Today I have street art on the mind, partly because I spent this past Sunday with local muralist Vinny Alejandro, who made his way back to Buffalo (his big dream/goal) by selling works of art. The guy literally painted his way back to Buffalo in 2013.
Since that time, Vinny has been a driving force in the local mural scene, taking on commissioned projects all over the city. Not only is his art ever-present, I have seen his art prowess escalate each year, to the point where he is now right up there with the big guns. “I’m doing images that I always told myself I could never do – people and animals,” he told me. “For so long I was limited by my own inability to believe in my own talents. I told myself that I couldn’t paint certain things, and therefore I couldn’t. That has all changed since moving back to Buffalo. I recently attended an event called Paint Louis, where artists come from all over the world to paint graffiti. When I finished my piece, I had renowned muralists walking up to me, telling me that they dug my work. They also said how cool it was that I represented my hometown in the mural (see lead image).”
Talking to Vinny, I learned a lot about the local graffiti community. While Buffalo is getting some amazing walls painted thanks to an initiative by the Albright-Knox, there is an interesting flip side to the coin that nobody is talking about. Whenever Vinny gets an itch to create non-commissioned graffiti, he heads out of town, to events such as Paint Louis, or to Rochester where there are dedicated walls that attract artists from all over the region. Unfortunately, Rochester recently lost one of its prime graffiti mural spots, the Rochester Subway, which was abandoned 50 years ago. For years, the abandoned subway was the magnet that drew all of the artists together to work on their pieces. As of last year, that site is now being controlled by developers that have driven the artists away.
In response, Rochester’s graffiti art community found another location – Cobb Hill Park. “That’s where we go now,” said Vinny. “It’s the site of two decommissioned ground level water towers, where artists are allowed to paint all the time. It’s in a park, so people come to watch the artists paint on the weekends. All sorts of people show up to take pictures (urban photographers), and have their photos taken with art (even wedding parties). It’s very popular and is considered a Rochester attraction.”
According to Vinny, Rochester is way ahead of Buffalo when it comes to the street art scene. “It’s more of a Philadelphia-style city, where street murals are actually promoted and embraced. Buffalo needs to rethink the whole street art attitude. We need an indoor/outdoor underground art gallery for street artists, like Cobb Hill Park. At this point, when I’m painting in Buffalo, it’s usually in my basement (see Urban Inspirations). When I’m painting in Rochester, it’s with The FUA Crew. It’s two different worlds.”
Yes, even though Buffalo’s public art scene is blossoming, we’re still light years behind other cities that have been promoting street art for ages. Paint Louis is a coveted event that has become a city attraction unto itself. Rochester recently held a B-Boy Barbecue graffiti expo that turned out to be a huge draw. Rochester also birthed a traveling street art scene called Wall Therapy. The founder is from Rochester. The movement is the reason behind so many of the city’s prolific five and six-storey works. According to Vinny, there are even a few pieces by internationally acclaimed artist ROA.
Vinny is convinced that Buffalo can turn around its street art scene, if the right property owner/s step up to give local artists a place to paint. With so many abandoned buildings on the East Side, there should be something that could work that would help to put Buffalo on the map for it’s street art scene. These walls are for ephemeral works of art that get painted over almost as quickly as they go up. “It’s part of what is so interesting about all of it,” Vinny told me. “You take some photos, and when you come back someone else is working on another piece. This is not permanent art. It’s art in the making. It’s a lot of fun, and people really love it. It’s too bad that it’s missing in Buffalo. The good thing is that we can create the scene if we want to.”