Behind The Scenes: 'Street Art Prophets'
Circle Circle dot dot Focuses On Graffiti Artists
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Katherine Harroff with theater Company Circle Circle dot dot is putting ahead the San Diego street artists in the spotlight. That as KPBS Midday Edition continues. First some other national headlines to keep you up to date this our house Republicans are negotiating with Pres. Obama on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff. House Speaker John Boehner is proposing to increase the eligibility age for Medicare and lower cost-of-living hikes in Social Security benefits. Health officials say flu season is off to its earliest start in nearly 10 years and it could be a bad one. The primary strain circulating is one that tends to cause more severe illness especially in the elderly. The bar server curiosity has completed its first chemical test of soil from the red planet. So far there are no surprises. The spacecraft is on a mission to look for ingredients that could support life. Listen to the latest news through the day right here at KPBS. It is 12:42 and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition. The evolution of tagging and graffiti has been evolving over the last two years the house San Diego I would like to welcome my guests. Katherine Harroff is artistic director Of Circle Circle Dot Dot., Katherine, welcome back. KATHERINE HARROFF: Thank you, Maureen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Mike Mahaffey is an artist, street artist, a stencil artist. Michael, welcome. MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: Thank you for having me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Circle Circle Dot Dot is a community-based theater. Remind us what that means about your plays and performances. KATHERINE HARROFF: Sure community-based theater is when we go out into the community and find different stories and we take those stories and turn them into plays. So, this piece we've interviewed five different, well, 6 Different Street artists that work and live and our artists and have created art on the street, and we created five different pieces based on the stories they shared with us. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now why did you decide to focus on street artists for the production? KATHERINE HARROFF: Actually Michael and I, we created our friendship last year during our piece round and round and he created the art for our last piece, deconstruction of a drag queen and he actually gave me the idea about creating a piece about graffiti artists or street artists and I just thought it was a really great idea. And we talked a little bit about how it could work and I think that we decided to make five different pieces because the genre of street artist is so vast. There's a lot of things to cover, so I worked with him and interviewed him for one of the pieces and we went out and found different artist to speak to as well for this one. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Michael instead of me trying to define street art how do you define street art? MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: I think of it as more as art for the masses, as opposed to just in a gallery setting it is meant for everybody. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Public places for the public to see and not to be permanent, like? MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: So of you can kind of (inaudible) which didn't mind the transitory aspect of it. Everything on the spot, I tend to draw things out cut out of cardboard or cardboard stock ends. There so it gives me a complete image without having to hurry through something. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you can see that, we have a website about this particular play on the website and you actually stenciled this next to that how come I know there is a stencil pointing to her so people will get an idea what that is and of course backup under is the producer of this tubular segment. Katherine in the past you have written and directed at this time as you say you branched out, there are five different stories, some new people to help write and direct. Tell us about the changes. KATHERINE HARROFF: As Circle Circle Dot Dot continues to grow we are looking for more perspectives to write and direct for us so I did write to have the pieces and directed one but this is an opportunity for us to reach out to a couple of company members were on great to try something different and a couple friends we have in the community that has been paying attention to what we've been doing and wanted to participate. Hopefully the goal is eventually to have more playwrights and more directors working with our company so we can have a much fuller season, so it can be more complete. So this was their chance to get a feel for the interviews and creating a piece from scratch and directing these new works in this environment and it's been a really fun experience. Also a little scary as a self-proclaimed control freak letting other people take the reins, but I feel so great that we were able to provide this opportunity to some new buddy that it is playwrights like (inaudible) and (Melissa Coleman) so they can get their work out as well and that's really are helping our company so that we can have a lot of voices telling a lot of different stories. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a clip from the segment that you wrote, Katherine, and directed it's about Michael's life and articulate series seen image Michael's alter ego in the play attempts to get his work shown in the gallery. [Recording:] >> I am an artist and [music playing and people clapping and chanting] >> I'm sorry, we at liberations art studios are looking for a more refined aesthetic at this particular gallery. I'm sure you could find art receptacle downtown that would be more your speed. Please do have a nice day. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is a scene from-- KATHERINE HARROFF: It is a little confusing out of context. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well tell us about what's happening in the scene. KATHERINE HARROFF: It's a little bit more abstract, it is abstract. That particular scene there is a dance that goes along with this routine that the gallery owners, with the help of Anna Maybury and amazing and biographer Blythe Barton not seen in particular is a gallery where they are hanging art and they have this little voodoo ritual to see this kind of benign Thomas Kincaid Artemis Gallery, so the Michael character, his name is Jacob and the play comes in to show his art and he interrupts this voodoo ritual and they are very much part of by this young obligate coming in with his weird art trying to show it to them, so they are abrasive towards. