The Tattooer's Apprentice: Art Emancipates PostModern Cholo (VIDEO)
The synchronicity between the opening of MOCA's "Art in the Streets" show and L.A. law enforcement's crackdown on graffiti hasn't gone unnoticed by postmodern cholo and tattooer's apprentice Sal Sanchez.
Recent arrests of street artists Invader, Smear and Revok are on Sanchez's radar. "The city of Los Angeles is cracking down on graffiti artists, sending people to prison and making an example of them for expressing themselves," he says.
Sanchez manages a design/tattoo studio on South Alameda Street, but at the moment he is bumping Scarface in his silver 1979 El Camino all the way to the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. He's going to see "Art in the Streets," billed as the first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art. It traces the trajectory of the genre from the 1970s until today. Part of Sanchez's job involves maintaining two pieces that his mentor, Mr. Cartoon, has in the show.
"They're taking away art programs from public schools," Sanchez says at the museum as he makes his way through a world-class clusterfuck of street art armed with a feather duster. From Banksy to Chaz and beyond, the show is decidedly expansive. "Kids who are in the inner city -- all they have is expressing themselves with what's available to them ... and then get sent to prison," he says, disillusioned.
Prison is a place Sanchez knows a little something about. He was sentenced to eight years in the Texas state prison system on a 1998 drug charge. He even did some time in Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, aka "the Walls," the state's oldest prison; it boasts 472 executions between 1982 and 2011. Before being locked up, Sanchez went on the run and ended up in L.A., where he landed a part in a movie and a job at the design studio where he works now.
It was a big surprise when the cops picked him up on the Texas warrant as he was on the way back from the MAGIC Clothing Show in Vegas. "Two to 2,000 pounds," he says, intentionally evasive about the exact amount of weed Texas cops had found in the trunk of his car at the time of his arrest. He had not told his employers about his fugitive status.