Behind Bentley Hall near Richland Avenue sits three small walls covered in years of painted memories — walls that the Study and Application of Spray Paint (SASP) student organization continue to cover with memories of their own.
The graffiti wall has endured perilous weather conditions, gallons of paint and hundreds of intriguing messages. Painting it has become a cherished Ohio University student tradition that many students have gotten to partake, including the members of SASP.
SASP prides itself on being an organization that can be used as an outlet for expression of both visual displays that evoke passion from their artists and emotion from their audience. Through spray painting, many of the members have been able to develop their own voice while making friends along the way.
SASP was created only two years ago, but the lasting impact it has made on Xavier Bird and his experiences is one he’ll carry throughout his life.
“It’s always an interesting experience because I’m out here, and it’s a big part of my personality,” Bird, a junior studying psychology, said. “I like doing the painting, being able to put up what I want and pushing forward my personal agenda that doesn’t seem combative to other people.”
To Bird, spray painting is making something that appears ordered but doesn’t feel like that. Putting up a painting might seem quick and chaotic, but at the same time there’s an artistry to it that is understood.
There are also aspects to spray painting that are unlike regular painting. Once one finishes a piece of graffiti, they can always go back and add whatever they choose, Bird said.
“There’s always something more you can do because you’re not limited by this idea that it’s a finished product, it’s static,” Bird said. “It’s just always in the public eye so it’s always malleable. It’s kind of like taking Wikipedia and putting it on a wall, because anybody can come along and change it whenever they want.”
If the weather cooperates, SASP is able to put up three to four of their own walls each semester before they start receiving commissions from clients. In the beginning, many of SASP’s commissions were handshake agreements, but they’ve moved on to more of a contract when dealing with clients.
SASP has been hired to paint advertisements for clients such as Brick City Records and Pita Pit.
“You gotta make sure people respect you. They don’t view you as a serious artist all the time, so you gotta make sure you execute that kind of atmosphere,” Bird said. “It’s something we work really hard on. So if you’re going to come to us, you have to offer us fair compensation for our time.”
Not only does the SASP organization spray paint commissions and their own ideas for walls, they cover up graffiti that antagonizes and terrorizes other people’s murals.
“We try our best to push away stuff that would be seen as profane, so we’ll tear it down,” Bird said. “At least for me, free speech is everybody’s priority, and art is speech. If you’re trying to cover up other people’s artwork to assert dominance over them, then people will fight back. Not accepting hatred is not a political statement.”
To Grace Scheid, a junior studying interactive media, graffiti is meant to be an expressionist artwork, something that shows some beauty with some opinion.
“It’s meant to say, ‘This is my opinion, and if you don’t like it that’s okay’,” Scheid said. “(Graffiti) is meant to look beautiful and be an eye-catcher, but also not completely offend people at the same time.”
Despite the stigma that may come with graffiti, Scheid has never gotten a negative reaction from her peers when she speaks about being in SASP. The only problem Scheid and her fellow members run into is keeping members interested.
“I think people don’t stay interested because they have other things that would be better time-wise for them,” Scheid said. “It takes awhile for us to get things done, but if they are really interested and motivated with our group, they would come to each meeting and try to be active.”
Even if others aren’t as motivated to stick with SASP, it’s an art form Scheid has come to appreciate through her own involvement.
“It’s really fun and honestly my favorite group to hang out with each week. We’re just so chill and relaxed, and yet we get things done,” Scheid said. “There really is never a dull moment with this group.”
Kaitlin Owen, a junior studying linguistics and creative writing, has seen significant improvement in her artistic abilities since helping start up SASP, especially with little to no artistic background in the beginning.
“I feel like I had never touched spray paint before I did this, and I’ve made a couple pieces I’ve been really pleased with,” Owen said. “It has been a growth thing for my artistic skills, and I’ve made some new friends who are now my main group of people.”