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Graffiti Artist and His Crew Return to Cleveland to Create Mural

As a child, Clevelander Ayumi Chisolm loved to draw and paint, but he never thought of himself as a professional artist until he picked-up a can of spray paint.  In the 1980s, Chisolm started leaving his mark and his murals on abandoned buildings and under bridges across the city.  He became a mentor to a crew of young graffiti artists called the Cleveland Skribe Tribe.  Chisolm and his crew mates went on to international fame as graphic designers.  This summer the Skribe Tribe was back in town to do mural work on the 78th Street Studios building for the Collective Arts Network’s (CAN) Triennial

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"Thunderwater" is the Cleveland Skribe Tribe's tribute to the Head of the Supreme Council of Indian tribes here and in Canada.  He was buried in Erie Street Cemetery. (Mary Fecteau / ideastream)

Chisolm uses the tag “SANO” as his graffiti handle.

“It’s an acronym,” he said.  “It means various things.  It probably started off like: ‘Sinister Artist, Notorious Outlaw.'  But now, it’s more like: ‘Sunny And Nice Outside’ or ‘SimplArtNiceOutlinez.’”

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(Courtesy SANO)

Chisolm said the graffiti form appealed to him, because it could be done quickly and get his name out around the city. And, coming from an environment of domestic violence at home, it helped him work through some dark thoughts.

“I’m trying to vent on walls, my issues and emotions, through graffiti,” he said. 

Although he found solace in this artistic purging of his feelings, Chisolm said he grew to like working in a group to create more complicated murals.  His first graffiti crew was know as “Doin’ Everything Funky(DEF)," which later became the Cleveland Skribe Tribe. 

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A Cleveland Skribe Tribe (CST) production (courtesy SANO)

“I think that what was unique with us was being able to train each other or show each other different techniques and styles and whatnot,” he said.  “I mean, we went from painting murals… to doing airbrushed jackets and stuff for cats like Public Enemy and different celebrities in the rap world.”

One of SANO’s most famous murals was painted 30 years ago along the Greater Cleveland RTA’s Red Line.  For years, thousands of eastside commuters passed this piece, “Panik Zone,” a meditation on gun violence.

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SANO's epic "Panik Zone" could be seen from the Red Line for years until it was destroyed when the building was torn down (courtesy SANO)

Over the years, members of the Skribe Tribe moved on to professional graphic design work for record companies and automobile manufacturers.  They left Cleveland for places like Atlanta, San Francisco, Japan and China.

Chisolm relocated to Los Angeles after a local art gallery told him that his work was “too ethnic."  Such comments left a bitter taste in his mouth, but he still has fond memories of his Cleveland crew and the work they were able to do.

“Graffiti taught me a little bit about community and sharing,” he said.  “And it was like, these are some cool cats in my area that I should be sharing with, so let me show them what I’m doing.  That was the learning process.”

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The Skribe Tribe working on their mural for the CAN Triennial (courtesy SANO)

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