Move through the streets of any city, and you’ll eventually come across a graffiti. Guatemala City is no different; colourful letters and memorable characters bring life to the dull concrete of certain walls around town. There’s one place where graffiti stands out, though: in Zone 1, in 9th avenue and between 11th and 12th street, one can find a wall the length of the whole block covered in street art. Local graffiti artists refer to this particular wall simply as “the spot”.
“This place is so filled with graffiti that one one cares about seeing someone doing it here,” says Drage, a young graffiti artist. He also adds that the wall is part of a private parking lot, but the owner doesn’t seem to mind all the art on it. “Maybe he likes graffiti,” he comments jokingly.
After taking a really long drive to find some paint, Drage and his friend, Seven Blades, start to scope out the place where they’ll add a new piece. Their plan is to cover up some other guy’s graffiti with their own. “People don’t really care about their graffiti getting painted over,” Drage explains. “It’s pretty chill. People always paint over stuff, and people’s stuff always gets painted over.”
In broad daylight, the two graffiti artists pull out a paint bucket and their spray cans to paint the outlines of their piece. The people waiting for a bus right by the “spot” don’t even seem to pay attention to them. A guy walking with his baby in his arms stops and stares for a minute, but then keeps going about his day without saying a word. A couple of old ladies also stop and say ooh-ahh things like, “What is that supposed to be?” and “It’s really nice!”. Even a cop car drives right past the graffiti artists mid-work without even stopping or saying anything. “It’s called a bomb,” they say once they complete their work after a couple of hours. “It’s a simpler style.” From across the street, their design is very clear: their monikers, “Drage” and “Seven”, written in stylised lettering.
Seyor, a graffiti artist of great talent and friend of Drage and Seven, is trying to make a living out of street art. He often attempts to attend festivals across Central America and sell pieces. “I’ve been in some festivals, and I’ve gotten paid,” he says. “But the income is not constant nor predictable, but I’m still trying to sell my work.”
Seyor’s preferred lettering style is called “Wildstyle”, it features a design with letters that are often complicated and hard to read but result in a very dynamic aesthetic. Before meeting up with Drage and Seven, Seyor went to check out a Wildstyle piece he had worked on recently. After a long bus ride, he arrives on location. “I did this one yesterday,” he comments. “I had to wake up really early in the morning after a night of drinking. Waking up was a pain in the ass.”
Moments later, Seyor meets up with Drage and Seven. Drage is wearing a G4S uniform, and he explains that he works at a private security company. The crew then goes to have a shuco for lunch while Drage fills up some paperwork. “Do you remember that piece I did with ‘Trave’?,” Seyor asks Drage. “Someone drew a penis on it.”
The group then jumps on another bus to go check out the piece Seyor was talking about. After looking at the piece, Seyor walks up to a security guard who was on duty right next door. “Did you see the guy who did this?,” he asks him. “No,” replies the guard while laughing. “Someone must have done it overnight.” Still speculating who might have done it, Seyor, smiling over the incident, turns to Drage. “Drage, man,” he says. “I don’t think some nobody did this. It’s clearly nicely drawn.”
As with most cases, the crew didn’t really have actual permission to paint on the walls of that particular spot. “We don’t even know who this place belongs to,” explains Seyor. “I just know it has, like, this radio tower. The security guard didn’t really care.”
Without really figuring out who might have drawn the penis, the crew leaves the area; it was time for Drage to head back to his private security day-job, and he asked the crew to walk him to the bus stop. Along the way, Seyor tagged several things with a marker. He put his moniker on stop signs, walls, and even an abandoned truck everyone already seemed to know about. “Tagging makes me feel free,” he mentions. “I tag anywhere and whenever I can because I want people to know that I was there. They’re fun because you can always change the lettering and do them on any wall really fast.”
Move through the streets of Guatemala City and you’ll come across the occasional graffiti. The more you look, the more they make you wonder whose name pops out more. Regardless of whether you think of it as street art or just plain vandalism, you’ll begin to notice the ever-morphing dialogue in the walls. Once you start following a graffiti artist’s work, all of those seemingly random scribbles on the walls suddenly make more sense.