On Saturday, July 3, graffiti artist Flash ABC will lead bicyclists on a local graffiti tour of the Humboldt Park, West Town and Logan Square neighborhoods. Along the way, guests will see lots of art, learn about graffiti’s rich history in Chicago and meet artists.
The tour is organized by West Town Bikes, hip-hop culture preservation group Renegades of Funk, the Artistic Bombing graffiti crew and Project Logan, a Logan Square graffiti “permission wall.” Guests will start riding at West Town Bikes at noon. Riders will make their way through Humboldt Park, then stop at the 606, the Congress Theater (2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and Project Logan, touring until 2 p.m.
What Is Project Logan?
You’ve likely spotted Project Logan before, whether or not you knew its name. The seven-panel space wraps around a wall behind the Liberty Mutual Bank (2392 N. Milwaukee Ave.) parking lot at West Fullerton Avenue and North Milwaukee Avenue. Its colorful works are hard to miss if you’re walking down Fullerton or peering out a Blue line window.
For the past 10 years, Flash, fellow crewmember B-Boy-B and artist collaborative AnySquared (2328 N. Milwaukee Ave.) have run Project Logan. The organizers manage a schedule for artists to create new work on the wall on a monthly and biweekly basis.
Right now, Project Logan is home to a few graffiti works from Father’s Day. It also features street art that went up during Sunday’s Against Da Fence event.
Over the years, Flash has been intentional in his decision to have work by old schoolers and new schoolers coexist on the wall. He said Project Logan is a space for any type of graffiti artist to practice, and he’s sure every artist who has painted on Project Logan since its early days has improved their technique.
Flash ABC began doing graffiti in the 1980s and continued into the ’90s, when Chicago led a hard campaign against the art form. Not only did the city ban the sale of spray paint in 1992, but Chicago was also quick to take down any art that did appear. The buff (practice of removing graffiti) was intense.
Art got covered up within hours of appearing, Flash said, and the CTA fined its workers for the presence of tags. Flash and B-Boy-B went to lots of local association meetings trying to get a permission wall started. However, the ban remained, and the art kept coming down, as aldermen like Richard Mell fought hard against graffiti.
It wasn’t until years later that Flash gained access to the Project Logan wall and began reeducating Logan Square about graffiti.
Passing Down A Name
“I’m happy that for the first time in my life … we have an alderman that is on our side – or that is interested, even interested,” Flash said. “Before, this is treated as a criminal activity by any other alderman between 1990 and, let’s say, 2019. Now, they see it because it generates revenue. We have tourists.”
In the past, some of these tourists passed by on the Graffiti and Gears Biketropolis tour, and Flash would tell them about the wall. Flash said he is always happy to talk to tourists at Project Logan. Since hitting the rooftops of the Megamall and the Hollander storage building as a kid, he’s understood that graffiti is for the people. “This wall is for the masses,” he said.
Soon, Flash will be the one taking tourists and Chicagoans alike on a ride through the history of Logan Square graffiti.
“Coronavirus got everything so messed up that” the former organizer of the Graffiti and Gears tour passed on the name, “and we want to carry his tradition of doing this every year,” Flash said. “We want to keep doing this even if we don’t have the wall, because we need to continue to teach people. We are behind as a city as far as the arts … we were held back because of the buff.”
Graffiti And Gears: The New Tour
While Flash said he has no problem with commercial murals, part of his mission is to teach people to differentiate among those pieces, street art and graffiti. He emphasized that while graffiti always focuses on the letters, street art generally focuses on images. This isn’t to say that the two can’t coexist. “This is a graffiti-driven mural,” Flash said of one piece on the wall. “But it’s graffiti driven why? Because of the letters. Although that is an awesome painting, the letters” are what draw you back in.
To help his audience visualize the differences between the art forms, graffiti artists and street artists will be working on the wall on the day of the Graffiti and Gears tour. On one side, PC crew will be “celebrating 20 years of painting around the city.” On the other, street artists from AnySquared will work.
Flash said he’s also ready to teach attendees about Chicago’s particular style of graffiti. “I am specifically going to keep up this piece,” he said, pointing at one red, blue and yellow work by the old-school artist Pengo. “This piece shows you the difference between New York graffiti and Chicago graffiti.”
Flash described why the piece is a perfect example of Chicago letters’ balance and flow, noting how Pengo mirrors details from one side of the work on the other. Although much of the work consists of arrows and doodads, the letters are still clear, Flash added.
“Chicago people like for you to read their letters,” he said. “They don’t hide them. This says, ‘Chi.’ It’s that simple.”
Final Days And Developers
Project Logan has grown and evolved since 2011, but now it faces a huge downsize, as developers will be building on the property. “I don’t know if the developers really understand what we do here,” Flash said. “This is about the advancement of graffiti letters … if I do the square footage of what I have now versus the square footage of what they’re going to give me, I lose half automatically of what I’m doing and of what people are expressing.
“They told us that there was a broken window theory. That if you left this up, the value of the property would go down. Everything else would go down,” Flash continued. “After running this wall for 10 years and literally being run out financially on the rent, the broken window theory was a lie. A big lie.”
Project Logan has been adding value for a long time, he said. Support of the arts from community members like the Chicago Cruisers Bike Club gives evidence of that. But if that’s not enough, the property’s purchase makes it clear that the wall drew people in, he said. Now, Flash wants artists who live off of their art to benefit from the value they’ve created at Project Logan.
The first meeting with developers was productive, Flash said. They realized that they need to keep the art. However, Flash said he knows that meetings must continue until Project Logan secures compensation for the artists.
Now that someone will be generating high amounts of revenue on the property, the wall will need to run differently. “If we’re going to be putting up murals from here on in, it is not going to be for free. It’s not going to be like Project Logan,” Flash said.
While the details get worked out, Flash has been slowing down turnover on the wall. “I think that the people that I want on here are people that have been coming here for 10 years,” he said, “people that I have depended on to put up productions.”
Supporting The Writer’s Bench
While Project Logan determines its financial future with developers, coordinators are also working to leverage the wall for the Writer’s Bench Battle for the Eagle event. (The Writer’s Bench is another name for Logan’s Centennial Monument.)
“As kids, we sat there and sketched. That’s where we learned how to sketch … that eagle [at the top of the monument] is kind of like sacred to us. We wouldn’t even tag it,” Flash said. In 2003, Flash and others picked off from where they left off years before and put together an event at the monument: The Writer’s Bench Battle for the Eagle. The first year the event ran, organizers didn’t even have a permit. Since then, the Writer’s Bench event has grown; in more recent years, organizers have had a permit, a DJ and much more.
Tickets from the Graffiti and Gears Tour will support this year’s Writer’s Bench event. Organizers need funds for essentials like port-a-potties, paint, shrink wrap (to paint on) and trophies.
“With one thing we want to pay for the other. That’s how hip-hop is. You take from one thing to support another,” Flash said.
Featured photo: Jaley Bruursema