Albus Cavus art workshops

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Editorial Review

It's a brisk sunny morning in an alley on Barracks Row, and a handful of kids surveys a candy-pink wall filled with graffiti.

One by one, the kids, all wearing masks, reach for spray cans, stake out empty corners of wall and begin to add their own bold streaks of marigold yellow, pristine white, cherry red and plummy purple to the eye-catching cacophony of color.

But there is nothing sinister about this graffiti. Class is in session at this wall just outside the Fridge gallery.

The students are under the tutelage of Peter Krsko, executive director of Albus Cavus, and street artists Bryan Conner and Decoy. And they're learning that "aerosol art" is just as fun as it looks.

Not long ago, these kids bearing spray paint cannisters might have been mistaken for vandals. But street artists have increasingly been accepted within the larger art world and by Washington residents as the architects of a more vibrant streetscape. Mural projects have become part of city beautification plans, and the work of street artists is exhibited in galleries such as Art Whino and the Contemporary Wing.

Krsko says Albus Cavus, a nonprofit organization promoting public art and mentoring, began getting requests a few years ago for classes in the trade secrets of street artists. So, in 2010, the group began enlisting its members to host workshops.

This fall session, which features 15 drop-in classes, began in September and continues on Saturdays and Sundays at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and the Fridge. Among the classes so far: Decoy, whose work was displayed at the (e)merge art fair and who has frequent exhibitions at the Fridge, taught the art of wheatpasting, a nifty trick practiced by artists such as Shepard Fairey for semi-permanently applying prints to surfaces; and Mark Jenkins shared techniques he uses to create his renowned sculptures made from tape.

"It's not really a usual workshop," Krsko says. "It's a combination of that and a kind of performance of the artist. You get to hang out with Bryan [Conner] for two hours, or Mark Jenkins or Tim Conlon for two hours. You can talk to them, you ask them specific questions that they usually keep secret."

Students are frequently youths from the community, Krsko explains. Others come as families or are art students who want to learn techniques that aren't covered in lecture halls. For artists, Krsko says, Albus Cavus provides small stipends that provide for their time in class but also serve as a kind of grant program for their future work.

In keeping with the open spirit of a collective, the classes aren't rigid but give students materials and encourage them to work almost independently. "I'm not teaching a universal method of doing things," says Conner, the instructor during the aerosol art class, as he helped students make their work look three-dimensional. "I'm elaborating on what they already like to do."

--By Lavanya Ramanathan (Nov. 2, 2012)