by Berenice Sanchez for South Kern Sol
LAMONT–Graffiti is an ongoing debate in the small community of Lamont. Whether it’s perceived as a modern art form or an act of vandalism, depends entirely on the person you’re talking to.
For 17 year-old Gabriel Ibarra, a local graffiti artist, it’s a way to express the visions in his head.
“To me, it’s just putting whatever is in your head onto a wall, so people can be like, ‘What? That’s crazy!’”
Ibarra has been passionate about graffiti and art since the age of 7. In fact, his role models growing up were not sports stars, celebrities or public officials; his were the unknown artists who were getting creative with spray paint in his local community.
“I would look up to the graffiti artists that [did] badass pieces with, like, difficult letters and cartoon characters,” recalled Ibarra.
But when graffiti writers like Ibarra talk about their work as art, it has a tendency to stew up different kinds of emotions in other people.
People like John Money. A Kern County sheriff’s detective and president of the Lamont Chamber of Commerce, Money is not a fan of graffiti. His main concern being “that it makes the community look bad, especially when children have to pass by it on their way to school or church.”
“It’s not art; I don’t see anything artsy about it,” said Money. “If we see stuff here, we try to immediately clean it up. (As a member of the Lamont Chamber of Commerce) our own priority is Main Street, schools and churches.”
Ibarra said his reasons for getting into graffiti in the first place was creative expression; just a way to express what his creative mind had designed.
Nevertheless, Mauricio Marquez, a sergeant in the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, agrees with Money that graffiti is “negative; it’s a bad image. It looks ugly and makes [the] area look bad.”
Currently, the Kern County Sheriff’s Dept. in the area are doing everything they can to stop the graffiti. Detective Money oversees a cleanup program that is part of the Sheriff’s Activities League (SAL).
Each year, the SAL puts countless hours of manpower into painting over walls that have been tagged or written on. All together, Money said, they use up 800 gallons of paint which alone costs the department about $20,000 a year.
“It is just taking (away) resources, like money, that could be used somewhere else,” said Marquez.
Ibarra knows what he does is illegal. He also knows that the sheriffs who patrol the area are aggressive in keeping the buildings graffiti-free. He has already had multiple friends that were caught for putting graffiti on walls.
Money said the consequences for being caught doing graffiti are tremendous: $400 fines and possibly even jail time
“My mom and dad, they would be tripping (if they found out),” he said. “They don’t want me getting into trouble, especially (not) getting locked up for tagging.”
Still, Ibarra doesn’t believe graffiti is such a big problem.
“I’m not killing anyone! I’m not stealing your car! I’m just painting. Why is that so bad?” he asked. “To me, [the risk is] worth it, I guess. That’s just what I like doing, so if I get caught for something I like doing, then it’s all good.”
Ibarra explained to South Kern Sol how from his perspective, graffiti is not just vandalism. There are guidelines, he insists: Specific meanings behind the letters, rules about colors, and names for each style and size. Yet in spite of its intricacies, graffiti seems to have not found support in art classes yet.
“Whenever I would tag in (art) class, [the teacher] was always like, ‘Oh, what is that going to do for you?’” he recalled. “To me… painting with paint brushes, that’s cool, but I prefer doing it with a spray can because it’s the same thing. It’s just that you’re using a different tool. You’re just putting it all on a wall and you’re showing your creativity.”
Money absolutely does not agree that graffiti should be taught in schools and Marquez doesn’t seem to think it’s that well established yet.
Ibarra does seem to agree with the sheriffs about one thing, however: Gang tagging, a specific type of graffiti that Ibarra says is far different than his own work.
“Gang graffiti is just writing dumb stuff on walls, and that kind of tagging pisses me off too, but that’s just them,” he said.
As for tagging, everyone seems to agree that it’s not just a passing trend. In fact, Money seems to think it is actually increasing.
“It’s going to be around forever. It’s a way of communication for gang members,” said Marquez. “It’s a way of showing off for taggers, and a way to claim territory.”
Ibarra said he’s not going to toss his spray paint cans away, although he has taken a break for school. He even has high hopes of getting sponsored by a company one day.
“I’m never gonna stop. I’ll probably be old as f–k and still tagging in my wheelchair,” he said. “People can call it whatever they want, but it’s still an art form. No one can tell [me] differently. I’m (just) gonna be painting more, so people don’t forget about me.”