Wildstyle’s public sketchbook. Photo by Andrew Callaghan

At Wildstyle Wednesdays, Young Graffiti Artists Master the Craft

The weekly art-store meet-up teaches youth about Seattle graffiti history while shaping its future.

Just about every Wednesday afternoon from 4 to 7 p.m., shortly after the final school bell rings, teens gather at Art Primo, an art-supply store and gallery on Pine Street. Huddled around the drawing table, they practice their craft—sketching away at colorful graffiti pieces, networking, and sharing stylistic advice.

This weekly sketchbooking event is called Wildstyle Wednesday, aptly named after the “wildstyle,” a complex, colorful style of graffiti art which rose to popularity in New York City during the early 1980s. Its prominence is partly thanks to The Writer’s Bench in the Bronx, a subway platform turned graffiti-sketchbooking meet-up spot where artists concocted new styles, critiqued each other’s designs, and paved the way for the popularization of graffiti as we know it.

To develop your own wildstyle is to devise unique color schemes and letter structures. It takes practice and feedback to make progress, and that’s exactly why aspiring young artists, like local teen Alec Werner, frequent Wildstyle Wednesday with such ritual regularity. “I like being able to connect and bond over a hobby that me and someone else both enjoy. It’s easy to meet people here,” Werner says. “I like to see people innovating new styles. They show me doo-dads and it makes my own work better.”

The event typically attracts a diverse group of teens, from inner-city neighborhoods and deep-Eastside ’burbs like Issaquah. Some attendees are more experienced than others. The event’s torchbearer and de facto mentor, Joe Largy, has been known in Seattle’s graffiti-art scene since many Wildstyle Wednesday participants were still in diapers. “In the context of social media, this event gives these kids an environment to form actual friendships and relationships. I would venture to say, it’s probably better to be here doing art then to be drinking 40s in the park,” he laughs, “or whatever kids do these days.”

Largy likens graffiti to a sort of folk art in which cultural traditions and stylistic forms are passed from generation to generation. “If you really wanted to be a nerd about it, and get into it,” he says of Seattle’s particular graffiti style, “you could probably trace a line back from the youngest graffiti writer today to some random fool from the ’80s. And if not the ’80s, at least to the early ’90s.” In this way, Wildstyle Wednesday is a font of generational wisdom, where kids of all ages create and critique each other’s work—and of course grill Largy with questions about Seattle’s graffiti history.

“When you’re drawing with others, you might learn something from them, and they can learn something from you. It’s like working on a puzzle—we’re all putting pieces forward,” Largy says.

Art Primo, 415 E. Pine St., artprimo.com. Free. All ages. 4–7 p.m. every Wednesday.

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