The trains run in West Oakland once again. That’s certainly how it feels when you face a stunning locomotive-themed mural-in-progress that spans over 8,000 square feet on the Wrist Ship Supply building. And that’s how long-time Oakland graffiti artists Norman Chuck (a.k.a. “Vogue”) and Mike “Bam” Tyau like it.

Before you rises a full-scale and historically accurate depiction of railroad cars from a bygone era, displayed under the golden banner “West Side is the Best Side,” a riff on a lyric from Tupac’s “California Love.” In addition to those tremendous train cars, the mural also features a massive ship—in homage to Wrist’s status as “the world’s largest ship supplier” —and the iconic cranes in the Port of Oakland.

Located at 1611 17th Street in Oakland, the entire three-wall mural is spectacular in both rendered scale and applied skill, and it is unlike anything you’ve seen before. It is also unlike anything either Vogue or Bam have done before, making it that much more breathtaking. It is “aerosol art,” Vogue shares proudly, that “push[es] the spray can to its highest level.”

Oakland graffiti artists Mike “Bam” Tyau (left) and Norman Chuck (aka “Vogue,” right) stand proudly with their newest creation in West Oakland. Photo by Anna Vignet.

Oakland graffiti artists Mike “Bam” Tyau (left) and Norman Chuck (a.k.a. “Vogue,” right) stand proudly with their newest creation in West Oakland. Photo by Anna Vignet.

A prominent Bay Area graffiti artist who was most recently commissioned by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board to contribute to an aerosol mural for their White Elephant building, Vogue created the vision for this current mural by playing off of the proximity of the historic 16th Street train station in West Oakland. Now, he, Bam, and four student interns are in the process of executing that vision, with an expected completion date at the end of August.

Vogue has long been inspired by the locomotive history of Oakland, he reveals. And with some yet-visible vestiges here of the old train tracks that once led right up to Wrist’s warehouse door, this mural project seemed a serendipitous creative match.

The mural is also unlike anything Wrist’s West Oakland neighbors have witnessed in their midst, making people in the community stop in their tracks. For instance, on a recent weekday afternoon, in the span of an hour or two, several cars slowed down or stopped completely to take in the scene. One older driver was so taken by the image of the trains in progress that she stopped to pop her head out of her car. Smiling, she asked, “Are you gentlemen putting up that ‘West Side is the Best Side’ mural? You need any help? I’m retired twice but I’m always working.” The artists paused in their efforts to laugh and chat with her.

The "West Side is the Best Side" according to Tupac and these graffiti artists. Photo by Anna Vignet.

The “West Side is the Best Side” according to Tupac and these graffiti artists. Photo by Anna Vignet.

That “immediate response from people” and occasion to pause is something that Vogue is keen to provoke and foster with his art. “I want people to think about what Oakland really is,” he shares. “People don’t [often] spend the time to even stop [in their daily routine]. They are busy in their lives. They get up, eat their breakfast, [and] are off to work. They come home and [then] they are just in their little world. I want people to reflect on the art and, as you can see, people do stop. Even if it is just ten seconds, it affected them somehow and maybe they’ll think [about what Oakland is].”

“I want to affect people,” he continues, “and let [them] know their history. As I get older, I feel like it is more and more important.”

Greg Mayeda, special counsel at Wrist, concurs, “History is important. As a lifelong resident of Oakland, [I know] Oakland is rich in history. We [at Wrist] are not trying to gentrify the neighborhood. [For that reason,] we didn’t want to put up some big, weird, abstract, postmodern piece of art. We wanted to work with local artists [who] share our appreciation for the city, and stay true to the character of the neighborhood and the city.”

The Wrist Ship Supply building before the mural spraying began. Photo courtesy of Fuming Guerilla.

The Wrist Ship Supply building before the mural spraying began. Photo courtesy of Fuming Guerilla.

Generating community-rooted awareness and positive change is a key part of what motivates the company’s commissioning of the mural, and it continues to motivate them in their other rehabilitative efforts in their community.

“We are also trying to work with the city,” Mayeda shares, “or alternatively with local artisans, to get benches installed, hopefully around the trees [in front of our building]. Because across the street is the food pantry, and you come here first thing in the morning and there are a bunch of little old ladies, kind of hunched over, sitting on makeshift boxes and things, waiting for the services of the food pantry. We thought it would be nice if they had a more comfortable place to sit [where they] could wait with some dignity rather than having to be slumped on the sidewalk.”

In addition, Mayeda continues, “We’re [trying to] have the City install some garbage cans on each of the four corners here because [this space] used to be a big dumping ground. People would dump mattresses and couches. It just became one of those places where it was acceptable for people to do that so we are trying to change the overall tone of how people view this neighborhood.” This impact is meaningful to the company, he adds, because “we’ve been in this neighborhood a while and we plan to stay, so we’re trying to be good neighbors.”

