For some, your guilty pleasure may be premium cigars. For others, it could be fine wines, a nice stiff drink, expensive clothes and a list of other things others would consider to be vices. For one man in Raleigh, North Carolina, is guilty pleasure is anything but a vice–it’s a way of life. Meet graffiti artist Dawood Relm, owner of sign painting and printing business Sign Scientist.
One wouldn’t expect Raleigh to be home to a man like Dawood who’s contributed so much to the world of graffiti. He began his affair with street art back in 1985 while growing up in Boston. Naming other graffiti aficionados such as SPone, Sick, Sly and Wombat as influences, Dawood had no idea that he soon would also become a part of America’s graffiti history. As he spoke to us in his Raleigh office, you could see the excitement and passion rise the more he delved into the history of the art. He excitedly presented to us The History of American Graffiti, pointing out that he was in fact a part of it.
As he flipped through the pages of the book that outlined and illustrated America’s history with what some would consider vandalism and others a gritty, expressive art form, Dawood says, “Back then, we’d just have to take wall space. We we weren’t as efficient.” Indeed, some of the older graffiti pieces displayed in the book were not as polished and clean as the art you may be accustomed to seeing today. Dawood pointed out the difference between the times, saying that back then graffiti was often illegal, thus done on the run and a bit more sloppier. Nowadays, the art is often times more accepted and embraced. He told us of how graffiti artists in the past would target trains and bus lines because that’s where your art could be seen by a bigger audience. Nowadays? Dawood named a few local businesses that he’s approached about turning their walls or property into his canvas. The times have definitely changed.
As we approached what we thought would be the end of the interview, our afternoon had just begun. Dawood took us to one of his works of art in the city and proceeded to give us a lesson in graffiti art that you could only get from an expert like him. He showed us a “production,” a wall done by a group of artists. Each artists contributes a “piece” which is their contribution to the overall piece. For any artist or creative person, these terms and collaborative effort probably sounds very familiar. As Dawood described each artists’ contribution to the overall production, he also talked about his own creative process.
“[It came] Freestyle. I didn’t even sketch that out first. You just see it. What happens is I’ll lay my colors out … so while I’m looking at my colors, I’ll just stand back like this and look at the wall and it will appear in my mind. You get a flash of it, it doesn’t show up in detail. I kind of see it, then I’ll start sketching it out. A lot of this stuff is muscle memory, you know what I mean? You’re just doing it. And then as you go you say, ‘Oh, I need to fix this; I need to tighten this up; I need to add a shadow there … it just kind of all happens as you go.”
Dawood also talked about the etiquette behind graffiti. He says there are two different rules related to starting a new piece. First, you don’t cover anyone’s graffiti art unless you plan on covering it completely and secondly, you have to “burn it,” meaning you have to do something better than what they did.
As we neared the end of our time with Dawood, our impression of graffiti had changed. Like any creative outlet, there’s a process and story behind that art you see tagged on the back of a building or underneath a bridge. Graffiti artists, like most creatives, work together in not what society has come to consider a gang but instead an alliance. Dawood, now a father of five who says he’s not the same as he was when he first started tagging walls back in ‘80s Boston. Nowadays, any graffiti art starts with either asking permission or in areas businesses are ok with being covered with the street art. Graffiti isn’t a vice or him acting out, he describes it as an outlet for him–a release, much like those listed at the start of the story.
Follow Dawood Relm on Instagram. Dawood works at Sign Scientist located at 1037 N. West Street, Raleigh, NC 27603 (919) 685-7641. Check out the gallery below for more of Dawood Relm’s work.