Photos courtesy of Smear.
Cristian Gheorghiu aka Smear started off as a street artist in Los Angeles. He quickly became one of the most prolific artists on the scene. He successfully made the transition from the streets to galleries and then he got busted by the police, years after he stopped doing street art! The arrest made headlines across the country, but the full story was never revealed – until now. Your opinion on the legality of street art might be mixed, but one thing is sure, when you find out what happened to Smear, you’ll definitely agree that there is a major problem with our justice system. I’d like to thank Smear for his honesty and for opening up to tell his side of the story. Please note new readers, there is some rather harsh language so if that kind of thing offends you, perhaps you won’t want to keep reading. With the fact that you are on this site, you’ll already know that I use harsh language a lot and while the internet is still unregulated, you won’t see censorship here. I am not even fond of putting any type of disclaimer on this site, but you never know who is reading – so please take that under advisement before you continue.
According2G: Tell us about your background. How did you get involved in Street Art?
Smear: I’ve been scribbling on things out in the streets since I was 13. I started up and down my block in the East Hollywood section of Los Angeles and pretty much kept at it since then. Eventually it lead me to this thing that has been dubbed “street art.” For the record, I have not comitted an act of graffiti or “street art” since very early in 2007 (you never know who is going to read this interview).
A2G: Can you tell us a few of your heroes and influences?
Smear: Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Jim Morrison, Marlon Brando, Benny Hill, John Dillenger, H.P. Lovecraft, Bill Murray, Spider-man, James Dean, Alexander the Great, Kilroy, Morrisey, Fox Mulder, Sherlock Holmes, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, Tom Bunk, John Pound,Humphrey Bogart, Sergio Aragones, Al Jafee, Don Martin, Batman, Stan Lee, Jim Davis, Erik Larson, Picasso, Basquiat, Willem De Kooning, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Rauschenberg, Jackson Pollock, Vlad The Impaler, cats, kittens, tigers, lions and werewolves, and so on… The list can very easily grow to 10 times this size.
A2G: What’s been the biggest accomplishment to happen to you as a result of your art?
Smear: Finding something that gives me a motive to go on, a reason for being.
A2G: What’s on your Ipod/Netflix/Kindle/Tivo ?
Smear: Don’t own an iPod. Hate the idea of Kindle. I read REAL books, with pages. Tivo I don’t use, but Netflix? Yeah, I get down with Netflix. I recently watched all of the original Twilight Zone run. Rod Serling was the man! Maybe I should put the fucker up there in my “heroes/influences” section…fuck it! That list is nowhere near complete, that’s maybe one percent of my heroes/influences – if that. I also watched most of the old X-files run and a bunch of Kurt Russell movies – Big Trouble in Little China, Escape From New York and The Thing in the past few weeks. I’ve been watching a lot of Three’s Company reruns on TV. Read a good book on the criminal underground of early San Francisco titled “The Barbary Coast.” Also just finished reading the “Unabomber’s Manifesto.” Interesting stuff. Currently reading a beat-up old horror/ sci-fi paperback from the 80s that I got from a musty old bookshop that I frequent in the cut called “Stinger.” I’ve been listening to the Doors a lot again and I usually leave the radio tuned to the local classical music station to keep me grounded and in good spirits.
A2G: You were arrested in May of 2011. Can you tell us about what the experience was like (before, during and after)? Were you fined? How do things stand now between you and the authorities?
Smear: Yeah, those cocksuckers arrested me…again. The experience sucked as it usually does. Here it the story, in a nutshell:
In 2007 I was arrested for felony vandalism (in California, felony vandalism is any act of vandalism that causes more than $400 worth of damage. But the way that they arrive at the dollar amount of damage done is iffy in and of itself, as the pigs/prosecutors, have a tendency to over-inflate the price tag of the damage done), the judge gave me a a crazy ass fine, probation and community service. He tried to keep me from owning any graffiti supplies, which can be basically anything that can leave a mark on a surface, but my lawyer shot it down due to the fact that I’m also a legitimate fine artist besides having been a graffiti writer, and those “graffiti” implements are used to pay my bills. So I started seeing my parole officer every month. Started doing my community service. And made my restitution payments every month like clockwork. In 2008 the pigs didn’t bother me. But then, in 2009, BAM! Motherfuckers come banging on my door again in full riot gear.
