He’s got this look in his eye.  I’ve seen it before.  It usually appears when he is holding a pen, paintbrush, or spray can in his hand.  His eyes smile but his lips remain pressed and straight.  Sitting at the kitchen table on a white, wooden stool across from him, I watch him, in a blue and brown flannel over a black hoodie, pensive, his mind forming the picture on the page before the tip even reaches the white.  He is an artist, and a very good friend of mine, but ironically, he prefers that his name remain anonymous.  Why?  We’ll get to that later.

Suddenly, his whole face beams; his cheeks perk, his teeth emerge, and his lips widen into a broad grin.  His head rocks back slightly as he laughs.  Then he nods, still smiling, and says, “Alright, I’ve got it,” and hunches over his canvas, left arm resting on the table and right hand in motion, creating lines.

Jonathan, our mutual friend, had invited us over to witness another one of the artist’s projects.  Today, the basement will be altered from its current state of drab and stale depression into a colorful masterpiece, spawned from the imagination of one of the most fascinating people I have ever met.  Jonathan is pouring scorching hot liquid into shot glasses at the counter.  He turns steadily and takes three or four steps toward the table where the artist is at work and the writer is in observation.  We receive the glasses and bring them close to our noses.  The steam rising to our faces has a rich aroma of aged oolong tea, but to the artist, it is a scent that reminds him of “dirty pond water or the inside of a Buddhist temple.”  My friend loves tea.  If he could spend all day in his room “chugging tea and meditating,” he probably would.  I set my glass down and ask, “Who do you want to be, then, if you don’t want me using your real name?”

Jonathan laughs at this as he takes a seat on the middle stool and adjusts his pale blue button-up shirt collar that rests beneath a gray vest.  “You gotta pick a pseudonym, dude.  What’s it gonna be?  How ‘bout Chester?  Your art does, after all, decorate most of this street…and this house.”  As he speaks, light catches the shine on his black-rimmed Calvin Klein eyeglasses and his gelled-up faux hawk hairstyle.  Chester is referring to Chester Street, and, more specifically, 10 Chester, the house we are sitting in now; it is just another typical first apartment for college kids, but it happens to be where much of the artist’s creativity is unleashed.

My friend places his capped, felt-tip marker down and raises both arms over his head in a wide stretch.  His right elbow graces the edge of the table and his chin lands on a clenched fist.  For a minute, I wonder why he is staring at me but then I realize he isn’t really focusing on anything at all but the dust between our faces.  A second later, his back straightens and he opens his mouth, “Walter.  I think you should just call me Walter.”  And it was final.

Recently, Walter has been presented with an opportunity to have his own gallery exhibit at the Allston Café.  The owners of the café became interested in Walter’s work after his friend, Will, showed them some of his pieces.  He’ll create a few paintings and the café will hang them up and sell them, simple as that.  “They said they’d sell them at $200 each, and apparently that shit goes.”  Walter doesn’t live for attention or fame; he’s modest, but I can tell this chance excites him.  A certain freedom comes with artistic ability that is unmatched by nearly anything else.  This will be the place where Walter will let his imagination run wild.  “I’ve thought about it a bit and I think I want to experiment with bold amounts of color.  I’ve got this funky style seeping out right now that I think I might run with.  It’ll be fun.”

Walter was born October 10, 1990 in San Francisco, California, just in time for the most influential art period of his life: nineties Bay Area Graffiti.  At 16, he discovered the vibrancy and thrill of this artistic lifestyle.  “My buddy Dante had a photo album of pictures he took through the nineties when he was active.  Until then, all I had been exposed to was what I saw on a daily basis.”  It didn’t take long before Walter found out he had talent.  The toughest part was getting into drawing, and actually becoming good.  Frustration comes naturally one attempts to learn something new.  You practice and practice but never seem to produce anything decent; so you get pissed off.  You can give up there, or you can work through this crucial point and continue progressing.  Walter chose the latter.  He was swallowed up in a “whole other world under the surface of city life.”  He heard Dante talking about writing, or tagging, all the time, and eventually, curiosity took over.  That curiosity has only taken him in positive directions.  Now, at 19, Walter is living the life of a college student at Boston University.

If one were to try and describe Walter’s persona, ‘mysterious’ would not quite suffice.  ‘Paranoid’ might be a more adequate description.  For example, you don’t even know his real name.  Clearly, Walter is not one for calling a lot of attention to himself.  When I asked him why he preferred to be left anonymous in his own profile, his answer was simple: “Vandalism is a felony in Massachusetts and recognition doesn’t mean a lot to me.”

Walter doesn’t want me to look at his current drawing yet.  I have asked once or twice to see, but I get shut down.  Expected.  After some time spent getting to know him, I have come to be familiar and comfortable with the qualities of his abstract character.  With Walter, you just have to be patient.  He’s not the type to waste your time, but you shouldn’t ever rush him – with anything.  He gives you just enough information to be understood, and as his friend, you will be satisfied with just that.  Sometimes, Walter says things aloud that no one but he could make any sense of, but that’s just the way his mind works.  Rather than try and figure him out, it’s usually best to just enjoy the odd entertainment he provides.  “Look, dude, just wait.  It’ll be better near the end anyways.”  He looks at me reassuringly and I just smile, because there’s no need to argue.

