YEAH, BUT IS IT ART?
The Fantastic Aerosol Brothers Answer This Question Once And For All For Pattern Readers.
The mural spans the better part of a city block at the corner of Davidson and Mass Ave. “Up until now the quiet end of Mass Ave.,” according to “6Cents,” who, along with friend and partner “Sacred317” make up the dynamic duo known to graffiti aficionados nationwide as The Fantastic Aerosol Brothers, a.k.a. The FAB Crew. “But that’s changing and fast, adds Sacred317, “Thanks to Yats, The Pattern Store, Black Market and all the other businesses who are bringing this part of the Cultural Trail to life.”
Anchoring the Northern end of the mural, Indianapolis icon DJ Topspeed is droppin’ that heat for the fetching young lady a block away who 6Cents describes as “your basic analog woman.” Turns out she’s a figment of his considerable imagination and, like so many of the other unique characters 6Cents (or just “Cents” to his friends) and Sacred317 have created over their 17 years together as a crew, is not digitally rendered but conceived, drawn, re-drawn and, finally, painted real in aerosol spray paint in a style that is as engaging as it is distinctive. “Plus she’s hot,” says Cents.
Flowing between the two portraits – stylized letters and words that make up the language of graffiti style. Whether you call it graffiti, writing, bombing, piecing, tagging or muralizing, on this particular work, the scripted letters (the crew’s names, in actuality, which gradually reveal themselves to you if you stare at them long enough) appear as loud, vivid visual music that brings the whole piece together, unifying it into one vivacious, percussive and captivating whole.
The mural required 7 gallons of primer, 6 gallons of green paint, 100 cans of spray paint and about 150 hours to complete. All in a week’s work, you’d think, for a crew that has been commissioned to create murals for Klipsch, the NFLPA, Hot Box Pizza, IndyGo (for whom they painted two buses), Red Bull, Pabst Blue Ribbon, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and scores of others. But that wasn’t the case at all for this wall, huge even by FAB Crew standards. Commissioned by Pattern, and paid for by a grant, it was conceived to be larger than life and intended to bring a measure of urban culture to – and “blow up” – the heretofore “forgotten end of Mass Ave.”
Pattern caught up with The FAB Crew over beers and etoufee at nearby YATS, where the discussion revolved around the mural, the crew’s well-documented history, the graffiti scene in general and, indeed, their art.
PATTERN: So, is it art?”
CENTS: Funny, that’s a question everyone wonders about but no one asks, like they’re afraid to offend us, or something. Is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel art? That’s one big-ass mural if you ask me.
SACRED317: It’s an artistic style for sure and something we’ve been cultivating for years. This isn’t graffiti to mark territory or tagging a subway train or the kind of graffiti or bombing or stenciling or whatever that’s commonly associated with vandalism and that politicians with nothing meaningful to say grab at like low- hanging fruit in their quest for some kind of wedge issue.
PATTERN: How do you really feel?
SACRED317: Seriously, there’s so much misconception about urban art. And most of the people who are out there railing against it have no idea what they’re actually talking about. Most of the work we do, and the work our friends in other crews do, is by permission.
CENTS: Not to burst any bubbles. Besides, you can’t be a world-class city without graffiti.
PATTERN: What is it that makes it art?
SACRED317: We’re talking substance and connection. This means something to people. People were coming up to us all week and thanking us for being here. I think they recognized the integrity in this piece.
CENTS: Exactly. All that other stuff, it doesn’t have the burden of integrity. With this, Pattern didn’t say “do this or do that.” They didn’t want it to be commercial and even discouraged us making it about Pattern or the Pattern Store at all.
SACRED317: They gave us ultimate freedom. They literally told us to “just do the art.” Our response was “holy shit, this is going to be awesome.” So when you get right down to it, the integrity of it, that’s a big part of what makes this art.
CENTS: Graffiti is to art kind of the way the Sex Pistols were to punk. How could they not be punk? How could what we do not be art?
PATTERN: What is it about your art that speaks to people?
SACRED317: People love art.
CENTS: We’re not just bringing color to bad neighborhoods. That’s a common misconception about graffiti in general.
SACRED317: For us, sure, the graffiti came first – it’s what influenced us early on. But at the heart of it, the attraction has everything to do with us being artists. It’s about people feeling good about having our art in their neighborhoods – in their space. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s colorful, it’s happy and yeah, sometimes it makes people think. And that’s a good thing.
SACRED317: This art is not about us. We like to think people are getting something out of our work. And when they affirm this for us by showing their appreciation, that’s what it’s all about for us. I imagine all artists feel like they have something to say and a responsibility to say it.
PATTERN: What kind of things do people say to you?
CENTS: We had one guy on a bike come buy and ask us how we knew we had the talent to do this.
SACRED317: This made us realize that we didn’t actually know. We realized that, at some point somewhere along the line, we just did it and the rest of these last 17 years grew from there. And that’s a message we hope to share with everybody. Trust yourself. If something fundamental speaks to you, listen. And if you have something to say, say it.
PATTERN: Is that your secret to success?
CENTS: It’s no secret. And besides, we’re not in this to be successful, whatever that is.
SACRED317: We’ve always been fans of each other’s work and respected each other. We’ve known each other – and worked with each other in various crews – since high school. We’ve always been motivated to be better artists and both of us had that as an internal drive.
CENTS: I can’t tell you why we work together, but I can tell you why we don’t want to work with someone else. We had synergy before synergy was cool. That’s enough for me.
SACRED317: It comes down to we’re kindred spirits and it shows in our work.
PATTERN: Speaking of your work, why DJ Topspeed on the Mass Ave. wall and not something more…
CENTS: (laughing) …expected?
SACRED317: To us and to a lot of people, Topspeed has had as much influence on this city, culturally, as Paul George or Andrew Luck or anyone or anything else you see associated with Indianapolis at least 12 times a day.
CENTS: It’s just that not everyone is as aware of Speed’s contributions…to us, personally, as artists, or to the city as a whole.
SACRED317: We thought that this project for Pattern was an excellent opportunity to fix that and give him his ups.
PATTERN: Why does the style involve incorporating your names into the design?
CENTS: We get asked that all the time. Don’t all artists sign their work?
SACRED317: It’s been part of graffiti style since forever. In the end, isn’t all art really the ultimate self expression?
CENT: Signing your name is not only one of the most common things we all do but it’s essentially fundamental to expressing who you are.
Which makes Topspeed and his dancing analog admirer – and The FAB Crew’s signatures-as-subjects – perfect for this particular work of art. And in that regard, the new mural at 905 Mass Avenue is much like the neighborhood in which it now resides: unassuming albeit quite distinctive.
Pattern’s final question: “Why does YATS keep the Mountain Dew behind the counter?” This was much discussed, but went unanswered, the rationale remaining curiously confounding.
Gallery of other murals and street art by FAB Crew.