They accuse me of being the mastermind behind a gigantic graffiti blockbuster in the LA river. The graffiti spelled out 3 massive letters: MTA. MTA was a crew that I was in for a little over a year but that I had not been affiliated with since late 2002/early 2003. I don’t know how or why they decided to pin the MTA in the river on me since the letters appeared on the river’s concrete banks sometime in 2008, long after I had cut ties with my former crew. They made a big show of the arrests in the papers and the nightly news and all that. Made it seem like they really earned their pay by snatching up some Charles Manson type desperadoes and stuffing them in cages, away from the decent folk of our city. And remember – this is LA that we are talking about here, not some sweet midwestern all American town…fucking crime infested LA! You’d think that they had better shit to do with the taxpayers money than round up 10 guys accused of slathering on a layer of paint on a concrete bank of a “river” in a section of the city that nobody really even gives two shits about, but apparently, they didn’t have a better use for that tax money.
What happened next is what really pissed the pigs and the powers that be in LA off. Not one of the guys that they picked up that day for the river graff was even charged with anything- not a single one! We were all in a holding cell at the courthouse waiting for our case to be called, but it never was. The DA never even filed the case due to a total lack of evidence. The bastards must have felt like chumps – like inept clowns that couldn’t convict a jaywalker. So we walked. Sure we stayed in a few days extra because a lot of us were on probation and this “arrest” constituted a probation violation but after our respective probation and parole hearings we all went home and I started talking shit… a lot of shit – rubbing that smelly shit in the pigs faces! They were made to look like the dunces that they were. The funny thing is, I had more contact with the MTA guys that the cops where accusing me of being a part of, a fellow member, in that holding cell waiting to see the judge, than I had in about a decade…some of the guys I had never even met! Since they had become members long after I had ceased knowing, or caring, to be honest, about the crews structure and membership. I only “knew” them from seeing their names up on random walls. I kept in loose contact with two of the guys after this mutually traumatic experience, like many survivors of disasters are prone to do, for a short while, but eventually the sporadic phone conversations tapered off and I went on with my life.
After this they would raid my pad, on a pretty regular basis trying to lock me up for anything. They always grabbed my art supplies and screamed “Probation Violation!” even though the judge told me that I could own the art supplies. I tried to show them the paperwork on a few occasions but they didn’t want to hear it. They just wanted to take me in. “Tell it to the judge,” was a clique that one of the oinkers threw my way once, and I told it to the judge…a good number of times to a good number of judges and the judges sent me home, every fucking time! They especially liked to take me in a week or two before I had a big art show opening somewhere around town, hoping that I’d miss out. The fuckers are snakes! Evil, petty, vindictive snakes!
Then in 2010 they tried something new: One morning I was asleep in bed with this bitch that I was fucking at the time when I heard a knock at my door. This knocking wasn’t as aggressive as the usual knocking that the pigs would hit my door with but it was still an “authoritative” type of knock that you knew had to come from a faggot in uniform. I jumped out of bed, threw some pants on and went to the door. I peeked and saw pigs. I opened the door. A pig handed me a fat stack of papers stapled together and said, “You’ve been served.” I looked at the stack, looked up and the pigs, closed the door and went to my bedroom and told the bitch in my bed to leave. I sat there and looked over the documents for a few hours. I was in shock! The fuckers were suing me and the other nine guys that where picked up for the 2009 river arrest for close to 5 million dollars!! And that wasn’t all. They were also trying to hit the defendants (me being one of them) up with a tailor made restriction modeled on the gang injunctions that the city of LA uses to combat violent street gangs! But, believe it or not, the proposed injunction that I am facing is harsher than those drafted for violent street gangs due to this: A street gang has a set territory with boundaries – a hood. A gang injunction keeps the gang members out of this hood or face arrest. But since a tagging crew has no territorial boundaries – no hood, they want to make the injunction valid STATE FUCKING WIDE!!! That means that if I was to leave my home from 10pm to 5am the next morning I could be arrested and serve 6 months in prison. Not county jail, but prison, just for walking down the street!!!
