Joshua Tehee

Joshua Tehee: Bizare Art Festival and exhibit showcases beauty of graffiti

It may be easy to dismiss the brightly colored paint sprawled across the quarter-mile concrete wall at Calwa Park as simple graffiti – to leave out any mention of the artists who created the work.

Serena Lujan won’t.

“These guys have some great, explosive talents,” says Lujan, who organizes an annual graffiti art festival at the southeast Fresno Park.

The Bizare Art Festival – 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 – legitimizes graffiti art and culture with a day of live painting, music and dancing.

“I want to bring it from the back alley to a place it can be recognized,” says Lujan, who started the festival three years ago as a way to honor her brother, a well-known graffiti artist known as Bizare (or Bizr68).

Calwa Park has the only legal wall in Central Valley, Lujan says. Artists can pay a nominal fee to paint the park’s wall and structures. More than 60 artists are expected at the festival and the resulting work should stay on the wall until next year.

Many of those painters are members of the Lords Crew, a group of street artists, emcees and b-boys that was founded by Lujan’s brother in 1986. The original crew started in San Jose, but it quickly spread to include chapters throughout California, including the Central Valley. These days, the Lords Crew is international, with chapters in Austria and Peru.

Because the Calwa wall is so large and can accommodate so many artists, and because of its location in the center of the state, the Bizare Art Festival has become a bit of Lords Crew reunion, says Eric Drane, a local artist and member of the Fresno chapter.

To be clear, these aren’t just punk kids getting together to scribble on walls, Drane says. These are respectable artists and human beings – guys with families and jobs.

Many parlayed their graffiti into work as designers or tattoo artists. But not all. One member of the crew is a successful property manager in San Francisco, Drane says. Another is a retired Marine drill instructor.

They are all members of a family, Drane says.

And that is Bizare’s ultimate legacy, Drane says: “He gave me an immense extended family.”

Of course, in certain circles, some of the Lords Crew are also super-star artists. Its members have been featured in art magazines like Juxtapose and Hi-Fructose, on online forums and graffiti-art sites. Greg “Craola” Simkins, for one, has had his work featured in everything from “Time” magazine to “Playboy,” Drane says.

Craola won’t be at the festival, but his work will be on display at Fresno’s Arthouse gallery that evening for a one-night-only exhibit. “A Bizare Legacy - 30 Years of Design,” will feature more than 50 Lords Crew artists, along a with food truck and DJs, including Fresno rapper Aesop.

Drane organized the exhibition mostly so the artists attending the festival would have something to do while they are in town. But it is also a major showcase of their work and will go on tour during the year to celebrate the crew’s anniversary. Following the Fresno show, the exhibition will be on display at the Oakland Terminal Art Gallery in Oakland.

While the acceptance of street-art and graffiti is growing worldwide, the stigma of it still lingers in Fresno, Drane says. This kind of show (and at this scale) doesn’t come to Fresno often, if at all, he says. Prints will be for sale.

“You’re going to see things you are going to want to buy and hang in your home,” Drane says.

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Bizare Art Festival

  • 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 30
  • Calwa Park, 4545 E. Church Ave.
  • This is a free event
  • (209) 581-1898, Bizarre Art Festival on Facebook

A Bizare Legacy - 30 Years of Design