Back in October, Starwood Urban Investments approached Michael Clark and Felicity Hogan, co-directors of D.C.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The District-based developer was hoping to get MOCA involved in its Project for the Arts program, in which the company asks artists to decorate the façades of its empty properties. MOCA, which at the time was hosting a graffiti exhibition, called on the show’s curator, local artist Roger Gastman, to help put together a group of fellow graffiti writersincluding New York legend Zephyrto work on Starwood’s site at Connecticut Avenue and S Street NW.
One Saturday afternoon in late October, the group started work on the corner, and, before long, a crowd of intrigued and appreciative passers-by had gathered to watch. “I normally paint in real crappy neighborhoods where everyone’s real mad we’re painting,” says Gastman. “So this was a great atmosphere, because people were actually happy.” Not everyone, however: Soon, sirens wailed, lights flashed, and police showed up. “They see cans of spray paint and say, ‘It’s graffitiit shouldn’t be there,’” Gastman says. “That’s just the typical way I think it’ll always be.” Neighboring businesses had called the cops; a Starwood rep spent an hour convincing the police that the artists were allowed to be there.
The resultan 11-panel mural on display for the next three monthsis an outdoor museum, a wild assault of colors, shapes, styles, and messages that makes many stop for a closer look, inspiring some to come back with cameras. And that’s exactly what Hogan hoped for.
“Because it’s something that’s out there in the public, there are no barriers, and I really value that,” says Hogan, who, along with Clark, painted one panel with images of the Capitol dome, Abraham Lincoln, and Mickey Mouse against a swirling background of pastel blue, yellow, and pink. “You don’t have to go somewhere and worry about opening hoursand you know how people feel funny about going into museums because of whether they know about art or not? None of that matters, because it’s just right in front of you, and it’s visual, and it makes people look. I think it’s really amazing.”
Hogan is especially excited about the coup of getting Zephyr’s participation. The 40-year-old artist started painting about 25 years ago and quickly became a fixture in the graffiti subculture. “Everyone I knew was doing graffiti. It was a very contagious youth movement,” says the artist, whose work even got picked up as the logo for the 1982 urban drama Wild Style.
“I’ll paint virtually anything, anytime, anywhere,” Zephyr says. “It’s not hard to get me to paint something.” So, after all these years, what’s kept it so exciting for him? “The freedom,” he says. “I call it guerrilla art.” Aimee Agresti