Vandalism or Art: Juse 1/2 Dead on Atlanta Graffiti
Vandalism or Art:
Juse 1/2 Dead on Atlanta Graffiti
To Meet a Notorious Street Artist
I walked into Jack’s Pizza & Wings and sat at the bar, sampling the menu and ordering a beer. I noticed a man wearing a camouflage beanie and a navy blue work jacket perpendicular from me, munching on a huge slice of cheese pizza, eyeing me inquisitively. When the bartender asked what brought me in on a sunny, Wednesday afternoon, I explained that I was there to interview someone.
“Oh shit, that’s me!” The pizza-munching man at the bar exclaimed with a coy grin.
We shook hands as he informed me of his alias, Juse ½ Dead (editor’s note: due to legal security reasons, Juse’s full name and facial appearance are withheld).
We reconvened at a table made from a retrofitted bench next to a wall layered with years of paint. The paint was thick and grimy, and there was no telling how far the graffiti on this wall was dated.
The Art of the Impulse
“I guess overall just in Austin, riding the bus around and skating, there’s graffiti all over the ditches, everywhere you go throughout the city. Especially back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s,” he said when I asked what sparked his interest in street art. Having friends who shared similar interests resulted in a group with a unified vision for creating street art.
“A lot of them when I grew up, were the same dudes I was looking at [in Austin] then that I ended up becoming crew with… I’m inspired by my crew,” he said on his main artistic inspirations. Juse stressed the importance of the people he creates art with as a collective, just as much as he stressed inspirations like Frank Frazetta to his creative method.
“Vomit, not Atlanta Vomit. I’m inspired by Gomer of course. I’m literally inspired by the dudes that are in my fucking crew and they’re some of my favorite artists. And that’s all there is to it,” he said.
The ½ Dead crew that Juse is a part of bounce ideas off of each other. This is key to their work because it creates a signature style and a cohesion to their graffiti. Street art a freeform of expression removed from formal art in which the artist follows his or her impulses.
To Bomb or Not to Bomb?
“I would say it would kind of be like really reckless crime-doing activities with paint,” Juse said.
I wondered how he decides where to put his pieces – or “bombing,” as they call it. Juse prioritizes places that seem abandoned, neglected, and spots that he thinks won’t get ‘buffed” (street artist slang for removal of their works).
“If it is gonna get buffed, you hit it just to make a point,” he said. He also explained that when picking out places, sometimes he has to dial down the ambition because it may be too risky.
“Graffiti is all about attention, but if you get too much attention, you go to jail,” he said. Juse is originally from Austin, Texas, but moved to Atlanta to find what he claimed to be a whole new world of possibilities. Texas in general is a lot stricter on graffiti, due to how they criminalize it or how often they buff the work.
“They’ll dust for fingerprints. They take it super seriously,” he said.
The Oasis of Atlanta
Atlanta, with its more relaxed handling of street art, provided him with newfound opportunities to explore his passion, especially after the recession, which created more abandoned buildings.
“It was extra apocalyptic and fun-having. But not anymore. Now that all the money is here and the gentrification, that’s all gone,” he said. Juse, a Coast Guard veteran, also emphasized the skills he learned in the military that carried over into how he creates art.
“It made me really good at climbing and doing really physical things. It also got me kind of hip to how watches are stood, what security is like, things you may not think about… Graffiti gets put into perspective too,” he said. “You’ll be thinking this is some serious shit and then you go to the miltary and you’re like, ‘no this is the fun stupid shit.’ If you take this seriously, it’s not going to be fun,” he added.
Juse expressed that the structure provided by the military to him as a young man was great, but once he was out in the streets of Atlanta, he was truly able to lose his inhibitions and be free.
Have Fun or Don't Bother
While trying to contain a smirk, he detailed how the best part is the moment right before the spray paint hits the wall is his favorite aspect of street art.
“I know that sounds cheesy but I savor it every time it happens… because it’s not a crime until that paint hits the wall. It’s not a crime to walk around the sidewalk with a can of spray paint in your hand… So I always just have this moment and it’s like a serial killer moment where I just savor it,” he said, staring off into space with an exuberant grin cracked from ear to ear.
Juse doesn’t own a sketchbook for a few reasons. First, it’s not wise to have evidence on or around you. Second, because it’s diametrically opposed to his creative method. As someone who works with a stream of conscious method, having plans or concrete ideas would be a detriment to his art.
“It’s gotta look fun. If it doesn’t look fun and it looks like you stressed out and you’ve been sketching this for days, then good God, why are you doing this?” he said. When asked why people should care about graffiti, he said it makes the city look a lot cooler.
Why Does it Matter?
“If I was an alien that came here from another planet, and I landed here, and I was like, ‘what’s up with all this shit everywhere?’ and someone said ‘oh those are all the people who live here, they just write their names on everything,’ I’d be like ‘oh, alright, that makes sense,’” Juse said.
Juse stated that society either puts graffiti on a pedestal or we completely disrespect it. Street art is something natural that comes with an urban society, and if you put a bunch of kids in a city together, it’s going to happen. Some people will always see the potential for a creative outlet within the canvas of edifices the city provides.
“Graffiti is supposed to be vandalism. The art is like a performance art. It’s the act of breaking the law and the act of doing what you want to do… but the art is just a byproduct of the action,” he said.
Juse said that ultimately, graffiti is about going out and having fun – preferably at night.