Let Us Spray | News | Salt Lake City Weekly
Support the Free Press.
Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters.
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984.
Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.


Let Us Spray

All over the sprawling Salt Lake suburbs, the writing’s on the wall(s).



Page 7 of 8

{::NOAD::}How Rules Make Sense
It was the older heads who taught Kier respect. “When I got brought up, they taught me the rules,” he says. Only do throw-ups over tags, pieces over throw-ups. If there is a battle, keep it in the graffiti world. Don’t do a horrible piece over a great one. Don’t disrespect elder writers. Don’t snitch and don’t “bite” other writers’ styles.

It may sound odd that a group of rebels conform to such strict rules. But these conventions—of conduct and style—define the community. While graffiti is an act of artistic expression, writers must work within a system if they want to be accepted by other writers. Graffiti styles can be abstract and wild and even unreadable by the average person. But they can’t go too far outside the norm. If so, no one will understand.

“In some ways,” Yeti says, “graffiti is very conservative. It’s weird because, on one hand, it’s all about rebellion and not obeying the rules but, at the same time, you have to obey internal rules to stay in the crowd.”

These rules of style are the mechanism that defines the language of graffiti writing, allowing this subculture to talk to itself. Like French or English, graffiti’s survival relies on distinct communally understood rules.

The rules of conduct are another story.

In 2000, a little beef turned personal. The “pyramid wall,” one of Salt Lake City’s few legal walls, is a small concrete building on a side street west of Interstate 15. Just north of 500 South, its four walls are covered in colorful, abstract pieces.

One day, two writers, Spade and Erups (both now in ARS), were painting at the pyramid. Erups ran out of paint and wrote “not finished” on the wall, indicating that no one should paint over his piece when he went for more supplies.

When they returned, Erups says, a writer named Otra, from another crew, had gone over Erups’ unfinished piece. It was in blatant disregard of the rules. “I was kind of pissed, but it wasn’t that big a deal,” Erups says.

When Erups returned a few days later, he saw his competitor’s message: “I finished. What would Jesus do?” This was a diss on several levels. Erups is a Christian and has gotten a lot of flack for it, hence Otra’s Jesus remark. Plus, by writing “I finished,” Otra was rubbing Erups’s face in the fact that he had painted over him. So, Erups did a throw-up over Otra’s piece, slapping Otra back. Erups wrote: “The destroying angel came. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. When laws are broken, consequences come.”

They soon did.

At first, says Erups, he called Otra and asked him to settle the beef, but Otra refused. Otra paid the price. Everyone in Erups’s crew started crossing out or painting over Otra’s graf, especially his trains. Spade was doing a good job of covering up Otra pieces—too good. Otra got so angry, he wrote Spade’s name and address on a train for all to see.

Luckily for Spade, someone in his crew painted over his name. After Otra broke this taboo of taboos, he was hounded like an animal. “We just took it as narcing,” Erups says. Erups’s crew tagged Otra’s front door; they waited outside of his work. It got so bad, Erups says, Otra packed his bags and left town.

Otra had broken the cardinal rule: Don’t snitch. In a world of rule-breakers, where all you have is your reputation, that was a big deal. “Rules are everything,” Kier says. “Respect.”

Now, Otra lives out of town. He changed his name. It’s Mud, really.