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Tagging Welcome in This Classroom

By Alisa Hauser | November 15, 2012 11:43am | Updated on November 20, 2012 12:03pm
 A slide for a Graffiti Fundamentals workshop is projected onto the wall of The Silver Room as students go over the basics.
A slide for a Graffiti Fundamentals workshop is projected onto the wall of The Silver Room as students go over the basics.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — Andre Walker is not a tagger, but he wants to learn.

"I've always admired graffiti artists," said the 36-year-old webmaster for Northwestern University. "I want to learn how they do it."

Walker is not planning some sort of tagging spree on the Evanston campus. He just wanted to try his hand at what fans call street art and critics call vandalism.

That's where Lewis Taylor, aka YAMS ONE, comes in.

Taylor, who has been painting murals for the past 18 years, believes graffiti is a form of artistic expression for those with no other outlet.

It's something he now wants to teach, and, as Walker can attest to, something some people want to learn.

On a recent Sunday night at The Silver Room, Taylor worked with a group of aspiring artists who'd registered for his Graffiti Fundamentals workshop.

"We are inner city historians," Taylor told his students. "Imagine for a second that you took a picture of a blank wall, and 10 years later you took a photo of that same wall again. If you have a picture [on the wall] people will remember it. They'll remember what they were doing when that picture was made. That's why this is important."

On this day, Taylor is encouraging his students to make a signature for themselves.

Walker, who told DNAinfo Chicago that he draws with his son in the mornings before school and they are working on a children's book together, was coloring a signature, or tag, for his 4-year-old son, Julian Micah.

Gerardo Hernandez, 19, was trying to perfect his signature tag, EYED.

"I've been working on EYED for a long time," the frame shop worker said.

Though graffiti can be perceived as both art and vandalism, depending on where it's placed and how others react to it, Lewis feels most graffiti artists do not believe they are committing a crime.

"The main reason why people are doing [graffiti] is because they feel like they have no other way to express themselves. In America, graffiti art culture is only 30 or so years old, or at least the appreciation of it. Most graffiti artists, we almost always do not get paid. We do it for our own benefit, to document."

For their "final exam," students in Taylor's Graffiti Fundamentals workshop will hone their craft on a wall behind The Silver Room, which dedicates a wall for artists behind its store.  Every summer the wall is painted over in conjunction with the retailer's annual block party.

The wall is owned by landlord and adjacent business owner, Phil Luparello of Hollywood Cleaners.

"Phil lets us do art on his walls because he likes it. Everyone complains about the graffiti problem, but if you look at the murals behind here, not a single wall's been touched [by taggers]. That shows respect."

Graffiti Fundamentals is one of 17 classes being offered at The Silver Room during the month of November.

Workshop series organizer Tess Kisner is a popular local DJ, artist, and Whole Foods employee.

In September, she approached Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room, about her idea to use his retail shop for peer-led workshops. 

"There's so much space in the back that's not being used. [Eric] loved the idea and gave me complete control," Kisner said. "I put out a call for instructors on Facebook and 14 teachers came forward right away. We're going to see which classes are most popular and continue those."

So far, Kisner has been so busy coordinating the workshops, which have taught about 65 students, that she's only been able to take part on one class — turntable basics.

"The guy teaching it is a scratch DJ and I'm not, so I wanted to learn," she said. 

Some of the more well-attended classes, according to Kisner, are Ableton Live Basics (a DJ software), Couples Massage, and Graffiti Fundamentals.

Classes range in cost from $10 to $20 and there are discounts for first-time attendees and for signing up friends. 

Silver Room fun fact: On Nov. 30, Williams will celebrate his store's 15th anniversary by serving as a guest DJ for Erykah Badu at The Mid, 306 N. Halsted.