Graffiti artists find new venue in Ear Peace Records

Colleen Killingsworth/Staff

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The gallery space at Ear Peace Records vibed with music, colors and lines as patrons walked along to view the 50 or so artworks hung on the wall. A few wandered outside to grab a beer and check out the murals in the courtyard outside. Celebrating the independent record label and store’s grand reopening, artists, musicians and appreciators of both art and music came together for “Breathe Easy,” an art show put on in collaboration with Endless Canvas.

Since Ear Peace initially opened on April 1, 2011, it has been building its home at the crossroads of art and music with the intent to foster integration between them. At the start, they focused on their record store and boutique, but also put on music-related events like live performances and open mics.

In light of the success of such events, Ear Peace decided to get rid of their boutique and clear out the downstairs space. “We wanted to be more involved in the art side and music side of things., Ear Peace Records owner Alison Ferrell told me. “We wanted to be doing stuff that was more fun for us.” In a small upstairs room, they still sell some Ear Peace merchandise, underground hip hop CD’s and vinyl and every shade in Montana Colors’ 94 spray paint collection.

For “Breathe Easy,” partnering with Endless Canvas was an obvious choice. They have worked together on many projects over the last year and have since formed a close relationship. “When we came up with the idea of reworking the business model, they were the first people we went to about doing some artwork,” said Ferrell.

Endless Canvas has established itself as the authority and trusted voice in East Bay street art, and its prominence has only grown since September’s “Special Delivery,” a massive mural exhibition in a Berkeley warehouse that drew thousands. “The network has been growing for the last five years,” said Dead Eyes, one of three original Endless Canvas members and an artist himself. The blog has grown into an organization that publishes the “Endless Canvas Zine,” puts on events like “Special Delivery” and, most importantly, has become a network of local graffiti artists.

Endless Canvas has around 125 artists under its wings. Sometimes the artist will approach them, while other times Endless Canvas will approach the artist. “We see their artwork on the street; we hunt them down,” Dead Eyes said. Many of the big name “Special Delivery” artists showed at “Breathe Easy,” like GATS and Dead Eyes, who also each created permanent murals for the store’s interior walls.
The Endless Canvas curators assembled a collection of art that highlights the transition from the streets into the gallery, as the artists employed new media like Chris Granillo’s ink drawing of other artist’s tags and Karma’s photograph of uniformed school children in front of his own tag. “I asked them mostly not to bring anything that was related to their street work,” Dead Eyes said. “A lot of these cats don’t even show in galleries, but they have a lot of personal work.”

Primarily a traditional letter graffiti artist, Devote created pieces outside of his normal scope. “He does old-school funk style. Not anything new or anything that is experimental really . . . Nothing is from graffiti right here,” Dead Eyes said. Here, his largest canvas is a blood-orange sunset that sets behind a swirling blue ocean. Streams of colorful lines weave rhythmically into rocks at the shore.

In an area where some of the most prominent artists are working illegally and in a medium often viewed negatively, a show like “Breathe Easy” allows us to see their art in a new light, without the controversies. Bringing the graffiti artists into a venue for music, an art form universally more accepted, further asserts the legitimacy of these artists and adds another artistic dimension to the show. With “Breathe Easy,” Ear Peace and Endless Canvas set an example for future art-music collaborations.

Anna Carey is the lead visual arts critic. Contact her at [email protected]