What would you do if you woke up one morning to a newly painted tag on the side of your building? What if it was every morning? Ignore it? Big mistake, thanks to Seattle’s Graffiti Nuisance Ordinance—adopted in 1994—which levies a fine of up to $5,000. Spend your days erasing it? Laurie Rasmussen, co-owner of Goodbye Graffiti, and her eight-person team remove up to 135 tags a day. And the city burns through more than a million bucks per year ridding surfaces of outlaw spray paint.
Luke Wilson found a better solution. He’d spent hours painting over the illegible script that materialized nightly on the walls of his Capitol Hill condo, Monique Lofts. Eventually it occurred to him: Make Monique a monument, not a target. He enlisted graffiti artists Scratchmaster Joe (aka Joe Martinez) and Joe’s more press-shy partner NKO (pronounced “neeko”) and told the aerosol-can Warhols to let their imaginations explode upon the building’s north wall. The city ponied up two grants for the project, totaling $15,000—all riding on the hope that taggers wouldn’t desecrate a work of art created by fellow graffiti-istas.
NKO designed what he calls a “site—specific, improvisational, and abstract” piece, and says he was inspired by “the architecture of gems—’cause, you know, everyone loves a diamond.” The mural took about 10 months to complete and was finished in last September.
Wilson’s idea worked. Mostly. While the wall’s been tagged since completion, it’s no longer hit every day. Scratchmaster Joe and NKO’s street cred helps. NKO actually caught a tagger one night—and talked some sense into him.