Saying Farewell to a Friend Who Leaves a Legacy in Letters

TIMES STAFF WRITER

His family, and his friends from both sides of the law, said goodby Sunday to Skate, who had a foot in both worlds.

Maybe it could be said that Skate just didn't move fast enough, either figuratively or literally.

Figuratively, Skate was moving into the "socially responsible" graffiti-style art world--the world that some groups are trying to promote as an alternative to vandalism for those addicted to spray-paint--and away from the shadowy universe of taggers, who mark up property in the dark of night.

But it was while backsliding into an illegal foray that Skate, who was 23, met his end in Panorama City last month.

Stepping back to admire his illicit handiwork on a railroad car--a giant graffiti "KRASH"--he was hit and killed by a passenger train on the adjacent track.

Among the legions who despise graffiti as an urban plague, his death was applauded--even chuckled over as amusingly ironic--but he was mourned by friends and relatives who gathered on the dusty grounds of Runyon Canyon Park in Hollywood.

They formed a circle, held hands and burned sage in an Indian-style ritual. Standing in the sun's glare and the pungent smoke, one by one they introduced themselves and spoke of the respect and love they felt for Skate, who was buried earlier in West Jordan, Utah, where his grandparents live.

A memorial leaflet showed Skate grimacing through a chain-link fence, baseball cap on backward, brandishing a can.

To a handful of family members, Skate--his real name was Aaron Anderson--was a much-loved brother, nephew or son. To the street kids dressed in Seattle grunge and the taggers wearing their trademark baggies, he was a friend of the best kind.

The reason he put that oversize "KRASH" on the hopper car, instead of his own "SK8" tag, was that he had a friend with the tag who now lives in Florida.

What Skate hoped, said friends who were with him that night, was that the car would end up in Florida and somehow go rolling past his distant friend, showing him the "piece," or illegal artwork, painted in his honor.

That final act of illegality ran counter to the new direction his life had been taking, friends and family say.

They describe him as a man caught between the two worlds, those of a tagger who grew up vandalizing property and a graffiti artist trying to go straight, embarking on a crime-free life of painting murals on legal canvasses.

"Change is a process," said Sharyn Romano of the Hollywood Beautification Team, a community group that aims to wipe out graffiti in Hollywood, in part by redirecting taggers to useful tasks.

"He was in the process. . . . I believe he was trying to get away from it."

Paint had always attracted Skate as he grew up on the streets of Hollywood and later the San Fernando Valley, said his aunt, Sherry Lambert. She remembered that as a small boy, he and her son Jeremy covered her sister's entire kitchen floor with yellow, green, red and blue paint.

As her nephew grew, Lambert said, so too did his love for art.

"When he was supposed to be doing his homework, he would be drawing instead," recalled Lambert, who Skate lived with off and on during his childhood.

Friends and family say he turned to spray-painting "SK8"--taken from his love of skateboarding--in his early teens.

As his talents grew, so did his popularity and reputation in the hip-hop graffiti scene, which mixes rap music, spray-paint art, skateboarding and underground dance clubs.

"Regardless of your race, age or color, everybody was equal as far as he was concerned," said Pat Parvizi, who considered Skate his best friend. Parvizi recently had an image of Skate tattooed on the back of his calf as a memorial to his pal.

By 1990, Skate had gained media attention for teaching his own "crew" of 20 youngsters, for free in his spare time, how to spray-paint murals and use airbrush techniques.

"As long as I get the wall and a chance to work, I'm fine," he told The Times in a 1990 interview. "I got into this because it isn't a gang. It's fun, without the violence and the vandalism."

That same year, former Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo presented City Council commendations to Skate, who was part of a group of as many as 200 artists who painted a vast "Hollywood Legends" mural on a plywood wall surrounding a construction site. They were praised for helping to beautify Hollywood.

This month, Skate was supposed to start working for Romano's group, running a program teaching young artists how to paint legal murals and providing them with supplies.

"It was like a turning point for him," Romano said. "It was a transition in his life. It was an opportunity reaching out to him. . . . It was right there for him."

It was an opportunity he lost when he ventured onto the railroad tracks.

"He paid the ultimate price for what he did," said his mother, Kristin Heaton. "I don't know what he was even doing there that night. He had completely turned his life around. It's a mystery to me."

The memorial service ended and Skate's friends headed home. Some of the younger ones scrambled down Fuller Avenue, scrawling their tags on apartment houses and electrical transformer boxes as they went.

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