That sense of “good neighborliness” and community permeates every aspect of the collaborative creative effort as well, explains Bam.

“What we’re doing here is changing space,” he observes, “and how the community of [that] space appreciates [it]. We took something that was trashed and just a canvas for out-of-town graffiti artists to smash their graffiti on [and transformed it into] a mural that not only makes the community proud of it but [also] the common graffiti writer that sees it.”

Ultimately, he shares, “What we’re hoping is to inspire and show younger graffiti writers that if they stay at it, or go to art school, or improve on their art, they can aspire to paint something as big or as beautiful as this mural. They don’t only just have to write their names anymore. They can actually learn how to do murals and change spaces themselves. We want to show them that successful murals involve the community.”

47 Responses

  1. Seamus

    More shots fired near my house last Friday night. We need gentrification here in Oakland. Sick of getting my house broken into every two to three years also.

    Reply
  2. Matt in Uptown

    OaklandNative -your point of view is what is fueling the vandalism of the new businesses while the liquor stores, and slumlords get a pass. It’s a form of prejudice.

    Reply
  3. OaklandNative

    Matt,

    Perhaps you should ask some of the graffitti artists what their reasons are. I would argue that your point of view may be the reason for their need for graffitti.

    Reply
  4. OaklandNative

    Matt,

    How does this graffitti hurt the new businesses? If the new businesses are part of the community, they should appreciate it.

    Reply
  5. Seamus

    If I recall from sociology class, graffiti is a young person’s way of claiming space in densely populated urban areas. Interesting stuff I remember when I was a history student at CSULB.

    Whatever, I’m tired of the muggers and the shooters and places like West Oakland where you can’t even get a supermarket put in because there’s too many muggers and shooters.

    When that stuff dies down a bit to somewhat tolerable levels, I’ll support the warm fuzzy stuff again.

    Reply
  6. OaklandNative

    Seamus,
    According to one gentrifier, we don’t need more grocery stores. We need more expensive bars and restaurants that he can walk to from home.

    Reply
  7. Seamus

    Hello Oakland native,

    I don’t want to live in some sterile Emryville place where all new housing includes gated parking garages so I can get in my car and go without ever actually walking in my neighborhood. I just want to go several years without having my house broken into or hearing of a friend who got beat down for reasons that appear completely arbitrary.

    Reply
  8. OaklandNative

    Seamus,

    I have several friends who grew up in West Oakland. They love it there.

    I have spent a lot of time there (last weekend there was the African festival, it was wonderful).

    There are some beautiful people from West Oakland.

    Reply
  9. ainacircle

    No mention, of course, of the brand new coffee shop that’s about two blocks away from this mural. Nor of the just-completed loft development next door (that is actually pictured in the “before” image.)

    Despite the artists’ supposed intentions, and their critique of gentrification, their mural will play a role in the gentrification of this neighborhood. Just as the coffeeshop (kiloVolt Coffee) provided drinks for open houses at the lofts (Lampwork Lofts), this mural will hold the gentry’s hand as they walk the two blocks from their new, expensive loft to buy expensive coffee. Now they don’t get a chance to see any “bad” graffiti, which would make them uncomfortable.

    That said, it’s only a matter of time before the mural is covered by “big bubble letters” (as the city council calls the “bad” graffiti.)

    Reply
  10. christine

    Gentrification is a bad bad word here… yet we all want our neighborhoods safer and full of life…

    so how do we get safer neighborhoods, where we can respect each other, and watch life blossom without gentrification?

    Reply
  11. OaklandNative

    Circle,

    You do have a point. The graffiti might attract the hipsters who see this as “cool” and “gritty.” They’ll be so self-entitled they will be clueless to the real meaning of the graffit and interpret it as “inviting.” That’s one of the ironies of gentrification.

    Reply
  12. thorn

    first; what the hell is a hipster? it’s a slag that has no meaning. you might as well call someone a beatnik or hippie in 2014.

    second; long time west oakland resident and homeowner in the neighborhood here, i love this mural, i love how much my neighbors love this mural and i hope more things like this pop-up.

    third; west oakland, the bottoms, prescott, the jets, etc needs both a grocery store–mandela food coop is great, and run by great people, but it is tiny and beyond the produce and bulk section, it is expensive. we also need cafes and bars and places to eat and congregate and meet one another. hell, we could use a pharmacy and bank too but that i’m certain that someone who hasn’t lived in the neighborhood long and will be gone soon enough would probably try to smash those b/c of some shit they read on a poorly edited website.

    i do like the word ‘gentry’ however, it summons up images of estates surrounded by gardens with peacocks and fountains, which is something i picture when someone says west oakland. although, fun fact, the john ziegenbein (you know the developer who built all the victorians you see in the bottoms) house on peralta at 10th used to have peacocks, so you know… anything is possible.

    anyway, more of this stuff please.

