a venue to display their creativity.
He was initially unsure about how his customers would react, but has been pleased to see the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Peters, too, says he got nothing but kudos from people who watched him create the mural last fall. The most supportive folks? "Senior citizens," he says.
While other business owners have paid Peters to create graffiti art for their buildings in the past, his work has dried up since the city began its Capital City Clean Up in 2008, cracking down on graffiti and fining business owners who failed to clean their buildings, he says.

Sharon Chapman, graffiti project manager for Capital City Clean Up, says the program came in response to a call from Edmontonians to remove the mess of graffiti vandalism littering walls around the city.

"Most citizens in Edmonton would agree that most of the graffiti we see is pure vandalism. There's very little graffiti in Edmonton that has artistic merit."

Even beautiful graffiti, if done without permission, need to be removed, she adds. Conversely, graffiti done at an owner's request can still be nixed at the discretion of city bylaw officers if they feel the work doesn't meet community standards, says Chapman.

"There's this perception that in the program, we want to whitewash Edmonton, and that's not true," she adds. "We want to put legitimate art in the community with property owner permission."

To that end, the city has programs to sponsor the creation of murals in the community, as well as the cleanup of graffiti. She cites the example of lovely paintings produced by art students at J. Percy Page for Mill Woods Little League, beautifying dugouts that had been regularly tagged, littered and vandalized.
Peters agrees a lot of local taggers are not only vandals, they're poor artists.

"I'm not an angel -- that's where I came from. I appreciate it all, I know where those kids are coming from, but it would be better if they were a little more talented."

Taken from: EdmontonJournal

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