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Grafitti artists share tags and memories of “DREAM”

on February 7, 2010

Graffiti artists are traditionally split into crews but artists here at the New Parish, a club in downtown Oakland next to the Fox Theater, see themselves as “brothers,” members of a larger subculture of writers who were once misunderstood but more recently have become appreciated by the community. Mike “DREAM” Francisco, a graffiti artist from Alameda who was murdered 10 years ago during a robbery, inspired young artists and his memory brought them together Friday for “Dream Day,” a celebration of his life and hip hop culture.

“When anyone talks about East Bay graffiti, everybody knows Mike DREAM,” said a long-time friend, Vinny Rodit. “He always helped inspire other kids with his art.”

In the seventh grade, DREAM and his friends got into hip hop and started seeking out mural space in the streets. Their adventures eventually took them to a red brick warehouse in Alameda where DREAM started his first masterpiece. It was the development of his signature, huge block letters that spelled out his tag, although the word “DREAM” itself is hardly legible unless you follow each curve of the paint. A crown sits above the “R,” appropriate for the “King of Graf” as supporters came to call him. A simple “TDK” rests on the bottom of the “D” — a reference to one of the grafitti artist crews he led.

But the real artistry is behind the name. In a notebook sketch reprinted on a fan website, “DREAM” is surrounded by camouflage. A stream of blood flows from the arrow at the bottom of the “E,” which looks like a pipe, oozing and fading into a red sky permeated by tanks. Barbed wire frames the shot and a note, “Battle Drills for a Bloody Revolution!” is scribbled in the corner.

DREAM was born in Vallejo. He was known amongst friends as a verbal and visual master, charismatic and rebellious. Outside of graffiti, DREAM was an accomplished tattooist at Built to Last in East Oakland, and did works on canvas and paper for various record labels. He became a leader of TDK (Those Damn Kids) and TSF (Taller Sin Fronteras) crews and was featured in numerous exhibitions including No Justice No Peace, an anti-police brutality art expose held annually.

The TDK Crew was notorious for tags around Oakland and the larger Bay Area. The group would spray tags surrounded by intricate backgrounds.

Every year in February, graffiti artists gather here at the club in Oakland for “Dream Day” to celebrate their historic culture and remember DREAM. Murals line the walls. Black notebooks float through the crowd as writers of all ages write their tags and fill the pages with signatures and drawings.

“Piece Books,” an old-school term short for “masterpiece,” are a tradition at these events. They are personal sketch books writers keep before putting up tags in public spaces. At “Dream Day,” writers have others tag their books to gather different styles.

“Blame,” 19, dressed in all black and wearing a wide grin on his face, picked up the permanent maker and scratched his tag on a fresh piece of white paper. He spoke with extreme enthusiasm as if overwhelmed by the spirit of hip hop and his place as one of thousands of writers. “Graffiti’s always been my art. That’s what I drive myself with. My whole lifestyle is the culture of this place,” he said. “Our culture is very united.”

Under the roof of the New Parish, the atmosphere was one of joy. Two eight-year-old boys wowed the crowd with their breakdancing in front of a stage where local DJs includng Apollo, ShortKut, Sake One, Fuze and Myke One displayed beat-boxing techniques and ended each segment with a shout out to the memory of DREAM.

The New Parish collected $10 donations at the door to benefit DREAM’s only son, Akil, now 10, who lost his mother to breast cancer in January. “I do it every year because it’s someone who changed my life and brought energy and love to the city of Oakland,” said Marty Aranaydo, the event’s organizer. “His son should know how important his father was. It’s more important than how his father was taken from him.”

1 Comment

  1. Phoeut Tak on September 7, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    hi, my name is phoeut tak and i am the yout development specialist at the vietnamese youth development center. i am trying to put together and art class surrounding the topic of graffiti art, mural art and spoken word. i’m not familiar with this category and was wondering if you have any information or someone you may forward me to concerning this topic. thank you for your time and hope to hear back from you.


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