A Message of Unity, Drawn in Graffiti

It's easy to be overwhelmed by the chaos of an all-day outdoor concert like the Vans Warped Tour. On a recent July afternoon, bands like Rancid, 311 and Less Than Jake blast their music from four

Aug 9, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Wendy Uhlman

Man One and his one-day mural at the Vans Warped Tour at Kentucky Speedway

It's easy to be overwhelmed by the chaos of an all-day outdoor concert like the Vans Warped Tour. On a recent July afternoon, bands like Rancid, 311 and Less Than Jake blast their music from four stages scattered throughout the Kentucky Speedway in nearby Sparta. There are stunt bikes flying up into the air before the eyes of awestruck spectators. There are hoards of young Punk fans, many of them displaying bleached Mohawks and multi-tattooed necks. There's so much action in every direction that it's hard to focus on any one sight.

Yet that's exactly what Man One, a California-based graffiti artist who's creating a mural at every stop on the tour, must do. As the Warped crowd bustles around him, Man One moves from one end of his enormous stretched canvas to the other. He picks up a can of spray paint and showers a small area with color, then steps back to observe his progress.

Man One isn't at all distracted by his surroundings. He's gotten used to the Warped scene by now and appears quite calm in his work.

He takes his job seriously. His own experience has taught him graffiti art has the potential to truly speak to young people.

"I think that's what graffiti's about," he says, speaking at the Kentucky Speedway. "It's about being free and expressing yourself no matter what — illegally, legally, it doesn't really matter, you know. It's kind of like providing your own outlet for your creativity. I think that's why graffiti is so huge worldwide right now: Because there's a big need for it, and kids are taking advantage of it."

Graffiti art originated in the late 1960s as a component of the Hip Hop movement. So it might seem bizarre that Man One is traveling with a tour that features primarily Punk artists. Nevertheless, over the course of the day, a constant congregation of Punk fans observe Man One as he paints. The Warped Tour audiences have proven that interest in graffiti isn't restricted to Hip Hop devotees.

"I think graffiti's bigger than any genre of music," he says. "I think it's about youth culture. I think it's about creativity. If there's a rave going on or if it's a Hip Hop jam or if it's a Punk Rock scene, I think graffiti fits in."

Man One continues to reach contrasting audiences with his artwork. His last gig, the MTV Campus Invasion Tour, featured a youth following that radically differed from this summer's stops.

All of Man One's Warped Tour graffiti murals are created strictly with aerosol spray paint. He spends six to eight hours on each work, starting at noon and spraying until completion.

With every mural, he tries to represent his geographical location. At Sparta, Man One is painting Derby horses with young Punk fans, instead of jockeys, on their backs. At the end of each day, tour organizers auction off the newly-created murals. Proceeds go to a Los Angeles charity, My Friend's Place, which provides aid to homeless youth.

Man One, 30, has already been producing graffiti art for 14 years. His creative juices go back to his years at Loyola Marymount University, where he received a B.A. in fine arts.

Playing the resident artist on the Warped Tour has made a large impact on his career. His next project will be a mural in Sedona, Ariz., followed by a fashion show in L.A. and a one-man show in San Jose, Calif. With these events, Man One will unite the high-art world with his Mohawk and multi-tattooed following.

"I consider myself, I guess, pretty old now compared to the 15-year-olds who are out there checking (my work) out," he says. "But if it speaks to them still and they like it, they dig it, it keeps me young, too. I feel younger when I'm out there doing that."

WILL KUBY, a summer intern at CityBeat, is a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.