Chakra and Awe
Graffiti writer taps into universal calligraphies
By Gail Guengerich
Does the sight of graffiti make you want to roll down your window and yell in your grandpa voice about punk kids? Do you catch yourself often shaking your fist in the air while phrases like "Doodling vandals!" “Get a job!” and "That's not art!" escape your lips?
Well, then. Let me introduce you to Kailani Campbell (known simply as Kailani), a local graffiti writer and graphic designer originally from Shiprock, N.M., who will be hanging her first professional art show this weekend.
Kailani could easily tell you that graffiti writing isn’t for everyone. It’s not for the lazy, clumsy, antisocial or thin-skinned. First it demands some basic dexterity with a can. (I spray painted something once—it was the grate to my swamp cooler vent—and I can’t say I did a spectacular job.)
Then you have to work your way up in the graffiti world rung by rung, Académie-
But possibly the hardest knock for the sensitive graffiti artist is the charge that graffiti artists aren't really artists at all.
I know what you’re thinking: “Those punk kids and their energetic chakras!”
Kailani will upend some of these preconceptions with her show entitled Free Your Soul on Saturday, July 19, at El Chante: Casa de Cultura (804 Park SW). Don’t expect an indoor display of aerosol-propelled paint—Kailani says spraying canvas has long been a no-no in the graff world—the medium is acrylic and brush. And the subject: tantric chakras.
If you’re wondering just where exactly the twain of mystic religion and graffiti culture doth meet, you could start with calligraphy. Before Kailani, who self-identifies as Navajo and Mexican, ever picked up a paint can, she trafficked in the slightly-less-gritty art of Old English calligraphy, a hobby encouraged by her father. She later took up brush painting, creating her own calligraphy script specifically for canvas.
Full-blown graffiti writing didn’t come until later, and her interest in chakras, energetic nodes located in the human body as conceived by various Eastern religions, only emerged in the last two years.
(I know what you’re thinking: “Those punk kids and their energetic chakras!”)
The result is seven canvases, each representing a different chakra. The paintings themselves are a fascinating blend of graffiti-esque drips, glints and scythe-sharp edges, with tantric iconography and Kailani’s self-designed needle-like runes.
Kailani exerts her own interpretation, which means she doesn’t always adhere to traditional color conceptions of the chakras.
Kailani exerts her own interpretation, which means she doesn’t always adhere to traditional color conceptions of the chakras. Anahata, the heart or love chakra, for instance, is usually represented in green, while Kailani’s “Anahata” burns in torch-lit russet and dark peach tones that evoke inked skin. The piece unsettles the viewer without any graphic or gruesome content, merely from the juxtaposition of the viciously sharp runes over the warm, parchment-papery background.
The paintings contain no human figures, only suggestions of worlds. By freighting the imagery with the emotional fuses of each chakra, they become interesting conversation pieces. The love chakra is simultaneously carnal, warm and untouchable. But there’s no cynicism or tongue-in-cheek-ness here. These are subversive spiritual symbols that can only be reached “through pure love and meditation,” that Kailani says she felt impelled to share. But, yes, she admits they’re dark.
This spirit of education and sharing is evident in much of Kailani’s work, from the mural arts class for teens that she co-teaches with graffiti powerhouses Faustino Villa and Buerto Reyes at Warehouse 508, to her city-sponsored Los Altos Skate Park mural, an endeavor that turned into a Sisyphean cluster cuss when entanglements with red tape delayed the start date till winter.
Kailani recounts how the crew would arrive in the morning to find their previous work covered in ice and have to wait for it to thaw. “When you paint, you’re not moving at all. We did almost freeze to death a couple of times,” she jokes. As if wrangling the city and Old Man Winter wasn’t enough, they also had to deal with disgruntled BMXers who deemed the city-approved design too “babyish” for their taste and repeatedly defaced their work. These are the perils of sanctioned public art.
Things are a little less bureaucratic at her day job working for Home Product LLC, a graphic design company owned by her boyfriend Leonard Romero. Along with sign, banner and t-shirt design, she’s also illustrating a comic book written by Romero called Zia Tribe, a story about a female graffiti artist that involves “time travel, past lives and future lives.”
All told, Kailani, at age 23, is one prolific dame. You can expect her to bring all of that energy to her opening. She’s invited some of her friends to throw fuel on the fire with music, products and victuals. Food vendors include Skons Gone Wild and Zia Comida. Musical artists include KIMNUSICO, Charlitos, TRILLA, Burque Sol, Faustino Villa and Katrina Benally.
As if this lineup weren’t enough, Kailani’s chakras will be shown alongside acclaimed New York-New Mexico-Puerto Rican artist Tanya Torres’ tropical, dewy-eyed Mary Magdalene paintings. (Into Mary Magdalene? Check out tanyatorres.com for more info about Magdalene-centric music, conversations and art workshops starting at 2pm before the opening.) Torres’ flowing, dulcet work exulting the feminine divine has been displayed at the United Nations and internationally in the Caribbean. The spiritually charged Magdalenes should make an interesting counterpoint to Kailani’s chakras.
Expect a fantastic show for graffiti artists, art admirers and grumpy fist-shakers longing to be free, alike.
Free Your Soul opening reception
Runs through September 1
Saturday, July 19, 5:30 to 8:30pm
Mary Magdalene Celebration
Saturday, July 19, 2pm
El Chante: Casa de Cultura
804 Park SW
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