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Roger Gastman has spent a career documenting graffiti—-in zines, in books, and on screen. Mostly he’s helped shed light on the work of others. But he used to be a scrawny teenager with his own tag—-“Clear”—-that, once upon a time (read: the early ’90s), you might have spotted from the above-ground sections of the Red Line. “I was around friends in the hardcore scene,” Gastman says. “Everyone had a tag. It just seemed like the thing to do.”
His mission as Clear was to be among D.C.’s graffiti greats, such as Cool “Disco” Dan, Cycle, or Seven. Now his work is to preserve their legacy. Tomorrow, he’ll appear at the Corcoran to discuss the history of graffiti art in D.C., from the post-riot era of the late 1960s to the early 1990s. A piece by Cool “Disco” Dan is currently on display at the Corcoran, and Gastman facilitated its donation.
Gastman began his mission of preserving graffiti art in his early 20s, when began organizing art shows, including one at the Corcoran, at which he and other local graffiti artist gave talks and presented their work. He wrote the 2001 book Free Agents: A History of Washington, D.C. Graffiti (Soft Skull Press), which features art and interviews with some of D.C.’s legendary artists. Gastman is now 33, and says Free Agents wasn’t his best work, mainly due to sloppy editing. But he’s excited about his still-in-the-works documentary about Cool “Disco” Dan. And Gastman has co-written a new book, The History of American Graffiti (Harper Collins), which will be out in April.
A Bethesda native, Gastman currently lives in Los Angeles. “I miss [D.C.], but there’s nothing for me to do here,” says Gastman. For the kids, though—-that’s another story. “I think there will always be a place for graffiti in D.C.,” says Gastman. “It’s just a matter of the graffiti writers—-they need to keep pioneering locations. There’s always going to be a new batch of 15 year-olds that aren’t going to give a fuck.”
Roger Gastman speaks at the Corcoran Gallery of Art tomorrow at 7 p.m.