by Linzy Novotny
In 2005, amidst the wreckage and devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Christian “Creep” Brannon, 19, of Mississippi, traveled to New Orleans to put up his art. His art—graffiti—is either viewed as such or as nothing more than an act of vandalism, depending on the eye of the beholder. It wasn’t his first time to the area, but this time was different.
Creep and his friend decided to travel to the city to graffiti a bridge that had been destroyed by the hurricane. After spraying the bridge, the friends were seen by a few police officers. While the friend was able to elude the police, Creep wasn’t so lucky. Because he wouldn’t give up the name of the friend to police, according to Creep, his nose was busted open and he sustained a few bruised ribs. From that day on, he knew that if he was going to continue to pursue his art, it would be up to him to do it on his own, whether or not his form of expression coincides with societal norms.
The Beginning: Drawing Leading to Graffiti
Creep began drawing faces with markers when he was an adolescent. His teachers told him to get his head out of the clouds when they saw him drawing in school. As he got older he started drawing in a black book, which is another name for a sketch book. The faces he drew when he was younger gradually became characters. The characters range from skulls with gold grills to one continuous character who is in Creep’s likeness. Most characters are monsters or haggard-looking people. Drawing eventually led to graffiti. “I got into it real heavy when I was 12 or 13.” He added, “I did what I wanted since I was a kid.”
The transition from drawing to spray painting was natural for Creep. “It’s all about precision and making straight lines,” he said. “[Spray painting] over and over and over again,” is what will help make Creep better. He tries to put up this graffiti every day. He’ll say to his friends, “Let’s go bomb.”
Graffiti: The Process
Creep usually spray paints his characters, but he is starting to do wild style, which is lettering with crazy arrows. One large piece can take 15 to 20 cans of paint to complete and anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to finish. To achieve different thicknesses of lines, graffiti artists use varying sizes of caps. Caps come in a variety of sizes, just like paint brushes. “Any size you want, they’ve got it,” Creep said.
When Creep has finished putting up his work, he leaves the spray cans, but takes the caps. In the past he tried to take the cans, but it made a mess in his bag and on himself. And with up to 20 cans being used, it is easier for Creep to leave them behind and leave, so he doesn’t get caught. When tagging, he is sure to wear sunglasses, a hat and bandanna.
Creep also references his black book when he goes to train yards to put up his work. If he has an idea, he will sketch it in his black book, but he will freehand when he does graffiti. Creep and his friends draw in each other’s black books, which also acts as a way to see what other artists’ styles are. He likes to save his black books because it’s “cool to look back on them.”
Colorado Graffiti Landscape
Although Creep started spray painting in Mississippi, he decided to move to Colorado in late 2011 to experience what the state has to offer. “There is a bigger landscape in Colorado,” Creep said. “[I can] get up a lot more [graffiti] here.”
Downtown Denver yields an abundance of concrete facades ready for art. Along with spraying walls, Creep will also tag train yards and billboards. In December 2011, Creep sprayed his first billboard, choosing one that was closer to the ground, but still high enough that he needed to jump to reach the ladder to climb up. “It’s an adrenaline rush,” he said.
The true mark of any graffiti artist is putting something up without another artist tagging over it. If people don’t cover up your work, it’s a sign of respect. “If your art gets good, then people quit going over it,” Creep said.
According to Creep, beef is necessary because some artists have a “big-headed ego.” Lately someone has been going over his work by writing his moniker, “Creep.” In the past, Creep has fought three people who have gone over his pieces and he will always go back if someone has spray painted over his work. However, he is beginning to see his work stay up for months at a time.
Although graffiti artists sometimes have gripes with one another, seeing each other’s work provides inspiration. “Seeing better stuff inspires me to do better stuff,” Creep said.
Creep thinks people are becoming more perceptive to graffiti because “everyone likes art,” but he doesn’t think the police will ever accept it as an art form. He believes the police see graffiti as something only delinquents do and they associate it with gangs, but it’s not always affiliated. “[There is a] risk of getting in trouble for doing something you love,” Creep said.
