When Franklin elementary school students saw the graffiti on a school wall on November 14, they thought someone broke into the building over the weekend.
Little did they know at the time that everything was planned, and artist Steven Raez had permission to create the graffiti-style black and white mural. The goal was to generate excitement, and it certainly worked.
“There was a lot of talk and excitement about how an art movement should be,” art teacher Jana Weeks explained on Tuesday.
Later, during her art class, Weeks explained to her students that the difference between graffiti—and breaking the law by tagging—is permission. And not only did Raez have permission, he was invited to the school to practice his artistic skills, which he did on November 12.
“They were really excited that we had the opportunity to have him here at our school,” Weeks said.
In the future, Weeks hopes to arrange a session where students can personally interact with Raez, possibly a graffiti education class.
Raez describes his mural as “futuristic” and “Picasso-inspired” and uses faces to show a range of emotions.
Weeks teaches a unit about graffiti and explains that marking is against the law. “The best way to do graffiti is to ask permission,” she says.
In the unit she covers many different graffiti artists including Banksy who is known as a street artist and activist. The unit also includes the nationwide “You are beautiful” movement.
A few years ago, Principal Tina Horrall gave Weeks permission to use a wall near her room for art, and until recently that wall had a mural that Weeks had painted of heroes; It also featured student art focused on their heroes.
“We had to redo it. I put out feelers to find a graffiti artist and Steven’s name was given to me,” she said.
“He’s amazing,” she said. He spent about 2 1/2 hours on the project. “It’s awesome.”
Raez, who is from Terre Haute, has been spraying graffiti for around 15 years. His work can be seen on the ceiling of The Verve, a wall at Headstone and Friends, and a traffic control box in 12 Points, among others. He does exhibitions and paintings, and his artwork has been sold to clients internationally, he said.
Graffiti sparked his interest in art and opened up other avenues, leading him to pursue fine arts, he said.
He moved to Seattle for about a year and is now back in his hometown.
Raez described it as an honor to practice his art in a school.
“Graffiti is still a forbidden art for me,” he said. “Every time you get permission like that to do something in a school and inspire the youth in a different light, it means a lot to me.”
Graffiti, even with permission, “is still frowned upon in certain places,” said Raez, who attended Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Terre Haute South Vigo and McLean High School.
Among his sources of inspiration was the Gilbert Wilson mural at Woodrow Wilson, and he credited Christy Ellis, his art teacher at McLean School, with her encouragement.
Explaining the Franklin Elementary mural, Raez said he used faces to represent the many different emotions and feelings that children experience.
“I thought for a school setting, kids experience a lot of different emotions. It’s never just happy or sad; there’s a lot in between… people don’t really get it,” he said.
Alongside the futuristic Picasso-inspired mural, he featured a smiling face, an aggressive face, and others expressing fear and hope. He pointed to the eyes, mouths, teeth (some of them made of gold) and noses in the mural.
“I just freestyled that,” he said. “There was no script. I just did it from above”, with spray paint.
One of his missions is to bring more culture to Terre Haute, he said. Graffiti is accepted in places like Los Angeles and New York.
“It’s still being discovered here in some kind of art form,” Raez said. “A lot of the contemporary artists emerging on the art scene came from graffiti.”
Graffiti can be done in a positive way, he said. But not everyone is a fan.
He painted a traffic control box at 12 points that “got some backlash. This kind of work is still not accepted by many people,” he said.
Still, “It’s an honor for me to show it in public, and whether it’s hated or liked, it’s still another art form that’s appreciated,” Raez said.
On Tuesday, the students were fascinated by his work.
5th grader Olwyn Overpeck said of the mural, “It’s very cool. It’s very realistic. … I think it’s the fantasy that makes it cool.”
Deonna West, also a fifth grader, said, “I think it’s very unique and a little bit weird… It’s weird but cool.”
Grayson Allen said he liked how it “can be anything you want it to be.” He said he would enjoy making similar art.
Weeks said students and staff “are honored to have this masterpiece in our school.” She also praised director Horrall for “being 100% supportive of the arts”.