Graffiti fest buzz ‘tags’ city: ‘Paint on the Water’ brings ’80s hip-hop culture to the Valley

Photo courtesy of Scott Zahren
Minneapolis graffiti artist Peyton, left, and another unidentified artist, spray paint a mural on a brick wall recently. Peyton and other graffiti artists will paint works on panels set up for the inaugural “Paint on the Water” festival from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 8 in Stillwater’s Pioneer Park.

A blast from the past is coming to Stillwater next week.

The inaugural “Paint on the Water” celebrates the hip-hop culture of the 1980s, complete with graffiti artists, break dancers, Djs, emcees and rappers. The festival runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 8 at Stillwater’s Pioneer Park.

Festival organizer Scott Zahren said 12 graffiti artists will create paintings on 32 panels in the park.

Zahren, owner of Alesci Furniture and Gallery in Stillwater, said the spark for the festival came after he met Minneapolis graffiti artist Peyton two years ago at Franconia Park, where Peyton had three sculptures.

That meeting eventually led to Zahren exhibiting some of Peyton’s works at Alesci.

“It’s misunderstood. It’s a great creation. It’s a great culture,” Zahren said about graffiti art.

So, what separates graffiti art from graffiti that authorities consider vandalism?

“The vandalism part is, someone goes out, climbs a building and spray paints the thing. That’s vandalism,” Zahren said.

Peyton, who started out has a graffiti artist in 1984, said artists like himself get paid to create what he terms are “murals.”

“If I’m getting called to paint buildings, technically, it’s a mural,” he said. “Currently, I’m doing a lot of interior work.”

Another use of graffiti art is product advertising by companies, according to Peyton.

“Today things have changed. Companies are using crazy lettering to sell products,” he said.

“They’re paid to paint graffiti art,” Zahren added about artists like Peyton.

Zahren compared some negative public perception about graffiti art to criticism of works by modern artists in the 20th century.

“What about Picasso? Some people said about his work that it’s just a bunch of lines. Think of DeKoening. Graffiti artists, you could put them in that category,” Zahren said.

Peyton compared graffiti art to another medium that’s become popular in the past few years.

“Graffiti art murals are almost like sand castles,” he said, adding that murals can disappear like sand castles when a building’s new owner paints over a mural.

The other aspect of graffiti art is its connection with break dancing, hip-hop, early rap, Djs and emcees, all of whom used those genres to express their feelings, Zahren said.

“It’s a way of expressing themselves,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘This is what’s bothering me. This is my politics. This is who I am. This is what ticks me off.’ ”

Zahren stresses that the some of the rap music popular today is different from earlier versions of rap two decades ago.

“There’s also the negative stuff, the racist stuff, the sexist stuff. That’s just a pinhead of this,” he said. “The emphasis is not on the bad stuff. It’s on the good stuff.”

Peyton, who has helped Zahren line up participants for “Paint on the Water,” said there is strong interest in the festival since the idea was conceived as only a graffiti and painting show.

“We could do a whole festival, which hasn’t been done in a while,” Peyton said. “Each element individually grew on their own. That hasn’t taken place in 10 years. It’s good to see it back again.”

Zahren said he had no issues with City Hall about the festival.

“It’s all been good. I had no problem with city government getting permission,” he said.

And the fact that the festival is in Stillwater has many of the artists excited, according to Peyton.

“Everybody is excited that it’s in Stillwater. It’s a new environment. The buzz is out there,” he said.