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have you actually have experience with something like that in the sense of trying to get your art into a gallery and having the people in the gallery look at it and say you know, you really need to go somewhere else with this? MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: Voodoo rituals and all that stuff? I have. I love what she did with it because she really made it much more silly than it actually is. But it really captures the heart of just the pretension of that kind of environment, or what it could be like. And I've definitely shown pieces galleries and I think a lot of my experience with this started when I lived in Tucson and I was not doing Southwest pieces so that I would approach galleries there with my work and it was not coyotes and sunsets and it was not usually met with a lot of excitement. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are some of the misconceptions that you think people might have about street artists that these plays address? MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: Vandals, miscreants. I think that a lot of people forget that it's about art that is being put down on the ground for them to actually appreciate and look at and they see it as something that is in an unfamiliar place or not where it should be so they tend to focus on the negative aspect so to appreciate what is there and thinking maybe that is something that could brighten my day or maybe something silly that I can laugh at. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the things that the play shows is how crews go out, in (inaudible) day that was a little bit more, it was not a good day, it was received, it was something they had to hide and sneak around to do. To do this art. And it is a very interesting sort of scene because they're dressed as if they're going to be doing some sort of black ops operation. So tell us a little bit more about that. KATHERINE HARROFF: Well I think that the piece that you are referring to, big block letters sort of came from a different time. It was based off of (Saratoga Saki) who's been doing street art for a long time, and we actually have another artist, Gloria Mariella who the first piece, she's based on several different graffiti collective center also cruise, so back in day they had to address work together and create art pieces but they had to be very sneaky and work around security guards and they were breaking the law. Whereas now a lot of graffiti, not a lot of it, but some graffiti and some artists are commissioned to come and create murals. And Gloria Mariella is actually part of a mural collective called few and far and they could commissioned to make art all over the US and all over the world because they are artists and people see a group now as something as an organizer and collective. Whereas I think- MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Still very provocative, there are some people who just want to keep it that way they do not want straighter to be something that is commissioned and so forth they want to keep the edge to it. How do you feel about that, Michael? That comes up against peoples property and people who do not want to have the artwork on a particular piece of property. What is your feeling about that? MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: I think it depends on the artist and what you are doing it for. If you are doing it to throw up your name or to do something, to be available, there are people out there definitely who do it just to do it I think if you approach it from that angle it's kind of anything goes but I think if you're actually trying to do something that is artistic and trying to create an image to share with people which has been my experience that the people and for that summer but finding a place obviously I would never do it and my friends would never do it on somebody's house or their car or something like that but if you see a sidewalk and you think somebody might want to see something funny or fleshy and sassy writer you might want to write it down. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of art are you doing right now, Michael. MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: Everything everywhere, legally...I love stenciling, my background is in fine arts I'm sort of trying to personally bridge the gap between fine art and stenciling because I have gone from I didn't know what I was doing when I started doing this a few years ago, I just kind of looked at art that I saw around town and on the streets" and I thought that is really cool how do I do that, so I just kind of figured it out and so I got my process down for making stencils and spending times with my drawings. Now it is more project to create bigger and interesting stencils and telling more of a story. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see, and in reading about these particular pieces that you are doing, street art prophets, Katherine, you feel sort of a residence between what the street artists are doing and impermanence, and their desire to do it at all costs because they have to and what you are doing With Circle Circle Dot Dot. KATHERINE HARROFF: Absolutely. I think it is hard to be an artist. It is difficult to really have the opportunity to create. And I started Circle because I had to create. I had to do it somewhere and I couldn't wait until I got a job. I couldn't wait until he even had the money. I couldn't wait anymore. Because I've been working towards this for such a long time and there was not an environment where I could write and direct and act in design and market and make work, so I had to create it, and I think it is the same thing with a street artists. They have to make art and it has to go somewhere and they cannot wait until they get a gallery show or the money for a campus or the opportunity for the masses to come see their work. They're going to make it where they can, when they can. We do have a space to create this work, but we are still struggling every single day to make it work. And we're going to do it. I'm going to keep doing it even if I have to go to the streets, which I might pretty soon. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So there is this and a kinship between what the street artists are doing and your theater company and really we have about 30 seconds left, what are people going to the show learn about street art? KATHERINE HARROFF: I think they're going to learn that it's instinct. That is something they have to do. And I think that young artists are going to be incredibly inspired by this work. MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: And that it is sharing, to it is also returned to pull all of us together. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's not just an ego trip. MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: Telling a story. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Telling a story with the general public, not just people who can buy art. Let me tell everyone that Street Art continues to December 15 at the 10th Ave. theater for beside behind-the-scenes video that I've been referring to go to KPBS.org I've been speaking with Katherine Harroff of Circle Circle Dot Dot And artist Michael Mahaffey. Thank you both very much. KATHERINE HARROFF: Thank you so much Maureen. MICHAEL MAHAFFEY: Thank you very much. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Be sure to watch KPBS evening edition tonight at 6:30 on KPBS television and join us again tomorrow for discussions on San Diego's top stories here at noon on KPBS FM. I am Maureen Cavanaugh and thank you for listening.
