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Savannah Urban Arts Festival features graffiti workshop
A representative sample of Adolfo Hernandez's graffiti-inspired work

One might say graffiti is the ultimate “urban art” — therefore it seems appropriate that a graffiti workshop helps kick off this year’s Savannah Urban Arts Festival.

A respected visual artist in his own right, 27–year–old Adolfo Hernandez leads the workshop this Monday at the Indigo Arts Center.

“What I’m trying to do is give the kids a little knowledge about what graffiti is,” says Hernandez. “I want to start with a little bit of art history, from caveman drawings all the way to the ‘70s and ‘80s when graffiti was getting popular. Also I want to show some graffiti artists from the ‘70s up to this point, who’ve really taken graffiti to the next level.”

One of Hernandez’s goals with the workshop is to show the difference between graffiti and “scribbles on the wall and vandalism.”

For Hernandez, much of that difference boils down not just to content, but to intent.

“You can’t just put up anything on the wall. You have to know what the image represents, because in the long run that image is going to come back to you,” he says. “A lot of stuff happening in the ‘70s was more political, civil rights and things like that. People would put political statements on the wall so others could read it.”

Hernandez thinks today’s young people are getting “a little more involved” in politics, “because before you had less sources of information. Now you have the internet, where you can find out about different things going on in different parts of the world. Before you had to go out of your way to find out about these things.”

Hernandez, who grew up in Texas and Mexico, brings with him the rich public art heritage of Latino culture, exemplified by the famous murals of East Los Angeles and Mexico City.

“The Aztecs and Mayans had their own characters painted on walls,” he explains. “In the ‘60s the Chicano movement broke out in the Southwestern U.S. Farmers were protesting for their rights, and a lot of the kids got to see this and started their own groups. They painted a lot of murals in the Southwest. There’s a famous one with the face of Che Guevara, pointing like the ‘Uncle Sam Wants You’ poster, except this one says ’You Are Not a Minority.’”

In parts of the Southwest today, he says, “what a lot of people started doing out there is hire graffiti artists to cover up vandalism. So instead of having a grocery store wall that’s all tagged up, you’ll have a mural done by a local artist from the neighborhood. People respect that more than just a wall that’s been written on and scratched. Murals and graffiti, like what I do, is supposed to enrich the neighborhood.”

The southeast’s most famous graffiti artist is Shepard Fairey, designer of the iconic Obama “Hope” design, who first gained notoriety for his “Obey” graffiti art in Charleston.

Fairey, of course, is now an affluent and successful artist, long since moved to L.A.

So does Hernandez see Fairey as a sellout?

“I don’t really see him as a sellout, because as a graffiti artist the main thing is to get your name out there,” Hernandez says. “He did it really well! You see his stuff all over the world now.”

SUAF Graffiti Workshop

When: Mon. April 19, 6 p.m.

Where: Indigo Arts, 703D Louisville Rd.

Cost: Donations accepted