Local teens display graffiti’s good side

May 22, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

A large canvas leaned against the deck of a house in Williston. The canvas contained a smattering of colors and graphics, slowly morphing itself into a cutting-edge graffiti-style painting as Williston teens Dylan Peters and Jack Martin used a variety of spray paints to shape their creation.

It was a warm, sunny Friday afternoon at Peters' house when the artful duo was spray painting over the initial project. The finished display will be featured at the upcoming TeenFest Vermont at the Champlain Valley Exposition. And while the canvas was just a draft that Friday afternoon, a self-critical Martin didn't seem pleased with the work; Peters, however, seemed optimistic.

"It's OK," Peters said. "It'll get done."

Peters and Martin, both 15-year-old Champlain Valley Union High School freshmen, have been creating graffiti-style art over the past few years and like the freedom it allows.

"It's a really good art form and good way to express yourself," Martin said. "It's not like certain projects in art class where there's a right way and a wrong way."

Peters became interested in graphic art in the seventh grade, helping to start an art club. He credits Becky Layman, a former paraprofessional at Williston Central School, for introducing him to the art form.

Martin, a longtime friend of Peters, became involved as well. Martin said he started on paper, using markers, spray paint and stencils. In fact, more of their graffiti art has focused on smaller mediums — posters, prints and clothing — rather than large, canvas works.

Peters said some of his inspiration comes from Kehinde Wiley, and he was able to view the artist's work while visiting Washington D.C. Wiley, who paints vivid color portraits of hip-hop musicians and culture, is currently displaying his work at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Recognize exhibit.

Peters and Martin agree that graffiti is becoming mainstream as artists, such as Wiley, gain more recognition. But they also believe the art form is becoming less respected as incidents of illegal artwork pop up in the news.

"I guess it's just that (graffiti art) is getting more attention," Martin said.

As Martin pointed out, most of the attention is negative. Recently, two teens — one from Essex, one from South Burlington — were charged with vandalizing property in South Burlington and Williston after an alleged month-long spree of painting graffiti. Chief Jim Dimmick of the Williston Police Department said he has no problem with graffiti art as long as it's not done on public buildings, or on private buildings without consent.

"It only becomes a concern when it's done on private property," Dimmick said. "(Artists) have to find a place that's mutually agreeable to the owner. Basically, there needs to be better communication."

Dimmick said he understands the majority of graffiti artists aren't vandals and also said there isn't much of a graffiti problem in Williston compared to Burlington and South Burlington.

"Occasionally we get complaints from activity at Maple Tree Place, but that's usually it," he said.

Peters and Martin said they prefer to work on their art on a smaller scale and have no desire to cause trouble by creating large works on public buildings.

Both Peters and Martin have been using stencils and creating new T-shirt designs with markers and spray paint. They have also been designing art on footwear — sometimes doing so for fellow students for $10 to $12 a pair, according to Martin. Most shirts and shoes Peters and Martin have designed usually take between 10 and 20 minutes to create.

"When it's in your head, it's fast," Peters said.

Peters and Martin have high aspirations. They have discussed starting their own "underground" design company, for shoes and clothing, based on their own graphics.

For now, they'll continue to work on their large canvas to be displayed at TeenFest. Both agree it will take some time to work out a design they'll both be pleased with, but they also seem happy at the prospect of creating.

"(Graffiti art) can let you create more and more new stuff all the time," Peters said.

Peters and Martin will display their work and provide live art demonstrations at TeenFest on May 31 and June 1 at Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. TeenFest is being presented by Williston Publishing and Promotions, parent company of the Williston Observer. Visit www.teenfestvt.com for more info.