Circle Circle dot dot describes itself as community based theater. It kicks off its second season tonight by focusing on a community of artists often relegated to the fringes. Go behind the scenes for the evolution of "Street Art Prophets" (running November 29 through December 15 at 10th Avenue Theater).
Imagine if every time you drove by a building or a massive wall on the freeway you saw a blank canvas that you were dying to paint but forbidden to touch. Graffiti art has its roots on the streets.
"Back in the day I would have to go out and paint illegally but nowadays there are places where you can paint under supervision or areas that are safe for kids to go to paint," says graffiti artist Sake (also known as Saratoga Sake).
Sake is a self-taught artist who's been using a spray can -- and brushes -- to express himself for 3 decades. He says the biggest misconception people have about his art is that it's gang related.
"People treat graffiti art as vandalism but they are forgetting the art part because there's graffiti and then there's graffiti art. Two separate categories."
Even Katherine Harroff, artistic director of Circle Circle dot dot had that stereotype in the back of her mind as she began work on "Street Art Prophets."
"I think that maybe we were thinking this was going to be a little bit dangerous, that there was going to be a lot of elements of gang relation and hostility with the police and that sort of thing."
But as Harroff researched the street art community -- by interviewing artists like Sake -- she quickly saw that it had much more in common with her theater company than gangs. Both have to work quickly to create art that is transitory in nature.
"Circle was created because... I was hungry to be able to do all of the things I felt passionate about and I couldn't live day to day wondering when that was going to happen. And I feel like graffiti art is very similar in that way. That they paint where they are going to paint because they can't wait until they have a space to do it in."
It's all about being heard and finding your voice as an artist says Michael Mahaffey. He's another one of the artists serving as inspiration for Circle's "Street Art Prophets," a collection of 5 short theater pieces.
"I felt like I had ideas and thoughts I wanted to share with people and images I wanted to show people and if they weren't going to let me do it in a traditional fashion then I was going to have my show one way or another... even if there is somebody chasing after you with a flashlight and a gun it's just this extreme passion... to get your message out there come what may."
Over the years street art has moved more into the mainstream where it has gained respect and appreciation. Mahaffey says people need to change how they look at art.
"If it's on a sidewalk instead of hanging on a wall somewhere, it's automatically bad so I would love for people to just be able to hold their judgment for just a minute, appreciate what's there in front of them and think maybe somebody thought I was having a bad day and they just wanted to give me something to smile at for a minute," says Mahaffey.
Harroff wants to make people look at street art as well as theater differently. She has great respect for Shakespeare and the classics but says a modern teenager may not readily connect with either
"There's something about community based theater that brings them in so you get the opportunity to come to the theater and see a reflection of today and people that you know," states Harroff.
Sake is grateful to see his style of graffiti art highlighted in "Street Art Prophets."
"I think it will definitely reach to maybe a different crowd of people that normally wouldn't think twice about graffiti."
Again artist Michael Mahaffey.: "It feels very gratifying and there's a sweetness to it too. It just sort of gives images and voices to people who have had frustrations trying get their own ideas out there."
And bottom line, that's all any artist has ever wanted -- to create something and to share his or her particular artistic vision with an audience.
"Street Art Prophets" opens tonight and runs through December 15th at the 10th Avenue Theater. Be watching for my video feature tomorrow night on Evening Edition.
Check out the videos of Sake putting up the mural at the San Diego Museum of Art and of him painting 20 years ago for a Fox promotional video.
And also see a video of Circle Circle dot dot's previous production, "Deconstruction of a Drag Queen."