To Protect and Serve Art

It turns out the Houston Police Department did William Steen and his young artists a favor when some misguided cops whitewashed the exterior wall of his studio in July [see "Murals and the Mind Police," July 20]. Of the $6,000 HPD shelled out as an apology, $4,000 will fund the European vacations of four graffiti "writers" who created the work, with the remaining money bankrolling Instant Gratification, an exhibit of the group's pieces at the art space formerly known as the Rudolph-Poissant Gallery.

"[Graffiti]'s fully wrong," admits Sean, who paints under the pseudonym "Next Guy," and like the other two artists, will only give his first name. "It's professional vandalism."

"Vandalism that looks nice," says Memo or "Prime" in graffiti circles.

"Nice-looking evidence," chimes "Weah" Daniel. For these guys, the breaking and entering, the trespassing, the defacing of other people's property -- it's all part of the fun. Who wants to waste time painting a canvas in some gallery that no one ever gets to see? The threesome can go into great detail about the "canvasses" on which they paint to get their names -- fake though they may be -- out there. "Freight trains bring nationwide recognition," Daniel explains. You have to know the lines: Some trains only go across town, while others go all the way into Canada.

"You don't expect money," Memo says. For him, it's enough to travel around the country and hear someone say, "Oh yeah, I saw one of your trains."

"These guys go to remote locations and work for hours," says Steen, who views their art as being as valid as any other. "You really have to be driven."

Is he expecting any problems from the fuzz this time around? Steen just smiles. "We're going to hire HPD [to guard the show]."