After finding spray paint in their friend’s garage and painting a few walls, Dot was hooked.
“Dot,” a local graffiti artist who chose to speak anonymously, defined graffiti as, “not really [being] considered graffiti if it’s not on other people’s property,” they said.
“It may sound negative, but it is what it is,” they said.
After painting his first piece of graffiti, Dot was instantly hooked.
“It was all a spiral from there,” they said. “It’s not something I can just stop. I’ve tried to stop. It’s an addiction, it’s art. It’s a bad hobby, but it’s a hobby I love.”
“It’s just being out there,” Dot said. “When you’re out there and you’re alone it’s a different feel. Everything is silent. You feel like everything is yours.”
Dot considered quitting graffiti and strictly painting canvas, but can’t, they said.
“That’s boring as hell! I doesn’t want to limit myself to one surface,” they said.
Graffiti also introduced Dot to other forms of art such as abstract form, marble carving, clay sculpture and photography, but graffiti has remained their core art style.
“I don’t look it as defacing someone’s property,” Dot said. “I look at it as I’m painting a canvas. The back of trucks, everything, and I know it’s wrong, but I still do it.”
Getting caught doesn’t scare Dot, but they still believe there should be repercussions for their actions.
“If you get caught, it is what it is,” they said. “That’s the risk you take, better be ready to accept the consequences.”
“I’m trying not to get caught, and that’s the game,” Dot said. “Hell, life’s a game, better play that shit the best you can ‘til game fucking over.”
Dot is currently painting illegal graffiti and producing a surplus of canvases in hopes of landing a gallery opening. They believe that Burlington is a great place for the opportunity to do so.
“If you’re motivated enough you can do anything in this city,” Dot said. There is a huge art community and so many people willing to help you if you have the drive.”
The Law & Community Restoration
Lt. Shawn Burke of the Burlington police department said he appreciates “the concept of graffiti [and] street art as it applies to lawful activity.”
However, he also believes that the crime of graffiti, or criminal mischief, tears at Burlington’s collaborative and inclusive nature.
“To fully evolve graffiti as a form of art, there would need to be a space where such activities could take place,” Burke said.
Burke said the Burlington police department “will continue to investigate acts of graffiti as law violations and make the appropriate court [or] alternative justice referrals.”
The alternative justice program offered by the Community Justice Center is a pre-charge program similar to court diversion, said the restorative justice coordinator, Jocelyn Dubuque.
“They meet with community members, and together the group comes up with a way that this individual may, in a meaningful way, restore the harm that is done,” Dubuque said.
“If they were caught tagging and feel that they didn’t have another venue to express themselves, there is a way for them to directly make amends to the victim,” Dubuque said, referring to a mural project.
The mural project invites participants on a case-by-case basis to the program, allowing them to give back to the community that they harmed, she said.
The project helped restore a property owner’s fence on South Winooski Street that was commonly tagged. The fence was decorated with several murals created by program participants. However, if the artist was caught tagging again, it would be taken down, Dubuque said.
“That was the thought process behind that,” Dubuque said. ”To turn this into a positive and to also let taggers know that there is another place for them to put their artwork that is legal.”
Bill Ward, the supervisor of the graffiti removal team, encourages artists to contact him to coordinate more mural projects in the area.
“[A mural] that people can appreciate would be better than a blank slate somewhere and would prevent other incidents from occurring,” he said.
From the streets to the gallery
Former mural program participant Makasi Siriwayo used his experience in the restorative justice program and painting graffiti to make a career out of art.
“I got in trouble painting walls, and here I am painting walls for my community service hours,” Siriwayo said.
After completing the program, Siriwayo said he was still interested in art, and spent most of his class time sketching instead of taking notes.
One day his geometry teacher asked to see his notes and, after flipping through pages of his work, motivated Siriwayo to organize his paintings into a gallery show.
Siriwayo said he was reluctant at first because he felt there was a difference between a graffiti artist and an art show artist but he eventually agreed.
“I remember my parents showing up and seeing my work for the first time and being like ‘wow, this is cool.’”
In Siriwayo’s eyes, the art show was a success because many people attended and he was even able to sell a few of his canvases.
The experience made him think about it in a professional manner, he said.
