In the world of graffiti, elements of typography give way to the movement of calligraphy, which are elaborated on within the lettering of a simple tag or the abstract styling that adorns large mural pieces. The fundamental rules of typography and calligraphy may be adhered to in graffiti, but they are also broken, creating a more intimate expression of experience and existence. Author Robert Bringhurst says, at the heart of typography is the “dance, on a tiny stage, of the living, speaking hand.” While Bringhurst was in no way referring to graffiti, he inadvertently summed up the ethos of graffiti with the phrase “speaking hand.” Tracy 168, pioneer of wildstyle graffiti, bridges this connection between typography and lettering in graffiti when he succinctly, yet enigmatically, states, “You don’t want to lose the basis of the letter, but you want to lose the letter.” The very fabric of graffiti is a dichotomy between established form, practice,
This is where we find Mesngr, who, as an adolescent, began spraying the names of punk bands behind an Alpha Beta grocery store in San Jose. He viewed the city as a living canvas: seeing art in cars, buildings, signs, and the people within the community. Like so many at that age, Mesngr’s rebellion consisted of the need to be seen, and he made art and graffiti his vehicles of choice. “When I discovered graffiti, I could say, ‘fuck you,’ or I could say, ‘Look at me—I exist!’ ”
A San Jose native, Mesngr is a self-taught illustrator, street artist, mentor, and teacher. The rebellious start to his journey blossomed into his work becoming part of the visual landscape of San Jose. Large mural works in Japantown, a high school mascot mural for the Yerba Buena Warriors, and his large bus and character piece in the Alameda Artworks parking lot are just a few works bearing the Mesgnr handle. In addition to seeing his many murals, characters, and tags, typical San Jose residents going about their day may not realize how many times they observe Mesngr’s work. The Ike’s Sandwiches logo or the Diamond Cleaning Services billboard are examples of Mesngr’s love of letters and design in a commercial setting. The quality of the crisp, clean lines apparent in all his work, something he has always strived for since watching his father use a fountain pen to pull perfect lines for his lettering and calligraphy, makes it hard to believe he pulls lines with spray paint. The range of Mesngr’s influences can be seen in his graffiti work, especially in his lettering where the Bay Area ‘funk’ style mixes with the wildstyle of New York and is highlighted by the playfulness of bubble-style lettering, seen most often on throw-ups (a style of quick graffiti lettering). In his pieces, he integrates the cartoon stylings of his early influences, Don Martin and R. Crumb, the free-form movement of Mode2, and the controlled pop art lines of Patrick Nagel. The result is his own vibrant style depicting the personalities that make up San Jose and creations from his own mind. Mesngr gravitates toward the female form to adorn his pieces, it being “simple [yet] beautiful and unique, expressing all my feelings [of] peace, love, darkness, pain, good and evil, mystery, sex, life, hope, and passion.” While at the heart of graffiti is an independent and personal intent to establish a presence among many, the concept of community plays a major role as all those personal voices, or “speaking hands” come together to paint a visual representation of a city’s soul. “Graffiti is an art form that is needed in our community, just like murals, because when you have a high-paid out-of-towner or even an established local artist painting a mural, it reminds us there’s a voice, a talent and passion in the people from these streets.”
Mesngr is very humble and would rather throw the spotlight on those that continually inspire him, like fellow artists Sean Griffin and John Dozier of the art collective TWC (Together We Create), which he is a member of. Even in the capacity of educator and mentor, he gathers more inspiration from the at-risk youth he teaches. “I hope and believe that art teaches them patience, the ability to see things through, and to stay creative. Those things apply to all parts of life and a young person’s future.” Mesgnr has surely shown he exists to help bring out the soul of San Jose and care for its future.
Article originally appeared in Issue 13.21 “Sight and Sound”