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Update: The art of graffiti; community dialogue April 11, 2019 rescheduled

Peyton Scott Russell (sitting) shows Tower View students photos that he took of them to be used in a future graffiti project. Photo by Rachel Fergus /RiverTown Multimedia. 1 / 4
Boxes of spray paint in dozens of colors are available to students participating in the Sprayfinger class at Tower View. Rachel Fergus /RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 4
Sydney Lewis begins a new piece, "The pansexual pride flag." Students used aerosol outdoors or in large boxes to help contain the paint. Rachel Fergus /RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
Angel Rowan created a variety of pieces during the graffiti art class with Peyton Scott Russell. A couple of Rowan's pieces focus on outer space. Rachel Fergus /RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

UPDATE: Due to weather, the April 11, 2019, community dialogue has been rescheduled to 5 p.m. Friday, April 12.

I knew that I had found the Sprayfinger class at the Tower View Alternative High School because the breeze carried on it the smell of aerosol and the sound of teen voices and the shaking of cans.

When walking into the studio at the Anderson Center, visitors encountered an array of bright colors, unique designs and names spelled-out in fonts as unique as those who created them. Each student was working on a piece of art. There were pansexual flags, American flags and rainbow flags. There were lines, splotches, zigzags, swirls, shapes and pieces that were entirely one color. There were paintings of planets and a homage to the Lakers.

Students worked in two media for their projects with Peyton Scott Russell, the creator of the Sprayfinger educational curriculum. They made pieces with aerosol and used paper and scissors to draw their names. These names were then juxtaposed on top of a spray painted piece and gave it another layer of color and meaning.

For Peyton, writing one's name is important. He explained:

"Regardless of whatever your name is, it's the way you write it, or the way you paint it that speaks more to actually what the name is. So I try to bring each individual student's soul and spirit out in the way that they sign their names, and the way that they embellish and articulate the names. And, that's what graffiti is, it's writing your name and presenting yourself to the world, to the person that you want to be."

Though Peyton showed the students ways to create their names he did not tell them what they had to look like, he left that up to them. In the same way, his program teaches the history of graffiti along with drawing, collage and aerosol. Peyton gives the students the tools and then lets them create.

Graffitied names are usually created using spray paint. However, Peyton explained that it can take a long time and a lot of practice to learn how to make clean edges and exact shapes with spray paint. So instead, he has students use paper so that they can draw their names any way they want without worrying about not being masters of aerosol.

Peyton has been creating art since he was a toddler. He explained that he grew up drawing comic book characters, martial artists, ninjas and dungeons and dragons character. By the time he entered high school, drawing ninjas and comic book characters was not as popular so Peyton lost some interest in art for a while.

That changed when he saw "Style Wars." The documentary focuses on hip hip, another passion of Peyton's and graffiti art; specifically groups and individuals that would create street art by graffiting on trains

"When 'Style Wars' came on it was 80 percent about the trains and that just totally abducted me. On a super deep, visceral level, I was like, 'What is this?' And I knew immediately that's what I wanted to be a part of; I wanted to have something to do with that aspect of it. I could still consider myself to be a part of hip hop culture and be an artist."

When the documentary was finished Peyton pulled out his drawing supplies and began practicing.

Though he received push back from teachers and professors for focusing on graffiti art instead of "fine arts," Peyton's graffiti is what got him into the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After college Peyton became a professional artist, awarded a Bush Leadership Fellowship, and founded art organizations, one being Sprayfinger.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, Peyton give a lecture on graffiti art at the Depot. After the lecture there will be an open community dialogue.

Emily Guida Foos, the executive director of Red Wing Arts, explained that this is an important topic for Red Wing. "It's very relevant to our community right now with the discussions of Barn Bluff - He Mni Can," she explained.

Red Wing Arts plans to hire Peyton again to help teach community members about the art of graffiti starting June 10. Residents can sign up for a two-week program. The first week will be similar to what the Tower View students have done with Peyton: learning about graffiti and how to create art with aerosol. The second week will be focused on creating and painting a public art mural on the side of the Red Wing Artisan Collective.

A presentation created by Red Wing Arts about the mural project explains that "Through this project we hope to bridge cultural gaps, refocus and educate the community on the concept of graffiti versus graffiti art and the sensitive nature as to where and when it is OK."

On Saturday, April 13, Peyton and the students from Tower View will have a show opening at the Depot to show their art.

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