Los Angeles’ War on Street Artists via LA Weekly
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Back when L.A. graffiti artist Sight was a teenager, he began slipping out of his mom’s South Central home late at night, armed with a razor blade or a can of spray paint, to claim the city’s surfaces as his own.
“When you go out in the nighttime, there’s nobody out there,” he recalls. “There’s a full moon; the air’s crisp. I’m with just me and my thoughts. It’s a beautiful experience.”
Marilyn Avila, Sight’s high school sweetheart and, now, the mother of his two children — 6-month-old Sofia and 18-month-old Adam — says, “I saw how happy it made him. It almost freed his mind.”
Sight was so prolific in his early days that he was known by peers, and graffiti watchers at large, as the “King of South Central.”
Avila recalls: “We would get on the bus, and if there was other graf artists in there, he would know almost all of them. If not, he’ll be, like, ‘Oh, I’m Sight,’ and they’ll be, like, ‘What?! You’re Sight?!’ ”
By the time the young vandal began attending Los Angeles City College, though, he claims he didn’t have time for the all-night branding sprees of his adolescence. He was working two jobs on top of journalism classes, and drove a car instead of riding and cutting up windows on the bus.
When he did break out the spray paint, says Sight, now 30, he had evolved from bus scribing and tagging to throwing up (spray-painting his name in big bubbly letters) and piecing (collaborating with friends on complex, mural-type works). His code of ethics was: “We’re not going to write on anything that looks good. We’d look for abandoned buildings, and walls that were really tagged up. We’d want to put some color right there.”
Along with his dream of becoming a journalist, Sight hoped to publish poetry and learn to piece like Saber and Revok, his heroes in the legendary Mad Society Kings (MSK) crew.
“It was like springtime,” he says of the early 2000s. “Everything was blossoming — there was so much potential.
“Now, it’s wintertime.”
In 2006, Sight was handed the harshest sentence any artist or law enforcement official can recall for graffiti vandalism: Eight years and four months in state prison.
Released after four years for good behavior, he’s perhaps the most dramatic casualty to date in L.A.‘s war on street art — a multipronged effort that views young graffiti artists as public enemy No. 1 and has destroyed even those graffiti-style murals painted with full consent of building owners. As galleries and museums increasingly recognize the movement’s artistic value, government officials only become more determined to wipe it from the streets.