Street (Sm)arts 

Pie Hole's graffiti for sale on First Thursday

Sushi. Kuma. Employee. Nasty. Those words don't engender thoughts of artistic expression (well, maybe sushi). But in the hands of Pocatello-based "urban artists" Drae and Toenail, the letters of each word become bright, chubby, flashy spray-painted designs that grace walls inside and outside Pie Hole in Meridian, as well as some stand-alone panels. Swaths of airbrushed black, and fierce primary colors shot through with pinks, purples and turquoises fill the Pie Hole space, the words chosen more for the shape of the letters than their meaning. Some of the stand-alone panels--including one with the word Boise painted on it--will be available for sale at the downtown Boise Pie Hole as part of First Thursday.

Drae and Toenail are part of a Pocatello skateboard/graffiti crew called PAK, which stands for Pocatello Assault Krew, though the "assault" refers to their approach to their art as opposed to any kind of physical violence or illegal activity. Drae took art classes in high school--and still paints more traditionally, using oils and acrylics--but was drawn to the large urban canvases provided by building walls.

Boise businessman Jason Crawforth (who co-owns the four Piehole locations) found Drae and Toenail through a call to artists when he was looking for someone to give his Pocatello store some color. He had previously hired members of Boise graffiti crew Sector 17 to paint at his store on Broadway and found that their designs added a new flavor to the pizza joint.

Crawforth wanted the same thing for Meridian, his newest location, and commissioned Drae and Toenail to do the work. He feels it's a perfect fit.

"A lot of my clientele is high-school, college and late-night bar people," Crawforth said. "I really want an organic, industrial feel to Pie Hole--an 'against the machine' vibe ... I like that angst-ridden feel."

In the Broadway store, he took that feeling a step further and turned the acoustic ceiling panels over to whomever wanted to create something on them (he plans to do the same with Meridian). But, as a savvy business owner, he limited that random, free-for-all art to the ceiling. Crawforth knew that he needed to maintain control over what went up on Pie Hole's walls or he would end up with a chaotic ugly mess and the organic style he was looking for would end up looking like an overgrown weed patch. By commissioning artists to create graffiti, he was able to get the urban look he wanted, but still have some control.

But by bringing graffiti indoors, so to speak, and paying the artists to do it, Crawforth has in a way co-opted the graffiti art form, something many graffiti artists would consider selling out. Getting paid for their work--Crawforth also fronted the duo nearly $350 for supplies--has caused Drae and Toenail a little blowback.

"The guys in P-town think we're sellouts," Drae said.

But Drae is willing to put up with a little questioning of his artistic integrity if it means getting a paycheck--and keeping the law off of his back.

Like many a graffiti artist, Drae didn't always work inside buildings or inside the law. He got his start in graffiti a few years back after he stole a few cans of spray paint.

"I still have the largest illegal and legal pieces in Poky," he said.

But creating their art illegally--vandalism, in the strictest sense--caused enough of a headache with authorities that Drae and Toenail decided to stick with commissioned work, regardless of any digs they may get from their peers. They two 21-year-olds were authorized to paint both inside and outside the Meridian Pie Hole, but the Meridian Police Department didn't know that in advance. The graffiti artists worked after business hours on the Meridian store, something that understandably gave the Meridian police some cause for concern.

"An hour after one cop came to talk to us inside, another came by and was like 'What's going on in here,'" Drae said.

"We thought it was the same cop," Toenail added.

Crawforth, who leases the space Pie Hole is in, asked for and received permission from the building's owners before hiring Drae and Toenail. That may be an important factor in how the Meridian Mayor's Office feels about it. Shelly Houston, director of Community Programs for the Meridian Mayor's office, said the city hasn't really had many problems with graffiti--"knock on wood"--in their community.

"And we want to keep it that way," Houston said. "But with something like this that was well thought out and planned in advance and permission was gained, it is what it is."

The art vs. vandalism debate notwithstanding, Drae's "spaghetti" (kind of wild) style coupled with Toenail's more restrained approach results in brilliant, eye-catching designs that make words like "sushi," "kuma" and "nasty" look as delicious as the Pie Hole pizzas they share space with.

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