Eds Note: Being the editor of a public forum such as this brings interesting opportunities and challenges with it. One of those came across the transom in the last couple of weeks. Someone calling themselves “Wisconsin Resident” wrote and asked if I would be interested in a piece on graffiti here in Wausau. However, as this is technically an illegal activity they asked to be able to write anonymously. After some discussion with my “editorial board” I decided to go ahead with the article, which is below.
I do not know the identity of the author, so cannot divulge it, and everything which follows is the work and opinion of “Wisconsin Resident.” It is said to be the first of a three part series, so stay tuned. As always, if you have an opinion, one way or the other, drop your comments in the box.
By “Wisconsin Resident”
I walk across the 400 block in the summer of 2006 and notice something I have almost never seen in Wausau. Aerosol graffiti, stickers, tags written on signs and trash cans. Was I transported back to Milwaukee?
Some people call it vandalism — I call it the art of graffiti. What is this? How did it get here? It’s certainly a form of expression Wausau has been mostly immune to so far.
The word “graffiti” derives from the Greek word graphein meaning: to write. Graffiti has been on the rise in the Wausau area since this past summer. I first started seeing it around August. A lot of the activity is centered within a half-mile of the 400 block. Graffiti can come in many forms: markers, aerosol paint, glass etches, paint markers, stickers, and wheat pasted posters even. Most of these pasted posters are political, or socially motivated propaganda.
Many people in Wausau mistake artistic graffiti for gang graffiti. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In Wausau, probably 95% of markings you see on the wall can be said to be artistic graffiti. Gang graffiti is usually very simple and defines a gang’s territory. Artistic graffiti, also known as “tagger” graffiti uses calligraphy, 3d lettering and shading, and complimentary color selections to create pieces of art. These ‘taggers’ typically pick a nickname or moniker (which explains the name of the style) and make that one word their own, finding different and unique ways to write and paint their signature tag. One tagger who has ‘gotten up’ in Wausau is named “Zeel”, he also spells it “Zeal”.
Wausau has had a graffiti mural for some time, but most drive by it without looking twice. Dwellers in Wausau had some acquaintances come in and paint a mural on their business. These were ‘tagger graffiti’ artists from a larger city.
Tagger graffiti has now made it’s way to Wausau. You may be asking yourself, from where? Through my social networking and immersion in the culture, I can tell you it can be traced back to Madison and Chicago artists. Now that these men have ‘jump-started’ the graffiti scene in Wausau, other kids who live here and have been interested in graffiti will now take to the streets. I have already seen evidence of this myself here. Some kids in our area don’t have the guts to go out and be the first, but now these graffiti veterans have opened the flood gates. For the majority of people who participate in graffiti, it is a non-violent form of artistic expression.
Walking around downtown you can see their monikers stylishly written on surfaces. You may see the names, WEEZY, DUES, ZEEL, ESOK, and JEH. (See Example D) Graffiti artist’s sometime hang out together and form what is called a crew. Crews go out and do graffiti together in a group. Crews have shown up in the local Wausau area in recent months, once again being traced to Chicago and Milwaukee as well as Madison. Two crews I have seen personally is SMC and POR/P7. SMC stands for ‘Subliminal Messages Crew’ from Milwaukee, and POR is ‘Prophets of Rage / 7 Posse’, from Chicago. Have these crews formed factions here in Wausau, or were these graffiti artist’s just passing through the area? That remains to be seen and I will have a better view come summer.
Many artists feel they are making the city they paint in more colorful. Business owners in the area typically don’t feel the same. Just ask Verizon and Crossroads Mental Health Services in Wausau who were the targets of graffiti last December. However, the graffiti that struck these two Wausau businesses was not the work of gangs, but again, the artistic work graffiti artists.
So next time your downtown in Wausau, keep your eyes peeled. Is it guerrilla art or is it pure vandalism? You decide. I vote art.