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  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Local artist Meme surveys a midtown mural she worked on recently as a member of Few and Far, a women's art collective.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    An animal rights theme connects elements of the mural, painted with the owner's permission in an alley between R and S streets off 24th Street.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Sacramento artist Ursula Young painted the opening panel of the Few and Far mural.

Women's street art collective takes on a Sacramento alley -- legally

Published: Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 - 7:46 am

As the street art movement matures, female artists are no longer willing to take a back seat in what has been a male-dominated realm.

Evidence of that can be seen with a visit to a weedy alleyway off 24th and S streets in midtown Sacramento. There, poetic brush strokes and boldly colored "wildstyle" spray-can lettering has transformed a gray concrete wall into a dynamic visual experience.

The mural is the communal work of 11 women from the national street artist cooperative known as Few and Far.

The group's artists descended on the alleyway in September with ladders, scaffolding, paint rollers, scissor lifts, and a multitude of spray cans and other tools of the trade.

Some of the artists, who go by names such as Hops and Merlot, came from as far as Seattle.

Hops gladly absorbed the $400 in travel and food costs to help paint the alleyway wall. "Me coming down is a strength in numbers sort of thing … because we're trying to keep this collective going," she said.

The group – founded by an affable local street artist named Meme – paints walls only with the permission of building owners.

It took Meme, 29, two months to get the go-ahead from the company that owns the wall, Consolidated Electrical Distributors, which did not return phone calls from The Bee about the project.

It took almost as long to secure a sponsor to provide the $2,000 worth of spray paint needed. The total cost of the mural, including retouches, was $4,000. Few and Far members paid the other half.

It's the first wall the crew has done in Sacramento. The group has painted murals in places such as Seattle, Atlanta and Oakland.

Last year, the crew scored a big dose of street art legitimacy when it was invited by Juxtapoz magazine to paint a wall as part of Art Basel Miami, an influential contemporary art event.

Meme said she is less interested in making a statement about women artists in a male-dominated scene than she is in building a dedicated crew.

"I always wanted to paint with women, not because I am one, but because I felt I could relate to them," Meme said. "All these girls – they love painting together, and because our girls are based in different cities they have different styles."

The wall in Sacramento is a reflection of those styles, from the painterly to wildstyle lettering. Animal rights is its unifying theme.

Meme decided to draw the public into the flow of the mural by placing local artist Ursula Young's work – a lyrical portrait of a woman with billowing brown hair – closest to the street.

"I chose her at the first spot because some people have a hard time accepting graffiti art – even if it's done well," said Meme. "Instead of putting a graffiti piece first, I put a calming female figure there … I think the public relates to that kind of art better."

This is Young's first mural. Most of her experience is in the fine art realm, where she believes women artists face challenges similar to those faced by Meme and her crew.

"My main difficulties as an artist has had to do with being a woman in the art world, with being taken seriously, and showing in mainly male shows," Young said.

Her work on the mural opened her eyes to the challenges of street art for women.

"These girls have taken massive risks to go and make their art on the street, sometimes in sketchy areas late at night," Young said.

So far the mural has been a hit with its neighbors.

"My clients love it," said Chris Merrick, owner of Big Bang event planning. The rear of his business on S Street faces the mural.

"Every time I pull up here now, people are photographing it," Merrick said. "Before this, the wall was plagued with graffiti. Every day we'd come to this huge mess, but these gals took this on and made it beautiful."

The appearance of the legally created mural signals that street art is entering a period of maturity and legitimacy with the public. The case for that was made in 2011, when the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art staged the first large-scale American museum exhibit devoted solely to street and graffiti art. That show drew favorable reviews and attracted more than 200,000 visitors during a five-month run.

The result is that many building owners and law enforcement officers are beginning to see a decline in illegal muraling.

"That is true around the world as street art has gained more exposure and access to the Internet brings to the viewers images being created everywhere on a daily basis," said James Prigoff, a local street art expert and author of the book "Spraycan Art."

Noel Eusebio, senior code enforcement officer with Sacramento's anti-graffiti unit, said he sees more legal mural activity now than at any time during his 25 years of monitoring graffiti for the city.

Eusebio says legal muraling may be a deterrent to illegal graffiti and gang-tagging, but there are some caveats.

"The thing for me is the sustainability of it. How long is this going to stay up? Who will maintain it?" Eusebio said. "Because I guarantee you that somebody, sooner or later, will be putting graffiti on that mural."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Edward Ortiz

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