We're way past having to defend the whole "graffiti is art" discussion. But the dozens, if not hundreds, of empty spray paint cans strewn next to even the most spectacular graffiti walls is still a major buzzkill. Luckily, a couple of South Florida boys now living in L.A. are presenting an alternative for dump-and-run sprayers.
DJ Neff and Paul Ramirez met when both worked at advertising giant Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Coconut Grove. They eventually hooked up in California and founded Canlove as a graffiti spray paint can recycling program. It's already getting plenty of traction in L.A. and starting to take root in New York City. And Miami is next up for some Canlove love. After all, the idea was born in Neff's mind as he prowled Magic City streets as a fledgling graf artist. We caught up with these new-age artcycling pioneers and talked about the program, future plans, and what they'll be doing at this year's Art Basel Miami Beach.
New Times: Tell us about Canlove, why you created it, where you hope it goes?
DJ Neff: The idea for Canlove was actually conceived in South Florida
where I grew up painting graffiti. In college I started exploring the
idea of creating a new type of canvas - and I had all these empty paint
cans lying around, so I decided to cut them open and use the metal for
the project. As soon as I cut open my first can it became my fetish. I
cut thousands and every can was just as exciting as the first. I fell in
love all over again with spray paint. Over time, I realized this idea
could be something bigger than simply an art piece, and Canlove, simply
put, became an artcycling program that produces works of art through the
collection and processing of used spray cans.
For too long, these spray cans have been living in ditches and under
bridges - rusting in silence inside mounds of garbage. We want to give
them new life. We're working hard and we hope to continue increasing our
ability to process and collect cans so that we can collaborate and
create larger projects that would allow a more mainstream audience to
enjoy the spray can.
Paul Ramirez: Ever since I met Senor Neff he's been trying to get me --and others -- to cut cans with him. I don't think either of us knew where
this was headed back then. Over the years I've helped and watched
Canlove grow. I know we're only getting started and I'll know we've made
it when we can create artwork around the world using the cans from
local graffiti artists.
Even today, graf artists have to battle through certain stereotypes. Is
part of the whole Canlove concept a reaction against the urban blight
DJ: Sure there are stereotypes associated with graffiti, but in recent
years, graffiti and its artists have become increasingly respected in
pop-culture and the art world. The market has exploded with all kinds of
products to get up with and spray paint production is at an all time
high. Today, millions of people are doing graffiti and we simply just
want their cans when they're done. And if others are inspired to make their used
can art, that's great too. Our message is simple: love what you do.
Canlove is a conscious choice about how to treat spray cans when they're
PR: Canlove is an awareness of something more than it is a reaction to
something. These cans still have so much more color and life to give
after they've been tossed. If making art from used spray cans helps to
breakdown stereotypes -- that's great. If we can turn making art out of
cans into a worldwide upcylcing program -- that's a dream come true.
We know you're from Miami. We know you started Canlove. What don't' we
know about why you left Miami for L.A.?
DJ: A big part of Canlove being in LA is the world famous Venice Beach.
The Venice Art Walls that are regulated here are first class and can
collection is a smooth process thanks to I.C.U. -- a local organization
that is doing its part to help graffiti at its roots. Working with them has helped us build a foundation for the process and
Canlove has been able to establish a routine collection schedule that
keeps us busy and full of empty cans. Our goal is to help create similar
collection centers all around the world, giving artists a place to
paint and leave their cans in love.
How would you rate the graffiti scene/work in Miami?
DJ: Coming up in a great crew DME in Miami, I know firsthand that the
artists doing their thing in the 305 are second to none. In fact, Miami
has been the spot to be if you are a graf artist, tons of great spots
are coming up and the art on the walls is amazing. As far as styles,
Miami has it all, probably a reflection of its diverse population, and
writers are really pushing bright colors and tight outlines.
PR: The Surface Merchants are doing some really interesting work. Friends With You as always is pushing hard to create fun art
experiences. Never a shortage of big things coming from Miami, and
looking forward to seeing it at this year's Basel.
Do you think the artists would welcome Canlove receptacles throughout heavily graffiti strewn parts of town?
DJ: Receptacles are great, but we really want to create public programs
that would help clean up these areas too. We can try to spread the word
and hope that artists make the choice not to throw their cans on the
ground, or in a ditch, or wherever -- but we know that its hard to change
behavior. Instead, we could give artists that get arrested a chance to
do community service through Canlove, monitoring receptacles and
collecting and processing cans.
PR: So far in our experience artists have welcomed the receptacles. We
know how much graffiti artists love getting up on trash bins. I also
believe that most artists would rather have their empty cans become a
piece of art than a piece of trash. We could really use some help though
- in the whole collection/processing area. It requires tons of
coordination, planning, and dedication. We're asking artists, the
community, and the industry if they canlove.
What has to happen for Canlove to add Miami to its ever growing reach?
DJ: Canlove is looking for artists and volunteers that have the same
affinity for spray paint and have ideas that they want to collaborate
on. Just like our partnership with ICU in Venice, we are looking for
people that are regulating legal walls and that can routinely collect
cans. Any artists working with spray paint that would like to partner
with Canlove to connect on bigger projects should get in contact with
We're also building a solid relationship with MTN NA - which is
major for us -- and this year we're working with them and to have a
special Canlove collection of work at Art Basel -- the plan is to take
the 1000s of cans that will be emptied by world class artists -- and
returning next year with a piece made from all of cans we collected. I
think the more awareness we get, the more love we'll get. We're planning
to work on more and more projects and collaborations with others. We
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want to grow in size and scale in hopes that we leave no can behind.
For more info on Canlove contact Chalk Gallery, 12513 Venice Blvd., Venice. (424) 228-2289, or visit www.Canlove.org.