Meet Steve Grody, Photographer, Historian, and Cartwheel Art’s DTLA Graffiti Tour Guide

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Steve Grody, leading a DTLA graffiti tour for Cartwheel Art

Sunday, August 26, Cartwheel Art kicks off a new Graffiti and BBQ tour, offering an insider’s look at the graffiti of the DTLA Arts District, a graffiti lettering workshop, and late lunch at Pearl’s BBQ. Pearl’s will be serving the tour group a special menu. Steve Grody has been leading graffiti tours for Cartwheel Art since the beginning, and graffiti artist Joseph “Nuke” Montalvo will join the group to share the behind-the-scenes story of a graffiti production by his crew.

Steve Grody is a graffiti documentarian who lived in the DTLA Arts District for 27 years, from 1986 until 2013. He is still based downtown, and now lives in the Brewery Artists Complex. As a kid, Grody loved not just comic book art, but lettering. He taught himself how to draw bubble letters, and by the mid ‘80s, when modern graffiti was starting to develop in Los Angeles, he says, “I was immediately aware of it and sympathetic to it, because I was seeing people create their own letters, and I thought it was interesting. I got drawn into it, because I saw that it came and it went, and I thought there should be a record of it.”

DTLA graffiti tour

He says at first the graffiti writers saw him as a curiosity. “They’d see me showing up, and they thought that I was either a crazy person or a cop, because you know, who else that’s a generation older than them would be out there going down the alleyways, going to all these places, if they weren’t either crazy or a cop? And then after a while, they realized that I was somebody that was genuinely interested.” Some of the artists appreciated his interest, while others were standoffish. He says, “Back then, if they were OK with me, that was one thing, but now that they’re adults, there are a lot of people that are thrilled in retrospect that there was somebody that was making an effort to preserve a record and to preserve some history, because there are a lot of kids that never got pictures of their own work, or they don’t know about other people’s work at a certain time.”

In 2007, Grody published Graffiti L.A.: Street Styles and Art, a book about the evolution of graffiti and street art in Los Angeles, and it’s far more than just photos of the artists’ work. He says, “I really tried hard to write a book that was for three audiences—a book that would represent a solid base history of graffiti in L.A. for L.A. graffiti writers, present a good showing of L.A. graffiti to the worldwide graffiti community, and then on top of that, to really try and clearly explain the scene or translate the scene to people outside of the graffiti world that weren’t just pissed off about it.”  Grody not only shares his in-depth knowledge of graffiti culture on his walking tours—he has also written for Cartwheel. In 2016, he wrote a great piece on the graffiti history of the Globe Mills Complex, which is now Hauser & Worth.

Steve Grody, leading a DTLA graffiti tour for Cartwheel Art

When Grody first started taking pictures of graffiti, many pieces were painted over before they were recorded for posterity. He says nowadays, thanks to social media, the opposite is true. “Now, people are getting pictures before the paint is dry or before it’s done.” While a lot more is being preserved, he finds it frustrating that the work is often presented out of context, without any cultural relevance. While Instagram has inspired more people to create street art, he says, “The problem is that it doesn’t necessarily raise the bar of quality. There are a lot of people that are interested in getting seen rather than actually improving what they do. They’re hoping to get a lot of views from people, rather than actually getting respect from people in the street art and graffiti community. It’s a weird time in that regard.”

In 2013, Grody gave a TEDx talk about Los Angeles graffiti and its cultural importance. Watch it here:

He says, “When I’ve given a talk, I say, ‘Look, I’m not here to convince everybody that they should like graffiti or necessarily not be angry about some graffiti, but you should at least know what you’re looking at a little bit more and understand it a little bit more.’” He wants people to grasp the graffiti artists’ motivations, and to recognize the difference between gang graffiti and modern style writing.

On Cartwheel Art’s new graffiti and BBQ tour, Grody will show people around a graffiti-intensive area of the DTLA Arts District. He says, “People will see all the major forms of modern graffiti. They will see tags, they will see throwies, they will see pieces and productions.” (Read his earlier post to familiarize yourself with graffiti slang) On the tour, people will also meet veteran L.A. graffiti artist Joseph “Nuke” Montalvo. Nuke, who recently participated in Art at the Rendon, a project curated by Cartwheel Art in which artists turned the old Rendon Hotel into an immersive art experience, is part of the UTI crew. Nuke will talk about his work and offer a behind-the-scenes perspective on a UTI production, a big group collaborative mural. Grody says, “Nuke has strong lettering skills, and he is particularly adept at what’s called character work, in other words figures and representational scenes. His stuff is really distinctive. I think he stands out, because he does really interesting Mexican and Mexican-American cultural references.”

Pearl's BBQ in the DTLA Arts District

Cindy Schwarzstein, Cartwheel Art’s founder, will also join the tour to share historical information about the DTLA Arts District, as well as how she expects future developments to transform the neighborhood.

The tour will culminate at Pearl’s BBQ, where Nuke will guide participants through their own experiments with graffiti style lettering over a special BBQ menu created especially for Cartwheel Art. (Vegan and gluten-free options are available.) Tickets to the Graffiti and BBQ tour are available through Eventbrite. This tour is family-friendly.

Thanks to our partners Pearls BBQ & Artist and Craftsman Supllies!

Cartwheel Art's Graffiti and BBQ tour

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