Instructors Include Peyton Scott Russell, Tyler “Siamese” Read and Biafra Inc.
EAGLE BUTTE, SOUTH DAKOTA — The Cheyenne River Youth Project’s first art interns are now deeply involved in their internship coursework, thanks to several renowned professional artists who are teaching them the basics of graffiti and street art. They include lead instructor Peyton Scott Russell, a Minneapolis-based artist and art instructor; Tyler “Siamese” Read, an artist who also serves as the arts education engagement coordinator for the Rapid City Arts Council; and Biafra Inc., who also is based in the Twin Cities and has exhibited his work around the world.
Peyton (as he is known professionally) taught “Graffiti: The Art of Creative Lettering” at the CRYP campus on March 27-28. During the three-session course, he shared the method he developed to help fledgling art students understand structure, balance and space for drawing and painting letters. And it involves much more than writing.
“When spaces are manipulated, interesting shapes and dynamic letter forms appear, which is found in graffiti-styled letters,” Peyton said. “It’s very typical for students to go through a learning period to gain a better understanding of this.”
The process begins with a purely technical approach to drawing letters — drawing grids and lines that follow a predetermined pattern. Letters will be predictable, straightforward and block-style. Once the students grasp this, however, their creativity can emerge as they stretch and distort the grid, which distorts the letters. Then, other design elements may begin to enter the work.
“At this point, I encourage the students to add their own personalities into their drawings,” Peyton said. “What life experiences can they find within the lines, angles and perspectives of their drawing as it relates to letters? This is when students may find styles that speak to them, or their personal voices may become articulated in the work.”
As Peyton noted, this does take time.
“It can be a lifelong journey,” he observed. “I’m just providing a peek into what’s possible within the genre of graffiti and helping the kids design stylized creative fonts.”
While one three-session course isn’t quite enough for him to see definitive growth and solid defending letter style among the interns, he said the group has promise.
“My hope is that the young people in this community can adopt this art form and contribute to the graffiti genre by using their native cultural references to design and paint letters.”
Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, agreed. She commented that graffiti culture and Lakota culture are a good fit, and she looks forward to seeing the original work that will come from the teens’ unleashed creativity.
“Our traditions involve self-expression and storytelling through art,” she explained. “When I look at the teens’ work in graffiti and street art, and at the variety of artwork on display in our public Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park, I see the contemporary version of our traditional Lakota winter counts. We want to give our youth more tools so they can tell their stories and express their true identities in a healthy, positive, safe way.
“Peyton is a great teacher,” she continued. “As they build a deeper relationship with him, the interns will understand how much he can help them accomplish. We’re trying to set high standards here, because we know these kids are completely capable.”
Peyton will return in late May for his second “Art of Creative Lettering” workshop, which focuses on colored paper collage. In this course, he will share techniques for cutting and gluing that he has developed to teach examples of graffiti art. His final program, in June, will address the use of aerosol.
“This is the apex of graffiti culture,” he said. “In addition to style, all graffiti artists are judged and critiqued by their use of spray paint, which is the most difficult part of the art form. I hope that by the time the interns use spray paint, their knowledge of letters will be firm and solid. That way, they won’t struggle with the style of their letters and can focus on simply learning aerosol and can control, which is the art of controlling the mist from spray paint.”
In addition to attending Peyton’s March course, the 10 teen interns also were able to take a course with Tyler “Siamese” Read, who has been involved in graffiti culture since 1992 and a resident of Rapid City, South Dakota, since 2004. He’s active in the city’s Art Alley and works as the arts education engagement coordinator for the Rapid City Arts Council.
During his February class at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, Read taught the interns about the history of graffiti culture from the 1960s to today, focusing on the evolution of the art form and its key players. The class also addressed street art, which is slightly different in terms of how it’s used, the shapes it takes, and the artists. And, he incorporated the concept of community art parks as a critical tool for change.
The cohort also will benefit from a special course with instructor Biafra Inc., who is visiting the CRYP campus this week. A 2011 graduate of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in printmaking, Biafra Inc.’s art combines spray paint and print into unique layers of collage work and large-scale murals. He shows his work around the Midwest and nationally.
“I originally started cutting stencils so I could make my skateboard look different from everybody else’s, and I quickly realized the possibilities of the medium,” he recalled. “I became completely obsessed. I cut images of everything I could think of, spraying them on surfaces, and I naturally progressed to learn screen printing.”
Biafra Inc. said he’s very much looking forward to working with the teen interns at the CRYP campus, especially since stenciling and spray paint proved to be such great creative outlet for him as a young person.
“This art form gave me a creative voice that I may not have otherwise found,” he said. “Sharing that outlet and showing young people what’s possible with cut-up paper and a can of spray paint really excites me.”
The interns are excited too. In fact, when they’re not with instructors, they’re making sure that they’re still learning. Together, they’re organizing “black book” sketch sessions every other Thursday, which gives them an opportunity to freely practice the skills they’re learning.
“They’ve had two sessions so far,” Garreau reported. “Each night has a theme, like Cartoons and Brands. This first cohort of youth interns is teaching all of us how to move forward with this innovative new program. We’re all learning, and we’re thrilled, because the program has so much potential for growth.”
This spring’s art interns are Justin Cook-Twite, 17, Jacine Carter, 16, Fentress Cromwell, 16, John Chavez, 15, Tylaina Dupris, 14, Jaymalee Turning Heart, 14, Kellyn Circle Eagle, 14, Sappire Lucero, 13, Miranda Vines, 13, and Xandria Norris, 13. During their four-month internship program, the teens will participate in training opportunities, engage in open studio time, attend leadership development workshops, explore career opportunities for artists, plan community events to promote the Waniyetu Wowapi (“Winter Count”) Art Park, and unveil their own work within that public space when it’s ready.
The art interns must complete 80 hours of instruction during February, March, April and May to complete the program. Upon successful completion in June, they’ll each receive a $500 award for their time and commitment. Then, they will be able to celebrate their accomplishments by joining accomplished professional graffiti artists from around the country at the RedCan graffiti jam this summer. It will take place on July 8-9 at CRYP’s Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park in Eagle Butte and on July 11 at Rapid City’s Art Alley. Garreau, Peyton and Siamese are co-organizing the event, a revolutionary first in Indian country.
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.