HOPE VALLEY — New York art teacher and renowned graffiti artist Paul 145 was the guest of honor recently at Hope Valley Elementary School. The visit, arranged by Hope Valley parent and artist Leah Benjamin, was a special activity reflecting the school’s focus on the visual arts.
Paul, who preferred not to reveal his full name, lists graffiti as just one of his skills, which involve graphic design. Graffiti, he said, is a form of artistic expression.
“Any sort of art where you can actually be very, very expressive,” he said. “When we were younger there was a bit of an outlaw element to it, but I think the real appeal was just being able express yourself in a way that you just felt very comfortable with.”
As he talked, Paul was outside on Friday, working on a 4- by 8-foot mural that he was creating for Hope Valley School.
“It’s basically kind of just like the name of the school,” he said of the mural. “The first name is going to be 'Hope’ and we’re working with that right now.”
The mural will hang inside the school, but Principal Giuseppe Gencarelli said he hadn’t decided yet where it would go. “We’re going to find a special spot in the school for it,” he said.
The idea of inviting a graffiti artist to the school was born during the second week of April, Reading Week. This year’s picture book selection was “Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix” by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One, a graffiti artist. The books, and audiobooks for the youngest children, were purchased with a $1,300 grant from the Community 2000 Education Foundation.
“As a culminating activity, Leah Benjamin, reading specialist Kerry Pastore and librarian Alison Ward thought it would be so cool to get a professional graffiti artist to come to the school and showcase their talent,” Gencarelli said. “Since Hope Valley School has an arts specialty focus, we thought this was a perfect way to tie into the arts.”
Pastore said a food truck had also been invited to the school during Reading Week.
“I thought that between the ideas of the graffiti artist and the food truck that they would be things that a lot of our kids might not have ever been exposed to,” she said. “I thought it was a great opportunity.”
While he has worked on commercial projects, Paul 145 said this was the first time he had done a graffiti project with a school and he was enjoying the experience.
“I like to be able to share a passion that I have with others that are also appreciative of the work that I do,” he said.
At a special assembly on the afternoon of Paul's visit, the students learned about the history of graffiti art and heard Paul’s personal story about his development as an artist. They also learned how to write their own names in graffiti — not on the walls, but on paper.
“The kids were ecstatic and loved every minute of it," Gencarelli said. "I was highly impressed with what the students were able to do in such a short time. I kept hearing that the kids couldn’t wait to go home and try writing their names in graffiti art.”