“Graffiti is anti-corporation,” says Optimist, a long time Bay Area street artist in a Guardian phone interview. “Whereas advertisements on billboards are trying to sell you something, graffiti is trying to open your eyes to see who else is alive out there.” Spurred by this love of street art, Optimist partnered up with fellow street artist Plantrees to curate “Truck Show SF,” a group show which opens at 1AM SF gallery  on Fri/10.
At the root of graffiti is an earnest longing for social emancipation, self-expression, and communication. Sadly, graffiti writers are often misunderstood, seen as vandals or gang members. “Truck Show” was put together to fight these stereotypes. The group show is a look at graffiti writers’ move from tagging on subway trains to box-style delivery trucks, and how this transition represents the ceaseless human desire for self-expression and unrestricted communication.
By making the show a charity event, Optimist says he wants to show that graffiti isn’t about “the ego or the fame of the name,” but is something that has the potential to serve as a creative outlet for the youth. “Truck Show SF” will feature 80 Bay Area writers. All profits will be dedicated to the non-profit organization Visual Element, a visual arts program in East Oakland that uses graffiti and mural painting programs to empower high school students.
The graffiti writers in the show range from burgeoning young artists to people who have been involved in graffiti for over 20 years. The sheer number of different individual artists who are coming together for a greater cause is notable. “People always say graffiti writers are taking away from society and they’re selfish,” adds Optimist. “This is a chance for graffiti writers to still do graffiti but at the same time give back to the younger generation who really needs the help.”
Graffiti has been around forever, of course. But long after the cave painting days, the art form experienced a rebirth in the 1970s and ‘80s in New York when a miserable economy bred social dissatisfactions in inner-city neighborhoods. During that era, the idea of the subway train as a moving canvas that could extend writing to the farthest corners of a city took hold. But due to transit regulations and chemical buffering methods which made it nearly impossible to spray on subways, graffiti had to conquer new ground. Optimist says that “the art of graffiti [has transitioned] from underground to up above ground and in to the streets.” Nowadays, you’ll see more graffiti on delivery trucks, which zoom through inner cities all throughout America.
“Graffiti is mostly concerned with letters and hand writing, so it’s all about inventing your own style to express yourself through the confines of the letters,” Optimist continues.
With “Truck Show,” Optimist wanted to show just how completely those confines could be ruptured. The exhibit showcases not only classic letterings, but the emerging style of graffiti shown in galleries.
One of the show’s artists Leon Loucher gets self-referential -- he painted an entire night scene as the backdrop behind a figure spraying the first stages of his graffiti piece on a truck. Another artist, Alex Pardee, is more set on experimenting with surrealism. He paints insect-like creatures that burst out of trucks. Artists like Saze used the opportunity to make humorous responses to anti-graffiti sentiments, creating cut-outs of infamous buffers like Jim Sharp , placing the images in front of toy models and paintings of trucks.
“Graffiti is all about the moment,” says Optimist. And although the gallery is removed from the city streets, the pieces it will feature aim to capture the dynamism, action, and spontaneity that drive street art. To emphasize the liveliness of the art form, the actual sides of tagged trucks were brought in and placed amongst a collaged installation to grace the walls of 1AM.
In addition to the obvious similarities of a graffiti-themed art exhibition, Optimist was able to connect the street scene with his 1AM show by virtue of limited resources. “Graffiti writers usually have to deal with their work being next to or in the same space as [pieces done by] people they dislike.” He hopes that this show will achieve something the streets often fail to do, which is to create “a collective of graffiti writers who are joining forces to give back to something much greater – the youth.”
“Truck Show SF” opening reception
Fri/10 6:30 – 9:30 p.m., free.
1000 Howard, SF