    Reply
  13. seamus

    Hello Oakland Native, Yes. There are some nice people everywhere. It’s the comparatively large number of not-nice that I was referring to. Last year, Oakland had the most not-nice people in America (per capita). That is, where armed robbery equals not niceness.

    You seem to only be able to see a portion of a picture, the portion you want to see.

    Reply
  14. OaklandNative

    Seamus,

    Oakland can’t that bad. You’ve chosen to move here. You’ve chosen to stay (for example, you said you don’t want to live in Emeryville).

    As far as “nice” and “not nice” people, how do you neighbors see you? You might see yourself as “nice.” I’m sure those people you call “not nice” see themselves as “nice” too.

    Reply
  15. Seamus

    Hello Again, You wrote: “Oakland can’t that bad.” That’s the problem. You won’t see. You won’t see that Oakland had the highest per capita number of robberies in all of America last year. It just CAN’T be that bad in your mind. Instead, you focus on economic refugees from SF driving up house and rental prices in Oakland.

    For repeat: Not nice people are the ones who rob and start fights. And, we have a lot of those in Oakland compared to other places.

    Reply
  16. OaklandNative

    Seamus,

    You were complaining about Oakland, but you’re still here. It can’t be that bad TO YOU since you moved here and haven’t moved out.

    What makes a person “nice”? It’s not nice to move into a community and ASSume you are a better neighbor/person because you’re white, “pay taxes” or don’t “rob and start fights” (examples of arguments for defending gentrification).

    You mentioned people moving to Oakland from San Francisco. Moving to Oakland because you can’t afford San Francisco and then complaining because Oakland isn’t “up to” San Francisco is rude and disrespectful. Bragging that one “discovered” a neighborhood in Oakland is not “nice.” Moving to a house and expecting your neighbors to change their lifestyle to accommodate you is not “nice.”

    Just because you think you’re nice, does not think others think so.

    Reply
  17. OaklandNative

    Correction to last sentence:

    Just because you think you’re nice, doesn’t mean others think you’re nice. We saw this a few months ago when that one gentrifier wrote about the wonderful work he thought he had done in his “newly-discovered” colony. Some of his neighbors wrote comments on how they resented him for those same actions.

    Reply
  18. Eru

    It’s essentially extortion. “Nice building you have there. It would be a shame if someone came along and scribbled something rude on it. How about you pay us $,$$$$ and will scribble something nice on it?”

    Until they get real and start locking up vandals it’s only going to get worse.

    Reply
  19. Neighborhood ASSet

    Robbing and starting fights is nice? On what planet? One where “history” says so?

    Reply
  20. Jonatton Yeah?

    Don’t bother with OaklandNative. Seriously. That dude shows out absurd generalizations while complaining when others do the same. He pretends to care so so so much about Oakland but refuses to ever say what he actually does to help Oakland or the communities that surround (trolling about on here isn’t “helping”); even going so far as to be patronizing to those who actually do spend their lives doing something. When people complain about child prostitution and crime his only response is, “well it was there first so you shouldn’t have moved there” as if that’s a normal thing to think or say. When people complain about child prostitution and crime he says. “it’s not everyone who’s like that” before going on some rant about the made-up “hipsters” in his neighborhood and how all white people moving to Oakland are somehow like them (#hypocrisy). OaklandNative’s history of Oakland begins and ends when he has decided so. Oakland is a museum to him. A place that shouldn’t change from the its pretend heyday years of 1994. He’ll tolerate crime, drugs, prostitution, and urban decay before embracing change he himself hasn’t approved of. The level of delusion is hilarious. And it means nothing because Oakland is changing with or without this “native.” And are you Ohlone by the way? German maybe? Oh, nevermind. I forgot the only history of Oakland that matters is the narrative you invented.

    http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/cities/Oakland50.htm

    Reply
  21. Sage

    Eru,

    That statement is untrue and ignorant. It’s obvious you don’t like that type of street art (high-end graffiti / street art) but to say this was extortion is foolish.

    As the facilitator for this project I can tell you the client is ecstatic. So you don’t like the new look, ok, that’s your prerogative, Bobby Brown. Perhaps the old was better, coupled with the massive amount of illegal dumping it encouraged?

    There are significant statistics to correlate this type of urban art to a safer and cleaner neighborhood. We aren’t the mob selling fire insurance.

    Additionally anyone throwing gentrification around this or that way needs to thoroughly understand the positive and negative. it’s not black and white but it is crime reduction and safer streets, unfortunately with a rise in prices. It benefits people currently in the community and can adversely affect some as well.

    Respectfully,

    FG

    Reply

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