“Maybe I want to expand more,” Siriwayo said. “Graffiti is cool and all that, but how can I use this knowledge that I already have and make it something better?”
Realizing his desire for a career in the art world Siriwayo displayed his work in several more shows, including one in UVM’s Living/Learning Center.
“When I went to art school, my whole portfolio was graffiti,” he said about his acceptance to Pratt Institute in New York City.
Siriwayo graduated in 2010 with a degree in graphic design and illustration.
He now lives in Asheville, North Carolina where he works as an art educator and freelance graphic designer.
His multi-medium style has been described as dreamy and from another world by fans, he said.
Siriwayo commonly attends music festivals. This year will be his first time live painting and spinning fire, he said.
After practicing with his performance group, the “Pyronauts,” for the last 18 months, Siriwayo now can spin, breath and even eat fire.
“It’s funny, as I’m talking to you about this, I have people in my backyard spinning fire,” he said.
They are currently applying to Flame, a fire spinning festival, and Electric Forest, an electronic dance music festival.
“Sometimes I sit down and think about where I’ve been and where I am now, and this is like crazy,” Siriwayo said.
“Six years ago if you told me, ‘yo Seeko, you’re going to be kicking it with Bassnectar, Nightmare on Wax and like, Pretty Lights,’ I wouldn’t believe you,” he said. “I am literally right there by their stage painting to their music.”
From Walls to canvas
“Wall to Canvas,” a Vermont festival hosted at the Magic Hat craft brewery, showcases 12 artists live painting their street art-influenced styles.
“We’re in our sixth year,” said Dani Gleason, Magic Hat’s retail marketing manager. “It kind of actually started as an idea the craft school had initially, and they proposed it to us as a way to bring the street-style art to a more controlled medium,”
Magic Hat was instantly interested, Gleason said.
“It’s a unique event,” she said “It’s also really cool for the artist to showcase their talent, but also it gives them an opportunity to raise some money and some funds for the crafts schools.”
Half of the proceeds from the canvas sales go to the artist and the other half go to the Shelburne Community School, Gleason said.
“We have always been a huge supporter of arts and the live arts,” she said. ”We were looking for cool things to do at the brewery at the time, so it was a perfect partnership.”
Aside from live painting, the artists are also able to sell some of their work at the crafts table, which includes original paintings, prints and more.
“This event is a great stepping stone for going to the next level and getting into a more legitimate and legal side of art,” she said.
Magic Hat will be hosting their next Wall to Canvas festival Aug 1.
And back to its natural habitat
Brian Clarke is a local Vermont muralist who has participated in Wall to Canvas every year since its start.
“Graffiti has opened up my eyes to the possibilities that are out there,” he said. “In my mind you get to write your own destiny which I have chosen to give up my beautiful career and pursue art.”
Clarke recently quit his 15-year career as a general manager at a fine dining restaurant, he said.
“A brilliant career of making someone else happy was basically just creating stress for me, and I wanted to follow my own passion to make myself happy,” Clarke said. “Money would come secondarily if I chose to do that.”
Graffiti introduced Clarke to the art world.
“I really wasn’t interested in art before I found out about the art form, but there was something unique and mysterious about it that drew me into it,” he said.
“Graffiti has opened up my eyes to the possibilities that are out there,” Clarke said. “In my mind you get to write your own destiny, which I have chosen to give up my beautiful career and pursue art.”
Clarke considers himself more of a muralist and is actively pursuing projects where he can work on a larger scale.
“I don’t necessarily prescribe to the traditional art world values,” Clarke said.
“I prefer art for the people, stuff you can go for a walk and see it in the the wild,” he said. “I feel like [graffiti] becomes a little sterile once it goes inside against a blank white wall with perfect lighting, and mood music. I don’t consider it graffiti once it’s in that environment.”
Clarke pointed out the difference between street art and graffiti.
“[Street art] is mostly, what I would refer to, legal painting,” he said. “I know there are other street artists out there that put up their work without permission but wouldn’t consider themselves graffiti artists because graffiti is mostly based in typography.”
Clarke is currently working with Beautify Earth, a program committed to creating colorful murals in order to restore community pride in neglected areas.
“More public art in Burlington will be good for everyone, good for the public, good for the art and good for tourism,” Clarke said.