WRITTEN BY: Lorena Sierra
Behind the graffiti there are millions of characters that build stories. Luis builds his own with spray, living day to day and looking for job opportunities with his letters and his apprentice tattoos.
In the life of all of us are happening events that enter the memory and goes to the hippocampus, the place where memories are stored. There they are saved, people and scenes that only return when they are remembered. For the graffiti writer, this place in the brain must have some traces of spray, painted walls and feats that will always remain and accumulate until they are remembered with nostalgia when the years force them to decide between painting (legal), which sometimes is not graffiti, or the intrepid and nocturnal painting in which only the signature remains, -sometimes the photo-, and one more event in the hippocampus.
It was an afternoon in October at the beginning of spring, it was evening at 6:00 p.m. and the streets of the little neighborhood were going empty. In a corner and next to the tracks of a freight train that does not pass very often, there is an old house with two front windows. In its lower part, a couple of sentences written with white paint worn for years that say: "To travel in time look for wormholes" and "reading is the journey of those who can not take the train." On the inner side of these windows on the first floor, is Luis or as he is called in the world of graffiti, Meta.
Today he is sitting on his laptop watching some videos of graffiti artists in Barcelona and getting ready to tattoo a design of a sailboat that we agreed on earlier. Yesterday he also tattooed a shield of the Atlético Los Andes club on the leg of his neighbor next door. It is the first tattoo Luis makes to a friend, he has few and he is making apprentice designs to people who trust him. "I did a course by constitution, friend, there they taught us the basics, the strokes and how to play. "It was not a big deal, you see? But if I practice for sure ill get more people hooked to get more work¨
On the ground floor of the house where his family lives is the house of Luis, he moved recently and barely opens the door you can tell he is happy to be living alone, so today before the tattoo he will prepare dinner as a celebration.
I enter and after going through a dark corridor I find a small patio with paintings, rollers, cans and a motorcycle in which Luis is transported around the neighborhood occasionally. After passing another door, we arrived at a white room freshly painted by him, in bed a miniature greyhound dog named Preta waves with his tail as we went to a large living room of pale green illuminated by faint lines of light that enter by the two windows that can be seen from the outside.
There is everything a young writer needs to be calm: on the left side a kitchen and a table to eat, in the center a desk with full ashtrays, glasses, a laptop and some sketches of tattoos or letters that say META of geometric shapes. On the side of the laptop two speakers where Canserbero sounds, a Venezuelan rap; in the background a used stretcher that a friend gave him and a small table with the tattoo kit, plus some pig ears tattooed with images of skulls, snakes or black strokes. These were Luis's practice canvases when people still did not come out to get inked like me.
Luis is 31 years old and is of medium height, when I met him about 2 years ago, he had long hair, an attempt at dreads, today he has short black hair and intense as his eyes that convey sincerity. The great part of his family is located in the province of Corrientes, from there is his father, his mother died several years ago and his younger brother lives on the top floor of the house with his father, some aunts and 3 dogs . In Caminito he lived all his life, he grew up in the environment of the conventillos, the Bombonera and the Boca Juniors matches that are his only work routine.
He works on the turnstiles controlling the entrance of the stadium, there also worked his father and his grandfather. Caminito was and still is the neighborhood that has seen him and many other kids grow and do what they want or what life simply forces them to do. "Around here or in the square we all got together to do break dance, I started with my cousin, then we started with the wave of rap, then I grabbed a can for the first time and I could never let it go." The others did stop painting I do not know what happened ... they grew up, they got jobs, children, I really can not stop painting, now we only go out with the Mote, one of the kids that I painted from that time with all the Crew Stk, that's what we used to call (we're so many that) ¨
Luis puts several milanesas that he prepared himself in the oven and water to heat to make an instant mashed potato. His dog Preta also separates a large piece of meat while she sits at the table and relaxes licks her feet as another guest, "she is a princess, she sometimes eats better than me" Luis tells me while closing the oven and one is switched on before eating. The style that Luis does is hip-hop graffiti, and even though graffiti in Argentina began to be used in 1920 for political purposes according to Leila Gándara, author of the book she published in 2004 called graffiti. The author states that graffiti began to have a different aesthetic sense from the 80s in Argentina. By this time this art of diverse styles and meanings began to have a different position, or perhaps an activism more related to the fine arts and to the hip-hop movement that was born in the Bronx in the United States in the 60s. The hip-hop graffiti movement uses words like the crew (the group of friends that come together to paint and have an identity), the tag (the personal signature of each writer), the bombing or the bomb (they are the thick letters that they make with haste that they are the most common in trains and shutters). like these ones there are many words that are changing according to the language of each writer, including the area or the country in which he lives. Words like bardear, the pieces, flame among others, are some of those that are heard when they talk about what they have painted, either legally or illegally.
