Tuesday, April 27, 2010


The Rooftop Legends event began in 2007 and is the
brainchild of the schools Dean, and graffiti artist,
Jesse Pais. Realizing the need to preserve graffiti art
and provide a space to paint, the event continues to
bring together some of the most prolific artists from
the cultures formative years and today. The reasons
Jesse had for bringing this to the roof of the New
Design High School are bigger than a love for the art,
having worked with kids since he was 17-18 years old
his passion to make these students not just want to go
to school, but be proud of it, is the main factor.
He works from a place where he wants the students to
be saying, "Your school might be corny, but mine's not
for this reason." Most of the artists I've chatted to on the
roof all echoed the same sentiment, they wish they'd gone
to a school like this, Jesse included. Fact is, much of the
visual culture we see every single day has been informed
or influenced by the graffiti movement in one way or another,
given that a vast majority of the artists who grew up writing
and painting are now designers or creative directors.
Regardless of what they do now they have all carried their
passion for this art-form and where they've come from and
it's shaped them into who they are today as adults. This is
absolutely not to say that graffiti art should hold value in
the community as a catalyst for a job or money because it's
the rawness and the drive to do it for the love that makes it
what it is. However, it definitely says something about holding
dear where you've come from and what really matters to you
and channelling it into making you a stronger individual.
Most of these artists have come from similar backgrounds to
the kids at New Design, it's because of this the kids can relate
to them and vice versa. The students have respect for Pais not
because they're supposed to, but because they recognize the
history he has come from.

Having been involved in the seminal years of graffiti it's massively
important to Jesse play a role in preserving it. With Rooftop
Legends he's trying to show you the very best of a culture that he
feels shouldn't die and remove some of the stigma attached to it.
"The word graffiti scares a certain population of people," the aim
he says is "to have someone who doesn't think anything of graffiti,
or has a bad opinion, and change that." The general association
when the broader community outside of the culture think of
graffiti they think of vandalism. There is no doubt this is part of
what graffiti is and where it has come but graffiti ART is what is
happening on the roof of the school and it's as legitimate an art-
form as anything you'd see housed within the four walls of a gallery,
Jesse feels "It's as pure an art-form as there can be, generated by
inner-city kids and that's something that shouldn't be shunned."
It's a known fact that society in general loves to fixate on the negative,
and stereotypes are a hard thing to shake but Rooftop Legends
definitely can open peoples eyes in a positive way. The aim is for
education and appreciation, although this was initially just aimed
at the kids it's pretty obvious that the show has the ability to school
the broader community. This is a culture so deeply rooted in this
city that has spread across the globe and is arguably the biggest
artistic movement we've ever seen.

Jesse is pretty quick to acknowledge the Rooftop Legends show
would not be possible without the artists who have donated their
time, energy and supplies over the past 4 years. Without this love
of the craft the culture would not be what it is, seeing all the old
school and new school artists in the lead up to the show sharing
stories, paint, advice and the energy that is being generated you
can see why he saw this as something that could benefit the students
of New Design. There's no doubt he will always play a part in graffiti
and its preservation but he's quick to add he now only paints on the roof.

Words and portrait: S.LESTER

'EV-EVISM' piece from 2007 RTL Show, by Jesse Pais (EV)