Beware of Feds, COOP by Alex Young

COOP and Wreckaz Gang affiliate Kyle spray paint railcars stopped in Swissvale

COOP and Wreckaz Gang affiliate Kyle spray paint railcars stopped in Swissvale

COOP, one of Pittsburgh's resident graffiti artists, immerses himself in graffiti wonderland. An adrenaline rush overcomes him after successfully tagging billboards, railroad cars, and public wall space visible to masses of people.

Graffiti is criminal when people spray on public and private property they do not own or have permission to use.

COOP acknowledges the legality of graffiti, and it makes him wary. However, when the adrenaline high hits him, he wants to write his tag and throw up more frequently and in more places across Pittsburgh. COOP is captivated by the exploration and boastfulness of the creative expression.

The artist participates in a risky business where each outing could be his last. Nosey neighbors, property owners, and police could happen upon COOP's process at any moment and arrest him for his second time.

One occasion COOP tagged a staircase viewable in Pittsburgh's Greenfield-Squirrel Hill neighborhood. When he finished I told him, "Do not push the limits, you already hit one spot today. The longer you go, the greater chance you have of getting caught." COOP was attentive to what I said, but he played the odds and tagged a billboard hanging over the highway, as well as bridge dividers and trash can covers.

COOP's throw up along a staircase in Greenfield-Squirrel Hill

COOP's throw up along a staircase in Greenfield-Squirrel Hill

Eventually, I convinced him to call the day a wrap. On the way back to basecamp, I stopped at the Speedway gas station on Browns Hill Road to refuel. There I saw COOP exit my Nissan Juke with a can of spray paint and walk up Beechwood Boulevard's incline. I could not go after him because the gas pump remained in my car. I hoped whatever he was doing he would be discrete, work quickly, and return. I finished at the gas pump and waited for COOP. Not long thereafter he came sprinting to my parked car. "We gotta whip out, we gotta whip out," he said. "Why, why," I asked. "Because some old man saw me and asked me what I was doing, so I told him to fuck off," he said.

I pulled out of the parking lot and headed across the High Level Bridge towards the Waterfront. "Are you kidding me," COOP said as he looked into the rearview mirror. The old man he told to fuck off was now following my Juke in a gold Honda Pilot. I was shocked the man tracked COOP into my car and was swift enough to trail my vehicle. I understood, however, why his anger motivated him to chase us through the Waterfront and record the low-speed chase with his iPhone.

The man acted like a vigilante and hunted COOP for his disruptive, criminal, and damaging behavior that displayed a lack of respect. For some people, when they notice graffiti markings on the street they see negatives, and not the creativity, pride, and artist that drives the craft.

Recently, on Jan. 23, COOP, myself, and Wreckaz Gang duo Kyle and Kyle had a run in with police due to our suspicious activity near a train of railcars stopped on the tracks in Swissvale. The situation was pretty uneventful, and nothing happened other then two of us discovering a police cruiser posted next to my car in a park's snowy parking lot. COOP ditched his paint before the copper saw anything and at the sight of my camera, he drove off with a nod and smirk.

Nevertheless, COOP continues to spray graffiti across Pittsburgh. With people watching he will need to be more careful because his second arrest with higher fines, more community service hours, and possibly jail time is looming.

Visuals of COOP and Wreckaz Gang members playing in the snow on railcars are sprinkled throughout the article.

Throw Up by COOP by Alex Young

Urban environments, with their numerous wall spaces, mass transit vehicles, bridge and roadway stanchions, abandoned structures, street signs, trash can covers, and traffic boxes provide graffiti artists the essential and visible platforms needed to showcase their art.

Even after getting busted by law enforcement and serving community service hours for a crime under a previous tag name, Pittsburgh, Pa. graffiti artist COOP has no problem using the city's public and private property as the canvases for his pieces.

"When we go on TV we see advertisements. These big corporations are paying for billboards and what not. I'm advertising for free," said COOP.

From time spent with the artist, it can be observed that graffiti is stimulated by self-promotion, creativity, respect, and secrecy.

 "I have a secret identity. I'm like Bruce Wayne and Batman," said COOP.

Artists' personas are reflected in their "throw-ups," jargon for graffiti signatures boastfully painted to city surfaces and complex masterpieces that mark territorial ownership, ultimate exposure, and beauty.

Popularization in the graffiti underground is granted by the widely viewed nature and unique location of artists' work, amongst style, technique, and daring exploration. Pittsburgh native Mook, aka Michael Monack, is notorious for having his tag name painted atop Pittsburgh's 10th St. Bridge.

As COOP enters into an abandoned girls dormitory tucked away in Swissvale, a borough east of downtown Pittsburgh, he mentions to me how he wants his pieces to be seen on a larger scale. Amongst the artist's goals is expansion; COOP desires to spray his nom de plume all over the Steel City, in areas such as East Liberty, Squirrel Hill, Homewood, the Waterfront, downtown, and the North Side.

Most commonly, COOP tags around Pittsburgh outlined ghosts, different versions of the "COOP" throw-up, S.K.S. (Stay Killen Sh*t) and "Wreckaz Gang," a promotion of his Swissvale friends. When COOP begins to tour me and two of his companions around the dormitory, his graffiti is visibly tagged to walls, doors, windows, and rooftops throughout the rundown, dilapidated building.

While standing in a room adorned with a mural by lauded Pittsburgh graffiti artist Kavis, COOP speaks about familiar artists in the Burgh's graffiti culture. He likes THOR, GEMS and internationally known British artist Banksy.

If COOP is able to popularize his own work, I am curious as to what comes with graffiti fame. He says, "Probably nothing for real. Respect for the most part," and describes an instance when he had beef because somebody crossed out his work in the girls dormitory:

I noticed somebody painted over my piece. I wrote above the x-out, ‘It’s on sight, p*ssy.’ The next time I went in the dorm I came across the perpetrator who disrespected my art. I pulled out a knife from my pocket and told the person to leave their paint behind and scram. The person didn’t move so I stepped forward. He ran away and I yelled to him, ‘Thanks for the paint!’

Each time COOP uncaps his cans of Rustoleum spray paint and writes across Pittsburgh's cityscapes he is communicating and protecting his self-pride, neighborhood, and artistic ability.

In order to turn COOP into an icon, however, he must find valuable and viewable locations to promote his image, and acquire a savvy that does not get him caught in his endeavours. After, respect may follow.

In an effort to track COOP's growth and offer a unique perspective on the over-looked, criminal, and appreciated graffiti culture in Pittsburgh, InTheRough Style staff will photographically and video-graphically document COOP's processes around the city.

Next, ITR travels with COOP to Squirrel Hill where the artist tags a staircase wall. If you are curious, you can see it most commonly at your right, if you are in Pittsburgh, driving on Interstate 376 Parkway East, and using the Homestead Exit headed to the Waterfront.

Visit @intheroughstyle on Instagram to preview the motion picture.