“Utilize” from the UTI Crew at American Hotel for Bloomfest LA

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Modern graffiti in Los Angeles started to catch on in the mid ‘80s and quickly grew in popularity among kids that were attracted to its half-art-half-sport (lots of climbing and running), getting-away-with-it nature. One of the crews to achieve acknowledged veteran status in the world of Los Angeles graffiti is UTI (Under The Influence, Using The Imagination) crew, founded in 1986. There is a broad range of graffiti activities that span the continuum from vandalistic, to illegal but non-vandalistic, to legal and even commissioned mural work, and UTI has covered all of those aspects. For anyone offended and puzzled by any and all graffiti, I would remind them that everyone does something to make them feel alive, from joining a church group to wearing a big cheese hat at a football game, and that every youth generation, certainly in America since at least the Jazz Age, has engaged in activities to express rebellion.

Gang writing precedents (Primera Flats, Cuatro Flats, Nite Owls, Mateo St.) of modern graffiti in the Arts District may still be seen on the side walks and in the gutters if one looks carefully, and the modern styles of tags, throw-ups, pieces and productions have been an integral part of the Arts District since at least the beginning of the ‘90s. Most veteran crews have represented on the walls in the Arts District including DTK, AWR, CBS, K2STN, UTI, LOD, WAI, COI, YR, K4P and more.

There has been ambivalence towards graffiti writing in the Arts District, with some residents appreciating and enjoying the work, and others making the writers (the preferred name for graffiti artists) feel like they didn’t belong there even though a number of prominent writers actually lived in the AD and helped give it the feel of a living breathing community. According to Joseph “Nuke” Montalvo, Al’s Bar was an important part of many youth’s lives as a central place for punk, hardcore and alternative bands, and a place where graffiti was welcomed on the walls.

The show at the former site of Al’s Bar, “UTI—If These Walls Could Talk” that premiered during Bloomfest LA brought a welcome acknowledgement of graffiti’s integral part in the history of the AD, and specifically the roll of UTI crew in maintaining a continual presence, for over twenty years, of top flight collaborative mural work in the parking lot of Al’s Bar, with a recently completed homage mural to iconic illustrator Frank Frazetta. The work in the pop-up gallery, coordinated by Nuke with crewmate Design9, showed a breadth of work, from traditional “wildstyle” graffiti, to representational work, to completely abstract painting. Looking at the work on the walls and in the artist’s black books on display, it was easy to come to the conclusion that skillful graffiti may have evolved outside of the art establishment, but it has wonderful aspects of modernist formalism: the rhythm, flow and structure of the letter forms and color is about finding a personally expressive aesthetic. Although the parking lot has been a UTI spot for many years, the UTIs were very happy to collaborate on an international mural with MTO (from France) covering the entire south end of the American Hotel. The yard is a special part of the Cartwheel Art Tours where Nuke is a guest consistently, sharing stories of the past, what is currently on the walls and plans for the future

During the evening of the opening, on November 8th, for Bloomfest LA, the other elements of hip hop were also on display: scratching on the turntables, MC-ing (rapping), and dancing (up-rock variations such as popping and locking as well as breaking).

Although the show is not longer up on display, works are still available. Contact Joseph Manuel Montalvo on Facebook for inquiries.

Big plans are in the works for the creation of a new large mural on the south side of the American Hotel as well as the Hewitt side with internationally showing members El Mac and Kofie. “I think the community is going to grow stronger over the next years” said Nuke.

UTI is very grateful to Mark Verge, David Stevenson, Michael Farmer, Melissa “Zippy” Downing and David the Nightwatchman for their making the show possible.

Steve Grody is the author of Graffiti LA: Street Styles and Art. You can visit his website GraffitiLA.com to learn more about the history of LA graffiti.


 UTI Crew during install in AL’s Bar


 UTI Crew roll call at Al’s Bar during install


 Artwork for show at Al’s Bar


 Artwork for show at Al’s Bar


 Artwork for show at Al’s Bar


 Artwork by Black Light King for show at Al’s Bar


 Artwork by Hex Tgo for show at Al’s Bar


 Mural in Al’s Bar for the show


 Historical photo of UTI Crew in 1980’s during the art show


Progress shot of mural that was being painted in Al’s Bar for the Art Show

UTI c, AD, 10-93_grd

The parking lot at Al’s, 1993 (Axis CBS painting the devil face, Relm KSN piece on far right). Photo by Steve Grody


 Art for Al’s Bar show


 Black Light King of UTI Crew painting during Bloomfest LA


 UTI Crew members hanging in the Al’s Bar parking lot during Bloomfest LA


 Nuke of UTI crew during the Cartwheel Art Tour for Bloomfest talking about the history and work of the crew.

DSC_0694, UTI_sg

 Guests of UTI Crew art show during Bloomfest LA hanging in the Al’s Bar parking lot. Photo; Steve Grody

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