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Up From the Underground

Alex "Pr!mo" Luster got himself a documentary from the street art life.

At the time, Luster was officing there, editing the side projects he couldn't get to while working at Fox TV. (Over the years, Luster has been all over the TV dial, in both Spanish and English formats. He is no longer with Fox, but is now at a station he won't disclose.) The interview went long. Really long, so much so that Luster had far too much footage for a mere short promo.

Luster had long been acquainted with Give Up's work. What Inner Looper hadn't seen all those stark images of razor blades and that blunt two-word message? "I didn't know if it was positive or negative or what," Luster says. "I assumed it was negative because of the razor blade and the way it was typed out — that typewriter font, very basic, very black-and-white, very contrast-y. To be honest, I didn't see it as art. I saw it as a message. I just saw it was odd. It just intrigued me that he worked so hard to get that message everywhere."

Give Up liked Luster from the get-go, and the two forged a bond that endured through many hours of filming. "Everything always seemed easy," Give Up writes via e-mail. "I knew from the first time I met up with him that he really knew what he was doing as a filmmaker, but also that he understood the kind of complex nature of what would be involved in doing a film like this."

Of all the artists Luster featured, none was ballsier, more nihilistic or ever eager to stick it to the Man than Give Up, best-known for his stark images of razor blades and terse two-word message.
Stick 'Em Up!
Of all the artists Luster featured, none was ballsier, more nihilistic or ever eager to stick it to the Man than Give Up, best-known for his stark images of razor blades and terse two-word message.
The Big Get: Shepard Fairey, along with Banksy, one of the two most famous street artists in the world, reminisces about his Houston misadventures in the film.
Stick 'Em Up!
The Big Get: Shepard Fairey, along with Banksy, one of the two most famous street artists in the world, reminisces about his Houston misadventures in the film.

Details

Read More:
• Blog post: An interactive map of Houston's best street art.
• Blog post: Stick 'Em Up debuts at River Oaks Theatre
• Blog post: Coolidge, Houston's answer to Banksy
• Slideshow: Stick 'Em Up Premiere at River Oaks
• Slideshow: Houston's Most Gorgeous Graffiti
• Slideshow: Street Art for Tropical Storm Allison

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On the day they were introduced, Luster had an epiphany. He stood and watched as Give Up toiled laboriously on an installation, which entailed the artist scattering dirty leaves (and some other stuff) all over the floor. "Somebody came out of there and was saying, 'Man, I think there's glass in there,' and I was like, 'Well, it is Give Up's show, you know?'" Luster chuckles.

Luster says that Give Up then painstakingly filled in all four walls of the 400-square-foot space with a forest he carefully drew, twig by twig, limb by limb, trunk by trunk, with a Sharpie. "It was super-detailed. And when I walked in and got introduced to him, he was just standing there with a Sharpie and he'd finish one and just go on to the next one. It was a lot of fuckin' work."

And it would all be gone when the installation's run would finish, just as so much of Give Up and the other wheat-pasters' work is destroyed in weeks or days or even hours by property owners or city remediation teams. It's the most ephemeral of art forms for this most ephemeral of cities.

Luster saw in their works echoes of his own labors as a TV cameraman. Even though he had done more than just news — he had directed two local Spanish-language variety shows, SuperNaco and Volumen, and done numerous station promos over the years — he believed that all the work he had done up until then had been consumed in the moment and then cast into oblivion like yesterday's newspapers.

"I would work so hard to make a 30-minute special," he says. "Maybe I would work three months on it, but you only get to see it for 30 minutes and maybe you were talking on the phone. Were you even paying attention? Were you even entertained, or were you staring at it blankly like most people?"

The scraggly-bearded Give Up's acid wit and menacing appearance (neck tattoos, dirty jeans, a Charles Manson T-shirt) and the fact that his message was at diametric odds with everything this rat-race, striving city purported to be all about, fascinated Luster endlessly. Give Up inspired Luster to do just the opposite.

With an assist from Aerosol Warfare, Luster started talking to the other artists around town. For some, winning over this secretive tribe could have proven difficult, possibly even insurmountable, but the artists quickly saw in Luster a kindred spirit, albeit one who worked in a different medium.

"Having someone with you on some of these endeavors can make it easy to become best friends," writes the artist known as Dual via e-mail. (Most of the artists we interviewed would only communicate with the Houston Press via e-mail; all of their faces are blurred in the documentary.) "So working with Alex was awesome, he was always game to any spot I came across. It would sometimes happen that he was calling me to go out and I would not be able to. I enjoyed every minute with him, made the missions a lot more enjoyable."

"The thing about Alex is he's really good at what he does," says Coolidge, a stencil artist whose work makes a brief cameo in the film. "People contact me pretty regularly and ask if they can come out with me and take pictures. I'm not into that, really, but I looked at the stuff [Alex] had done, and you know, it's really good."

After a couple of years shooting, during which he racked up more than 55 hours of raw footage, Luster called in his old buddy and former Fox-26 co-worker Tony Reyes, also an actor and screenwriter, to help mold the raw material into a classic three-act narrative format.

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2 comments
Tieuel Legacy
Tieuel Legacy like.author.displayName 1 Like

Very big piece. A lot of information, secretos y mas. Several funny parts also. He'll have to go back into the underground at some point. Hopefully I'll catch a cut of the film before he does. Tieuel Legacy! Motion

 
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