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Downtown LA Arts District Graffiti & BBQ Tour

Arts District Downtown Los Angeles California

Always on the lookout for new LA adventures I was excited to discover a new Arts District walking tour, featuring Graffiti and BBQ, which happen to be two of my family’s favorite things. It was almost as if this tour was tailor made for our art loving barbecue eating family. The three hour tour includes an insider’s look at graffiti writing in the Downtown Los Angles Arts District, a graffiti lettering workshop, and a late lunch at Pearl’s BBQ.

Pearl’s Texas BBQ

The tour starts and ends at Pearl’s, Texas BBQ.

Once everyone arrived we set off on a two hour neighborhood walk. Whether you think of it as art or not a large percentage of graffiti is done illegally and therefore will be found in and around alleys, parking lots and vacant buildings. Places where the writer won’t easily be seen.

Artist: unknown

Two hours flew by and it was time for lunch and our graffiti writing workshop. We spent time discussing our street names, as many graffiti writers go by aliases, and then we were each given our very own “piece book” in which to practice our street writing skills.

Nuke and I at the Graffiti Writers Workshop

This is the part where I admit that I was completely forgot to take any photos of the BBQ. I know, I know, how could I? Photo or no, The brisket sandwich, Texas toast and pickle were all delicious.

Pearl’s BBQ Menu

Three LA locals lead the tour each sharing their expertise about graffiti writing, culture and neighborhood history. 

Steve Grody has been documenting graffiti for 28 years and gave us insights into the different eras, styles, and terms associated with graffiti writing. Steve feels that graffiti writers helped introduce public art to the masses.

Steve Grody outside the RETNA Studio Artist: RETNA

The difference between street artists and graffiti writers is a common question on tours like this and it was no surprise that the subject came up. Steve’s opinion is that while there is now some crossover between the two groups there is also resentment. Many graffiti writers feel that street artists take fewer risks and work in safer environments.

Artist: Traver

On the is it Art question? One way to look at it is: Writing outside on the street is graffiti and this type of art inside a gallery is art in the style of graffiti.

Artists: Risk, Revok & Abel

This Risk Revok Able piece has been up for 15 years which is an amazing achievement in the graffiti world. It demonstrates the high level of respect the community feels for these particular artists. Can you read the letters in the photo below? It says Dame and RETNA. If you look at the above photo of Steve outside Retna’s studio you can see that his style has changed dramatically over the years.

Artists: DAME & RETNA

As we walked along we learned about the history of graffiti, which goes back hundreds if not thousands of years with the root of the movement in writing. While typing this I think back to the graffiti writing I saw on the cell walls inside the Tower of London, which is hundreds of years old.

House of Machines

Joseph “Nuke” Montalvo

Nuke is a native of Los Angeles and is part of the UTI Crew. The Crew has a 40 year history in the neighborhood and we were fortunate to see some UTI work on the tour.

Artist: UTI Crew

Graffiti crews are diverse and made up of people from all over. In the end its about what you bring to the wall. Hearing first hand accounts of the scene on the street was a great addition to the tour.

The Alley Gators UTI Crew

Cindy Schwarzstein, Founder of Cartwheel Art and Host 

Cindy started Cartwheel Art in 2012 and is a long time resident of the Arts District. She has a deep knowledge of the neighborhood and the people within. Her passion for the area is both immediately evident and contagious. Thanks to Cindy I’ve discovered a number of wonderful LA events.

Rendon Hotel Downtown Los Angeles Arts District

One such event was Art at the Rendon, which was an immersive art experience inside a vacant hotel in the heart of the Arts District. 60 different artists showcased their work within the hotel and every room was completely transformed. The experience allowed the viewer to be completely immersed within the individual works of art and within the hotel as a whole.

Graffiti Vocabulary

Graffiti writers have a language of their own and like any foreign language a basic knowledge will go a long way in helping you understand what you’re seeing or reading.

Angels –  Famous or respected graffiti artists who have died. Sometimes represented by tags or tributes with halos above them.

Memorial to Serch

Crew –  A group of artists who regularly collaborate often in the same part of town. Examples of local crews: UTI, Ghetto Art Warriors (GSW), Dead Silent Killers (DSK), The Love Crew and Mad Society Kings (MSK).

Artists: Ghetto Art Warriors (GAW)

Artist: Love Crew

Legal Walls – Walls, buildings or neighborhoods where artists are encouraged to create graffiti. The ability to create without having to look out for the police means larger and more creative pieces.

Mural – A huge work, often on a legal wall. It might be done by an individual, an informal group, or a crew

Artist: Unknown

Piece or Masterpiece – Short for “masterpiece.” The term is frequently used to describe a more labor-intensive work.

Artist: Skilo

Throw up, Throwie or Quickie – A tag or small “piece” thrown up in a hurry, often located down low.

Artist: Dr. Did

Simple – a bit more than a throwie but not quite a piece.

Steve Grody Carwheel Art Tour Guide

Piece Book – A piece book is the black book that graffiti artists use to plan out and practice their pieces (masterpieces) before hitting the wall. Often fellow writers will sign each other’s books and or even pass them on, thereby creating a diary or history of their work.

Guest Book – when the sidewalk next to a respected piece has been signed by other writers. This guest book is next to a UTI piece.

Graffiti Writers Guest Book

Tag – A stylized name or signature done with various materials, such as a marker or an aerosol spray can, often freehand.

Slap Tag – Slap tagging is a form of graffiti or street art where the image is created on a sticker and then literally slapped on to a surface.

Sticker Bombs

One Liner –  Writing your name in one line without ever lifting the can.

Artist: Herl from Australia

Toy(s) – A derogatory term referring to either poor workmanship, or an inexperienced writer. Going over or “toying” someone else’s work is an act of disrespect. An acronym meaning Tag Over Your Shit.

Take Another Look

Next time you’re out and about take another look at that graffiti and try to decipher what you’re seeing. Is it a throwie, a tag, or a masterpiece? Are you inspired to “speak” graffiti?  If so, what’s your street name?

Cartwheel Art Graffiti Tour

You might also be interested in: Downtown Los Angeles Graffiti & Mural Walking Tour

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