Jonathan has lit up a cigarette, a Lucky Strike Unfiltered, to be exact, and has inserted it into the end of a black and gold cigarette holder.  He sits patiently, cigarette holder gripped in his front teeth, looking as though he is in deep thought of our conversation.  As he pulls the cigarette from his lips, he smiles and says, “Bro, it must have been dope growing up in the Bay during that era.”  Walter adjusts positions and contemplates this statement.  “Yeah, dude.  It’s the life over there.”  With his left elbow resting on his left leg, he chills.  His tone is serene, as though he is narrating a familiar daydream, the memories of his West Coast life.  “The nineties was when graff really took off.  It influenced what goes on today.  And I learned from it: the politics, techniques, methods, styles, personalities…it was like I knew I had to be a part of this unstoppable culture of invisible derelicts, fueled by creativity, hatred, love, drugs, and of course, a little fame on the side.  Mostly, it’s all in the name of good fun, but it’s also a way to vent frustration, aggression, or depression.  It’s cool to feel like a rock star by night if you gotta just be some high school kid by day.”

Currently, Walter bombs the streets of Boston with the tag name Ichiban.  I didn’t bother to ask what it means.  That might ruin the mystery.  He’s rocked other names too since his beginning: Harem, Alarm, Pure.  “I’ve seemed to reinvent myself over the years and I like to think this as natural in any person who wants nothing more than to be at the next level than they’re currently at.  Maybe I’m wrong and just used to be insecure about myself or maybe it’s a combination of the two.”  He stands up and, through a chuckle, says, “Time to paint.”  The drawing he has been working on is ready for the basement.  It is an elephant.

I follow the boys down a narrow, steep, dirty staircase and into a large, dreary, cold, and hazy room.  The stone walls are rugged and uneven, resembling vertical sand dunes.  We round the corner and are greeted with the sharp odor of stale beer and cigarette smoke.  Based on the appearance of the room, I guess logically that a party has recently been held here.  The ping pong table and floor are littered with hundreds of red Solo cups, some of which are overturned and spilling with some sort of sticky, red, alcohol-incorporated juice.  Jonathan steps carefully over to the laundry machines across the room and pulls a small set of portable speakers off a shelf.  He plugs them in and says, “Sorry about this mess, guys.  The people in the other unit are pigs.”

Walter doesn’t mind.  He’s already cleared himself an area over by the wooden, cream-colored divider-wall that separates the basement into two halves, and is filling a clean Solo cup with dark brown paint.  Jonathan attaches an iPod to the speakers and sets a remarkable JS Bach cello suite at blaring volume.  This is a strangely ideal ambience for Walter.  He kneels at one end of the wall and holds up his drawing.  His eyes roam slowly from the picture to wall, and I recognize the same look on his face from upstairs.  Without a word, he lifts the brush from the paint and carefully and slowly sweeps it across the wood.

“So what was your first piece like, buddy?”  He doesn’t stop working but says, “I’d rather not talk about it.  Haha.  I bet Miles Davis didn’t exactly shine the first time he picked up a trumpet.  I still feel like an amateur in comparison to a lot of my friends that have been going longer, some for over a decade…but I do my thing, you know?”  Can’t argue with that.  The best part about Walter is his individuality.  He started from scratch, learned all the tricks, and developed his own style.  Everything became his medium, from a finger on a dusty window to fire extinguishers filled with drippy house paint.  He picks up any Sharpie or marker he sees and finds something to draw on.  Art is his constant drug, always on his mind.

I ask him what kind of rush he gets when he does an illegal piece and he tells me that “committing to walking up to the wall is the hardest part.  Once I start painting, all the anxiety kind of washes away and the piece is all I’m thinking about.”  At 17, he found himself at a point in his life where he was just handling things stupidly and not giving a fuck about anything.  Eventually, he got caught.  “I got put into a youth diversion program instead of having to go to juvi or do community service, since it was my first offense.  That was good for me, though.  I got smarter about my methods and became more efficient at getting away with stuff.”  He figured out quickly that learning from your mistakes is critical.  Streets smarts came naturally to him after he learned his lesson the first time authorities were involved.

He doesn’t have a preference for legal or illegal bombings.  “Legal walls are fun because I can take my time and not feel tense about what I’m doing and catching tags on the street is fun because it’s off the record.”  He has his illegal fun writing up the walls of Boston at night, but that’s the “outside game,” as he calls it.  For his upcoming exhibit, he will be veering away from graffiti; outside games are not meant to be played on the inside.  He’ll take his time finishing these pieces.  After all, there’s no need to rush.  Art is his passion and he will let it flow at its own pace.  In the meantime, he’s doing what he needs to do with school.  He will probably major in Political Science at BU, and after that, he may go to art school.  “I don’t need much to survive or find a way to enjoy what’s going on around me.”  That’s quite a philosophy to live by; I wouldn’t expect anything else from my friend.  Like I said, just enough is enough for Walter.  In the future, he thinks he’ll probably have a career doing something creative, but graffiti will always be something he does on the side.  “It’s a way to make sure I have enough duality in my life.  I don’t give a fuck if I’m called a writer or an artist or whatever.  I’m just a creative person and if I wasn’t I would just be some loser ass motherfucker.”  He smiles again to himself, and turns back toward his elephant.

Words by Chloe McDonald

This profile was written during the Spring of 2010 for a BU Communications course.  As the world goes round and time passes, life moves along with it.  Accordingly, some of the facts of the above piece may have since changed.  The pictures were taken by a collection of friends.  An update on the anonymous artist will be posted just as soon as I can get a hold of him and squeeze out as much interesting information as he’s willing to share.  Thanks for reading.

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