In Denver, there is zero tolerance for graffiti. In 2008, 4.6 million square feet of graffiti was removed and more than 831 graffiti-related arrests were made, according to the City of Denver website. Businesses have 48 hours to remove graffiti from their walls and residential properties have 72 hours. To adhere to this strict time line, the city offers free supplies to aid in clean up and offer free assistance in the removal of graffiti in certain circumstances.
If someone is caught putting up graffiti, “the first offense is 10 hours of community service and a mandatory fine of $100,” the website states. “The second offense is 20 hours and $200, and the third is 30 hours and $300.” Although the City of Denver has a system in place to keep graffiti from hitting the city’s walls, Creep and other artists are still able to put up their art. There is, however, an alternative.
There are businesses that have permission walls, which are walls that graffiti artists can put up their art without the worry of getting caught. In Denver, the business Your Name in Graffiti—a company that creates custom apparel and signs in graffiti lettering—has permission walls set up. Although graffiti artists are allowed to use these walls, there are a few rules. Prior to tagging any of the allocated walls, Your Name in Graffiti has to be contacted hrough their Facebook page or by email, according to their Facebook page. Artists will then be assigned a spot.
“When you contact us for a spot, we are going to put you on spots that have been around for a while or where we feel something new or better should be placed,” according to their Facebook page. “Try and produce something better than who you are covering and completely cover them. Don’t leave part of their piece hanging out. If you don’t contact us before painting, your piece may be covered quickly.”
According to Creep, it’s not a big deal if someone sprays over his work on permission walls, since these walls are open to everyone. It is when his work is gone over elsewhere that it becomes personal.
If an artist puts graffiti on these walls without permission, they may be charged with vandalism. When spraying, the art needs to be kept on the wall, the area needs to be cleaned up and overall, the artists need to be respectful.
When Creep first arrived in Denver, he eventually made his way to Urban Peak, a homeless shelter that caters to runaway and homeless youth between the ages of 14 and 24, according to the Urban Peak website. Creep was told he could put up graffiti on the shelter’s permission wall, but he left before he had time to.
Although Creep came to Colorado on his own, he become part of a family through a crew of like-minded artists.
The Family Dynamics of Graffiti and Inspiration
While still in Mississippi, Creep and his friend, Alex “Budha” Sosa, decided to start a crew of artists. Street Sharks—aptly named after the children’s TV show—was born out of the need to not only work with other artists and gain inspiration, but to promote their work.
“Me and Captain (Creep) started Street Sharks to promote underground music and art. He moved, but we just kept the idea alive,” Budha said. While in Mississippi, Budha took in Creep and gave him a place to live.
Once in Colorado, Creep started to get more members for his crew. “Street Sharks was born over a few drinks, how we used to watch the show when we were kids and the urge to be recognized for what we do,” Joshua “J*Cloud” Wojcik said. “It was formed with Creep, who I consider a brother.”
J*Cloud met Creep through mutual friends. “I saw a lot of his art on the streets and I loved it,” J*Cloud said.
J*Cloud started doing graffiti five years ago and his signature is wild style. He also puts up wheatpastes,—paper that is stuck to a wall or other surface with glue that is made from vegetable starch and water—stencils, aerosol paint and stickers. Like Creep, he tries to put up his art daily, but it depends on the availability of supplies.
With 12 members, the crew travels to train yards to put up graffiti. Working with the crew provides inspiration. Creep gets ideas from other artists. They show each other what they’ve done and ask each other how they were able to create what they had just put up. They help each other out.
Budha was never into wild style or other font graffiti, he mostly spray painted faces. “For the most part I never did font graffiti, which is the most common thing,” Budha said. “I always used [to do] more faces and obscene things because I used to draw portraits.”
Budha is now immersed in creating music—Creep created album art for his hip-hop album. “I’ve slowed down [with graffiti] a lot due to me getting too old to go to jail all the time, which has happened.”
Although Creep moved, Budha stays involved with the crew. “I just mostly keep in contact with Street Shark members,” Budha said. “All in all, it’s just like a family. I’ve wanted to move up there many times due to being homeless and just wanting to be around friends, but one day we will all reunite.”