After a while, the oven and the smell warn that the milanesas are ready. Petra, with her attentive snout, like her ears, is sitting at the table waiting for her delicious meat dish, but concentrating on the milanesas that draw her most attention, "she always asks me what I eat, even thou i prepare something better for her, "Luis says as he serves a bubbly Milanese on each plate with a good portion of puree.
"the night comes, and I have not yet sat on the stretcher," I say. "After dinner we look at the design, friend."
Luis is a letterist, his only fixed job is when they call him from La Bombonera to work on the turnstiles; hooks paint local, blinds, letters even graffiti.
These days he is venturing into tattoos but he does not intend to stop painting. "I paint to be happy, in reality for me, painting is like a therapy, being on a wall is happiness, when I do not paint I'm really sad, but graffiti is very personal". For me, it's something that I do only for myself, the neighborhood people may think it's for the neighborhood as well. "In front of Luis' house is the fire station of Caminito neighborhood, a place with fire brigade murals in honor Volunteer Firefighters of La Boca, in some spaces of the mural are some slightly geometric letters, which if read carefully, are understood many of them with the signature Meta. After the plaza, walking towards the Bombonera by the corridor from the train tracks, there are a lot of murals and graffiti.
There Luis has organized several graffiti with friends, or whenever there is paint and desire, cover some that is already old; there are faces of Maradona, feminist murals, phrases, bombs, tags or flags of Boca Juniors.
Luis started in 2007, and according to him, there was not as much movement of graffiti or muralism as now. "I remember how we came to paint on line A, near Miserere plaza, there were still old trains, one had to walk among the pieces of wood of the tracks trying to paint wagons that were kept by tunnels and hidden stations that are in that area It was another year, my friend, before there was a good move here in Buenos Aires, we went out to the city drinking and smoking, leaving tags of the crew, but many of them stopped painting or left for another wave of mural and graffiti. because it becomes a job ".
In the years 2012 and 2013 Buenos Aires was filled with graffiti, many writers came only to leave their bombs on trains and subways of the city, that was a golden age for him, then, over time they began to apply laws and even strong sanctions and repressions for those who painted in those places. Also the look of graffiti was used for other types of things: advertising, political campaigns or artistic interventions. "I paint legal, sometimes I go out with the Mote to paint when we have some mangoes (money) and we buy some spray or people from around the neighborhood give me some latex and if we see a wall that is good and can be painted, we go for it; people, when they see us they tell us to go to work, as if painting was not a job. There are people who pay us to paint the house or the place, some mangoes they give us, or arrive big guys that see us, and they ask us for a can and they make a tag, because at some point they graffitied, many stop being writers over the years because of those things in life but other kids keep coming out at night to paint trains and leave signatures in complicated places, in the end that is the essence of graffiti, to leave something of one there, be it in the memory, in the photo or on the wall. "
When I finish eating I remove the dishes, and Luis washes his hands, walks to the back of the room where the stretcher and tattoo kit is, sits on the laptop and opens the design we had agreed upon. Good there, friend to let you tattoo, says while preparing everything to be clean. "Someday I'm going to live on this", because besides being and wanting to remain a writer, Luis and many of his friends from the old crew became tattooists, like the Guido who is now a father, even the Mote with whom Luis Sometimes paints, he is doing some tattoos.
Many decided to change the letters, the latex and the spray by the ink and the skin; the adrenaline of the illegal by the mandatory precision of the punctures. Writers in other spaces that also seek another type of adrenaline. And that's what Luis feels when it's 12 o'clock at night and he starts tattooing ... The needle starts to get tangled up in the layers of skin and the lines start to get a little shaky, Luis now starts to perspire, maybe he's not in a wall but now he has decided to leave something of him not only in the walls, blinds or rooms where he sometimes gets some jobs, but in the skins of those who want to travel through time or make his skin a hippocampus that keeps memories stained with ink .