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Embracing Graffiti: “Writer's Block” in Scott's Addition



Just like Dennis the Menace drove Mr. Wilson crazy stomping on his immaculate lawn, graffiti writers make real estate developers want to tear their hair out.

But not Justin French. The developer recently shelled out $12,000 for spray paint and 220 wooden panels, each 4 feet by 8 feet, and invited graffiti artists to tag a trio of industrial properties in Scott's Addition.

“I've had plenty of buildings that were tagged, regrettably,” French says, “but I think the people I'm engaging in this are legitimate artists.” He compares the larger, better work — not the impudent little tags — with that of the great Italian muralists.

Their work will be featured in a June 12 show called “Writers' Block.” Christian Detres, the show's producer and a publicist for French, plans to install the panels along the outside of three buildings around the intersection of Moore Street and Roseneath Road. A newly paved alley between two of the buildings will serve as the Alley Gallery, Detres says, “so it can be a drive-through show.”

Among the painted panels will be a row of blanks, where graffiti writers can paint whenever, sort of a live trap for the art. “If it's good enough,” he says, the idea is to “unscrew it, take it down and put some blanks back up.”

The rest of the pieces will be displayed inside the building at 1509 Belleville St., occupied by a group of industrial tenants. The C.F. Sauer Co. used to make candy in it, and a raised platform over the former flavor mixers will become a stage for bands and DJs on the show's opening night. French and Detres hope to eventually turn the space into a venue for other shows.

They've told the artists that they need to donate their first pieces, but French has agreed to pay $500 for other work that he likes, Detres says, adding that French “reserves the right to call bullshit on half assery.”

Inside the building May 14, one of the artists strikes an ambivalent note about the rationale behind marketing what its practitioners see as a necessarily guerrilla art form, but adds that otherwise, “I'd pretty much be doing this for free under a bridge somewhere.” Painting indoors and by invitation is “a little more laid back, but the fumes are way worse,” he says, taking a drag off his cigarette.

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