The injunction also would forbid me from carrying or owning or transporting graffiti supplies (which by their loose definition can be anything from a ballpoint pen to a spray can and everything in between – and I’m not fucking exaggerating!) ever!! In other words, my first amendment right to produce art would be void. No freedom of speech or expression for me. Other provisions of the injunction include not being able to associated with any of my codefendents, which I already don’t do. A lot of them I had never even met before that day in 2009 when we where all in the holding cell at the courthouse waiting to go before the judge, and the few that I did know from before I hadn’t seen in fucking YEARS before that. And I wouldn’t be able to use any of the public transportation which our great city offers or be in or around the LA river or on any freeways on foot. This injunction isn’t in effect, it’s still in litigation, but if they win, I’m fucked. Oh, and another thing the injunction forbids me using my “graffiti moniker” to further my art career in any way. In other words the word “SMEAR” would be off limits to me, and this injunction has no expiration date!!! I could technically be on this injunction for life. All because of something that I had no involvement in.
It’s a known fact that I am not a member of MTA. I may have loosely been a member about a decade ago for a short time, but I was never a gung ho member. I’ve always basically been a loner and did my own thing. Crew or no crew, I’ve never been into the buddy system. I was sort of a member (and I use “member” in the loosest way) just on a ‘fuck-it-why-not’ basis. It was never that serious to me, and I only sometimes hung out with a handful of members – the ones that I considered chill. I was too old by this point (2001-2002, perhaps) to jump into the whole “crew life” thing full throttle. It was just a short moment in my life that I consider left behind in the rear-view. A decade-ago is a long time in a man’s life – ancient history you might say. But these pigs, man, these bastards never can let go of shit – even petty shit. Isn’t America grand? Land of the free…home of the??
In March 2011 I was featured in a Column one story in the LA times….man, after that story hit the front page of the LA Times, they got mad and raided me again. I wasn’t even at home when they raided. I was in a girls bed watching Netflix, they called me and told me to come home. I told them to talk to my lawyer, they (the pigs and my lawyer) talked. I was to turn myself in the next day. I turned myself in. They took me to jail. The papers wrote about it. I went to court. The judge didn’t let me go home. The papers wrote about it. I sat in jail with the morons and the brainless eating PB&J sandwiches and burritos that weren’t heated all the way through. I saw the Mexicans beat their own. I saw the blacks beat their own. I saw the Blacks and the Mexicans almost get into a full blown riot in my dorm because a Southsider (Mexican) told a black to “shut the fuck up, I’ve got court in the morning.” (He was fighting a murder rap. He slept in the bunk above me and snored like a locomotive). The blacks didn’t like that, the two groups gathered their forces and squared off. Politics ensued. Luckily nothing happened. I read “The Red Badge of Courage” and a William Saroyan novel. I went to court again. I got released. 45 days of community service, for, to be honest, no fucking reason. The papers wrote about it. I finished the 45 days of humiliating, backbreaking work in about 60 days or so. A lot of it done in solid stretches of a week or more. My life was community service for those 60 days – no art was produced. Not even a scibble on a sheet of paper.
A2G: How much has your life changed since the arrest?
Smear: I have nightmares about being arrested…it sucks. But the girls seem to like it. I’ve always suffered from depression and anxiety disorder…now it’s worse. I had what used to be called a “nervous breakdown” a few months ago…it wasnt very much fun. But I refuse to take meds…so I just deal with this shit.
A2G: Do you think street art is a crime?
Smear: Yeah, of course. It’s pretty obvious.
A2G: Advice for upcoming artists?
Smear: No. Let them figure shit out for themselves.
A2G: What’s your philosophy on life?
Smear: Just Smear it.
A2G: Future plans?
Smear: Paint. Write a novel or two. Eventually die.
Thanks again to Smear for his candor and a really great interview. If it has made you question the justice system at all, please raise your voices and speak up about it so injustice like this will not happen again! You can see Smear’s art in galleries such as Lab Art in Los Angeles as well as on Smear’s official website and his Facebook page.