Besides inspiring each other, the artists find inspiration in different places. Budha’s music is inspired by every day emotions. J*Cloud is inspired by “hardships, life, love and Hunter S. Thompson.” Creep is inspired by music and skateboarding.
Creep and the rest of the crew are working to release a series of three, 30-minute videos via YouTube that highlight their art as well as their skateboarding. “Street Sharks all day,” Creep said.
Not only does Creep inspire his peers, he also influences his younger brother. Jacob Brannon, a seventh grader, is close to his older brother. Jacob and their mother are the only people in their family that support Creep’s art. Their aunt said Creep should have stopped doing graffiti a long time ago.
Jacob draws characters, people and monsters, and he said he would like to do graffiti. He considers his brother’s art to be “very cool.”
Creep works hard to keep his graffiti art going. He plans to make a career doing what he loves. In order to do so, Creep wants to expand abroad and work on different aspects of his art, not just graffiti.
Expanding abroad has already begun for Creep. Last year, he went on a cruise to Mexico and Belize. In Mexico, Creep was able to leave his mark in a tourist attraction’s bathroom, but in Belize, getting up his work was not as easy.
According to Creep, the police in Belize wear army suits and carry around AK-47 assault rifles. To say the least, Creep was nervous about getting his art up. After eating lunch at a shack, he found an old slab on a building and quickly spray painted it.
Having put up graffiti in two countries outside of the United States, Creep plans to travel to Japan and Brazil. His ultimate plan is to stay in Colorado for three or four years, move on to Santa Cruz, Cali., and eventually end up in New York. “You can make a living as an artist in New York,” Creep said.
While Creep works on raising money to support his travel plans, he recently discovered the sticker trade.
Not Just Graffiti: Wheatpastes and Stickers
Creep draws his characters on United States Postal Service sender stickers. He will then place these stickers on signs and buildings, or hand them out. In August, Creep sent his stickers to the Netherlands to an artist named Zappy, in exchange for his stickers. Next up on his list is to trade stickers with artists in Australia and Japan.
Along with putting graffiti and stickers on walls, Creep also puts up wheatpastes. His current series of wheatpastes are a sort of space cadets’ gentlemen club. Along with the space theme, Creep’s new material contains robots and abstracts. He’s also beginning to paint, using oils and pastels.
Something Creep has done, although not extensively, is tattoo. He is willing to tattoo people, but only if they ask him. He isn’t familiar with determining skin depth, so he will only tattoo a person’s legs, arms or hands. He will tattoo his logo, which is a skull with a gold grill. He has tattooed four people, and he sees tattooing as something he will do when he is older. Creep has a few tattoos and will eventually get more. “[I want to] dedicate my body to art because that’s what I do,” he said.
Because tattooing is something he sees in his future, there are certain aspects of his art he will be focusing on now as he builds his career.
Beyond Graffiti: Building a Career
Creep’s plan is to keep doing graffiti as he settles in to Colorado and gets better. He will keep drawing so he can eventually submit a portfolio to Adult Swim, a TV network that shows cartoons written for adults. He would also like to put together books with photos he has taken and pictures of his artwork. Getting his graffiti featured in Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine is also a goal. The magazine is dedicated to sharing alternative and contemporary art with sections on graffiti, tattoos, music and street art.
Keeping in mind that he wants to grow as an artist, he is open to collaborations. He likes how two different forms of art can fit together.
In true Andy Warhol style, Creep plans to rent out a warehouse, like Warhol’s The Factory, so that he and his friends have a place to live and work on their graffiti art. They plan to build a half pipe and host shows by local bands. The walls in the warehouse will act as Street Sharks’ own private, permission walls. Ultimately, Creep wants the warehouse to be a place where kids can come and be a place where they can draw.
Creep has one goal for his art whether it’s his graffiti, stickers, wheatpastes or tattoos. “My art makes you laugh or it pisses you off.”
At the end of the day, to Creep and his crew—Street Sharks—graffiti isn’t so much an act of vandalism as it is an act of self expression.
Video of Creep Spray Painting
Graffiti Image Gallery
Photos of Creep and J*Cloud’s art.