Graffiti art, by nature, is a territorial expression. Rival crews tag public walls, letting loose a spray-paint-infused primal scream: "I was here, I exist."
But graffiti also can be a collaborative form of calligraphy that plays with lettering, symbols and signs, as is the case with the Los Angeles street artists who have united for "Scratch," an exhibit at the nonprofit, experimental art hub ESMoA, formerly called the El Segundo Museum of Art. The "art experience," as it's been coined, grew out of a Getty Research Institute project last year in which the museum's rare books curator David Brafman invited about 150 local graffiti and tattoo artists to create works on paper inspired by a 16th century book, a "liber amicorum" ("book of friends"). The resulting drawings, paintings and "handstyle" letter forms were bound into the Getty's Graffiti Black Book, also known as "LA Liber Amicorum" ("Los Angeles Book of Friends"), which is on public display for the first time at "Scratch."
Bringing the book to life, six of the Getty Black Book artists and their crews — Cre8, Axis, Eyeone, Fishe, Miner and Defer — transformed ESMoA's main installation space into an explosion of color with 80-foot-wide murals on faux interior walls. Even the floor has been plastered with paint splatterings, tagging and stenciling. The original, 402-year-old "liber amicorum" that sparked the project will be on view along with other rare books from the GRI's collection. And in old world-new world synchronicity, visitors can flip through digital scans of the ancient books on iPads.
"Scratch" runs through Sept. 21 at ESMoA, 208 Main St., El Segundo; (424) 277-1020, esmoa.org.