Nathan Nordstrom

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Following a series of graffiti taggings in recent months, businesses, street artists and Austin police are discussing ways to restore a 40-year-old mural that was defaced last week.

Graffiti was first noticed on the mural — located in the Renaissance Market area near Guadalupe and 23rd Street. — on Jan. 7. According to Brian Jewell, University Co-op marketing vice president, the mural on the south side of the building was painted in 1976 by a group headed by artist Kerry Awn.

“What is on the side of the building is art,” Jewell said. “It is not street art or graffiti. It was created by an artist.”

Jewell said that between midnight and 1 a.m. on Jan. 7, a University Co-op security guard who was near the Co-op parking lot, approximately one block away, noticed two people standing near the mural. When the guard started to walk towards them, Jewell said, the two people ran from the scene. At approximately 6 a.m. that morning, the head of security at the Co-op first noticed the graffiti on the south wall of the building.

According to Jewell, the security guard did not notice any distinguishing features of the two people, so the Co-op was unable to take further action with the Austin Police Department.

According to statistics provided by the APD, the number of calls concerning graffiti decreased from 120 calls to 98 calls in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The report also stated that 18 calls about graffiti have already been reported to the APD this year.

APD spokeswoman Jennifer Herber said this number reflects only calls made to APD, but the actual number of reports may be higher if calls were made to Austin Health and Human Services.

Nathan Nordstrom — who goes by the pseudonym Sloke — is a street artist who said he remembered looking at the 40-year-old mural when he was a child. He said he was really angry when he found out it was vandalized because the mural is a part of Austin history.

“[The vandals] just spit right in the city’s face,” Nordstrom said. “It’s selfish; as an artist that has been using spray cans for 24 years, what [they] did was horrible.”

Nordstrom said he estimates the restoration process will probably take a month or longer at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, because the process requires stripping down to the original wall and re-painting. Jewell said the Co-op has been in contact with the original artists and the City of Austin, but discussions about restoring the art are preliminary and ongoing.

“There are individuals who appreciate in any city that type of art. That’s what creates the thread and fiber of the city,” Jewell said.

According to Nordstrom, the difference between graffiti and street art is content. Nordstrom said graffiti is based on letters and style while street art is based on images.

“I wouldn’t even call [the perpetrators] graffiti artists or street artists,” Nordstrom said. “[Their] stuff is horrible.”

Nordstrom said he thinks the perpetrators have caused a series of copycat acts of vandalism.

“I hate to say it, but it’s almost like a trend,” Nordstrom said. “It’s the broken window theory — if one person gets away with it, another person will do it,” Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom said he thinks the act was probably an attempt to gain media attention and quick credibility in the street art scene.

“These kids are nobodies in the graffiti world and they want some cheap fame,” Nordstrom said. “The art scene is a small community here, [so] there are people who know who did it … I’m not a snitch, but I do believe in karma.”

Graffiti artist Nathan Nordstrom works on his latest public art installment in West Campus. One of the most well-known names in Austin public art, Nordstrom will be live painting at Fun Fun Fun Fest.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

At Fun Fun Fun Fest, Austin graffiti artist Nathan Nordstrom makes a performance out of something usually done in secret. 

Graffiti is based on tags and spray paint wording, but street art has a broader definition, incorporating everything from spray paint and stencils to plastered posters.

“Graffiti has a long history,” Nordstrom said. “It has been built up by many pioneers on decades of experiences, where as street art is relatively new.” 

Nordstrom was one of the original artists asked by Fun Fun Fun Fest to spray paint live at the festival five years ago. This year the live painting will be on a larger scale.

“Last year we built a box and started painting the box … and it was a big hit,” Nordstrom said. “We are excited to paint again this year. “This year we hope to out-do ourselves. We want to build two boxes … and it has become an added attraction to the festival.”

Three of the biggest names in Austin’s public art scene today are Eleanor Herasimchuk, better known as Niz, Federico Archuleta and Nordstrom. The artists work in similar mediums, but their artwork is different.

Herasimchuk said her aerosol, photo-realistic stencil art is closer to street art than graffiti. The paintings often feature large portraits with graphic, contrasting colors. Her transition into the world of public art stemmed from her previous job as a social worker. 

“I used to work in HIV prevention,” Herasimchuk said. “I worked with kids one-on-one, but my focus was in education through art and in murals. So that was my first little introduction into it, and since then, the more involved I became in hip-hop culture and skateboarding culture, I kind of became pushed in that direction.”

Archuleta more closely identifies with graffiti, but his work also contains elements of street art. Archuleta said his start in the graffiti world was an accident, when he decided to decorate the exterior of Tower Records, a store on the Drag that closed in 2003 that he used to work.

Once I did that for the store, the feedback I got back from the public made me realize that, ‘Hey I could be pretty good at this,’”
Archuleta said.

As a veteran to the Austin graffiti scene, Nordstrom has been painting around town for the last 24 years. He was mentored by graffiti artist Skam and has been tagging ever since. 

“I would see these pieces around town when I was skateboarding in ditches and tunnels, and I was like, man, I want to learn,” Nordstrom said. “So when I met Skam, it opened a door. He gave me an outline to practice, and I’d help him out with projects … I started out on the bottom, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Public art is constantly being replaced by new pieces. It is this evolving nature that pushes Nordstorm to grow as an artist.

“That’s the beauty of graffiti art,” Nordstrom said. “You’re only as good as your last graffiti piece. I’m always trying to do a better job on the next piece. I mean I do have some pieces that I’m proud of, but I haven’t yet created ‘the one.’”  

Although Herasimchuk has never painted at Fun Fun Fun Fest, she has done many live art events and appreciates what Nordstrom and the others bring to their audience. 

“Graffiti is already in the public all the time; it’s everywhere, especially if you look for it,” Herasimchuk said. “But what I think is interesting about having live graffiti painting events is that people get to see the technique and skill that goes into it. They get to see it from blank canvas to finished product.”