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Endless Canvas opens a Sistine Chapel of graffiti art (Community Voices)

Street art at Special Delivery Bay Area 2012 art show in Berkeley

Street art at Special Delivery Bay Area 2012 art show in Berkeley

Thousands turned out Saturday night, September 8, 2012 for the Endless Canvas graffiti warehouse opening in Berkeley, California. This underground event called Special Delivery Bay Area 2012--despite being covered by very few local press outlets--grew to be the most popular art event in the East Bay Saturday night. It featured street art from over 80 local graffiti artists who covered nearly every inch of a 36,000-square-foot warehouse with graffiti and street art.

The organizers were surprised with the masses of people who showed up, posting on their website the day after: "we didn't think that many people would show up." Perhaps the mystique of the event was heightened because the location of the warehouse was kept secret until the day before the event, leaving people to speculate about where the warehouse could be. There's nothing like secrecy, controversy, and rumors of art depicting illicit things to bring out thousands to an East Bay art event.

What attendees found in the former Flint Ink building at 1350 4th Street (a warehouse vacant since 1999), was a building transformed by graffiti artists into what Sean Hanlon, an Oakland resident, called "a Sistine Chapel of graffiti art." Not only were the walls covered with spray paint, but also the floor, ceiling, stairwells, and even elevator shaft.

It was not just tags and gang signs, but inside were works of art, like a Vincent Van Gogh portrait redrawn with a third eye, and Anne Frank in a headress with an apple floating above her--a reference to Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. The artists took pains to integrate the warehouse's granite-like concrete walls riddled with airshafts, windows, balconies, and staircases into their multi-story art pieces. Some artists also tackled political topics, like a mural featuring Fox News, depicting the White House under attack by UFOs, and another on the role of street artists and public dissent.

In addition to artwork by over 80 local street artists, entertainment was provided by local hip hop and dance groups. As the sun went down, floodlights were turned on to illuminate the walls, and the crowds only grew as the hours went on. Between 6-7pm, there was no line to get into the event. But by 9:30pm, the line stretched 2 blocks.

Informally polling people in line about how they heard about the event, most people said they found out about Special Delivery Bay Area through social media outlets like Facebook and Tumblr. Others said they read about it in the East Bay Express and SF Fun Cheap. A street art enthusiast in line said he attended Special Delivery, a similar street art exhibit in Portland, Oregon in July, 2011, and heard about this event through Endless Canvas.

The Berkeley warehouse looks similar to Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin, Germany, except this one has even more graffiti covering every inch of the interior. Read more about how Alan Varela came to host the Special Delivery Bay Area 2012 art show in the East Bay Express.

Click HERE for photos of the event

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By Matt Werner, author of Oakland in Popular Memory. Email Matt at editor[at]thoughtpublishing.org. This post was originally published here.

About Matt Werner