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By Rory L. Aronsky | April 14, 2005

For some, it’s day-to-day therapy. Others see it as forging identity in a populous society that’s far too busy to note all of its citizens. Whatever the reason, these artists of San Francisco all have one goal in common: They want to make graffiti art. On trains, buildings, and even a cargo ship at one point, they’ve got their styles and they make them known each and every minute throughout “Piece by Piece”. Sadly, as mentioned towards the end, 98% of these pieces do not exist anymore, falling victim to new, possibly less-quality people and the general public profiled briefly here as not being pleased with graffiti. Some have legitimate distaste for it, such as the independent store owner who doesn’t like having to pay $1500 for new glass windows, and some just seem roundly shut off to it. There are people here who see it as being created by problematic individuals.

But these artists would tell you otherwise. And speaking of artists, the director/producer/editor of this movie, Nic Hill, adds his own flavorful style to the streets of San Francisco. Utilizing a variety of cameras from 16mm to miniDV, he sidles up alongside the passionate people as they do what they believe is best for their world and those around them. There’s two clever moments where Hill has the graffiti color pop up on the design, and he really appreciates these people. Giving little time to those opposing graffiti (which is a smart move considering that 95% of these people think the same way about it), he’s clearly on the side of those with the paint cans, the vision, the drive, and the emotion to get the art up.

“Piece by Piece” stretches from 1983-2004 in San Fran, with the styles of the graffiti in the Spanish neighborhoods taking flight in the minds of many. The first graffiti writer was Rif, who is clearly admired by all those speaking here. All the vocabulary is laid down for learning purposes, such as “crews”, which are a group of people that have a common goal in mind and work toward that goal, which is to dominate the visual landscape with their colors, their words, and their designs. There are some truly major designs within the walls of this film.

Two styles reign supreme. Traditional Funk, also referred to as New York subway graffiti, started it all, but then came New Wave, which did things with graffiti hitherto unheard of at the time. New Wave was sharper, and designs were more elaborate and as expected, intense competition between both grew quite fast. Influences are given proper honors here, such as Tie, an ambitious artist who didn’t care what the weather was like or whether he had eaten. All he cared about was getting out there and getting his name and his work up on walls all over. Passion indeed.

All the work shown here varies wildly, from simple letter jobs to elaborate metallic lettering to even horses all over the city, sprayed by a girl calling herself Reminisce. Expectedly, nearly everyone reviewed here covers themselves up in one manner or another, one artist with his back almost completely turned to the camera. Graffiti art, the first art form to be created by youth, is a set of sights evoking much feeling, but ultimately, the artists still must remain anonymous, those who are out there doing what is right to them.

“Piece by Piece” gets this graffiti culture completely right, in all its ways and arguments about crews, attitudes, and whatever else is on these artists’ minds. If Nic Hill has the time, bathroom graffiti is still waiting for its full moments in the spotlight, provided those artists can be found. Seriously, there’s some good stuff on those walls. And with what he’s exhibited here, Hill could contribute greatly there.

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