After first emerging among African Americans and Latinos in the mid-70s in the Bronx, hip-hop culture gradually spread to various parts of the world, bringing in and embracing different art forms along the way. Still a relatively young—and often misunderstood—artistic movement, hip-hop is finally gaining strength and respect in Fargo.
MCs, DJs, break-dancers and graffiti artists are applying their efforts in a positive way, making people’s lives more vivid; the City of Fargo becomes brighter.
Graffiti is often perceived by society as something negative, vulgar, and destructive. They call them vandals, those who dare to draw graffiti in the streets. Graffiti artists go through hard times trying to break stereotypes and create something beautiful. Paul Ide showed people of Fargo that graffiti is not necessarily a crime, but an interesting and well paid art form.
Initially from Loveland, CO, Paul Ide had to move to Bismarck because he was expelled from school as a punishment for doing graffiti in the street. It taught him a lesson for life: There is a big difference between legal and illegal graffiti artists. Legal ones get permission to draw graffiti, get paint and money for their projects and, as a result, gain the public’s respect. Illegal ones do it because they want to; as a consequence, they receive respect from the street but risk being stomped on by the law. Ide chose the former.
“I don’t do illegal painting any more,” Ide said sincerely. “I choose to paint with permission because I do not like the idea of sleeping in a jail cell.”
When the time to choose his major came, there was no hesitation or doubt. Ide made his choice at the age of 5, when he began creating his early masterpieces.
“I have been an artist for as long as I can remember,” he said.
He fell in love with art and wanted to devote his life to it, but here was the tricky decision. “I never wanted to be just a potter or just a painter. I am just an artist,” said Ide, denoting that he loves art in all its variations.
He practiced break-dancing in elementary school but “was never really good.” Ide still loves to skate at Savvy’s in Bismarck, and he still enjoys snowboarding as well. Ide adores hip-hop music and cannot live without ceramics. Aerosol art is his passion as well. It was almost impossible to pick one thing, but Ide chose ceramics. He got an art degree with a concentration in ceramics at Minnesota State University Moorhead. However, Ide never took up only one field of art.
“Whatever I decide to pick up, whether it would be a pencil or a can of spray paint, pen or a lump of clay, it does not matter. Making something beautiful is what I do,” Ide explained. Currently, Ide does everything from ceramics to charcoal but mostly focuses on graffiti.
Ide’s art is improvisational and spontaneous. “I don’t think that it has to mean anything. You do it because you love it and because it is fun. There is no deep philosophical meaning for my work,” Ide explained. And then added, joking: “I can make one to make it sound better.”
Eight months ago Ide got a call from the Plains Art Museum. He learned about a young man (name omitted for subject’s protection) from Wyndmere, N.D. who got in trouble in school because of graffiti . Surprisingly, his mother, instead of saying “You’re not touching a can of spray paint again!” asked “Who is your favorite graffiti artist?”
She flew her son to New York, scheduled a meeting with his favorite graffiti artist, bought him paint and a permit to paint at one of the most prestigious “legal” graffiti spots in the country—5 Points—with his idol helping and coaching him.
“That’s the coolest mom story ever,” Ide said. As they returned from this amazing trip, the boy’s mother wanted her son to develop his talent in Fargo and called the Plains Art Museum, looking for special programming. They recommended Paul Ide.
Ide knew what the boy was feeling and decided to teach him to draw professional graffiti and, thus, pass on his knowledge. He became Ide’s protégé, learning graffiti techniques and practicing drawing and painting in Ide’s studio.
“Of course, now he wants to goof around and chase girls, just as other kids of his age,” Ide said. However, during the eight months of learning graffiti, the young artist made much progress and developed his talent tremendously.
Despite a 17 year difference in age, the odd couple developed a unique relationship. “We have developed more of a friendship or camaraderie than a student-teacher relationship,” Ide said. “It’s amazing how a can of spray paint can bridge the generational gap between us.”
In June, Ide and his protégé will go to Bismarck to paint a mural for a skate park’s wall that is 50-feet long. It will be the first opportunity for Ide’s protégé to apply the acquired skills to practice.
One of the most important aspects that Ide is explaining to his protégé is a source of inspiration. “Everything I do, see, touch, smell, taste inspires me. You never know where inspiration will come from. If you did, you could package it and sell it,” Ide shared.
He gets his ideas from his everyday life, imagining possible projects while driving or biking and then sketches them in his sketchbook, not to lose an interesting thought.
“Every painting, every drawing, every teapot began as an image in my mind. My work is very intimate to me in that way,” Ide said.
Most of all, Ide likes to paint characters, imaginary people that almost look real. In addition, letters are a fascinating subject for Ide’s graffiti as well.
Currently, Ide is working on a project for a skate shop on 1st Ave. He is also planning a big summer event together with the Plains Art Museum that is aimed at raising hip-hop cultural awareness called “Hip Hop Don’t Stop.” A lot of DJs, MCs, break-dancers and graffiti artists will present their art form to the public. Moreover, Ide, along with nine other graffiti artists from all over the Midwest, are painting the 150-foot long wall of the building next to the Plains Art Museum.
An educational symposium, as a part of this event, will address the history and evolution of aerosol art. Attracting a young audience to the event is one of the key goals, promoting such Plains Art Museum’s programming as the Teen Open Studio. Ide believes that it is essential to create opportunities for young people who would like to take up graffiti.
“Kids need to know that there is a huge difference between gangsters and graffiti artists,” Ide said. Instead of getting in trouble, children will be able to develop their graffiti skills and might turn into aerosol art professionals.
This 4-day event will be an epic happening in Fargo, where hip-hop culture is rapidly developing. Ide has been entranced by hip-hop culture since he was 10.
“It is everywhere you look,” Ide said. “From television and radio, to billboards, print advertising, clothing and even toys, the hip-hop culture has permeated our everyday lives.”
The need for graffiti artists is so big at the moment that Ide is never out of work. “I have so many people asking me to paint that I can hardly keep up,” Ide said.
Being a safety director at a construction company, Ide admitted that combining work and his artistic interest is very difficult.
“I don’t have time but I do it anyway,” Ide said smiling. One day he would like to pursue art as a sole source of income. Once he tried to do it, but it did not work out. He sold pottery at art fairs throughout the U.S.
“That life was a bit of a drag,” Ide said. A fun hobby transformed into routine work. It was the time to quit.
However, as hip-hop culture is developing more and more, there will be more opportunities for Ide’s hobby to become his full-time job. Currently, Ide is not looking for money creating graffiti.
“As bizarre as this sounds, I am doing everything I can do to ‘not’ get paid for my artwork,” Ide confessed. “I trade my talent and services for goods. Kind of like that farmer and the potatoes, except … never mind.”
As payment for his last mural, Ide received a new pair of shoes, a new skateboard, a T-shirt and “all the Monster Energy drinks he could stomach.” It was unusual for Ide, who does graffiti just for fun: “I was stoked!... and very alert.”
Now Ide is looking forward to the birth of his second baby. His daughter Giselle is 3-years old, but her artistic inclination can already be seen. She spends hours finger-painting and creating figures from putty. Having a mother who is an art teacher and a father who is into all sorts of art, Giselle will have access to develop her early talent. Fargo will soon become one artist richer.
Besides Paul Ide, there are a lot of other graffiti artists in Fargo. They draw on the train cars, under bridges, and on any open canvas they can find. You can check their art out at http://www.greatplainspublicworks.com.
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