Colorful Chaos: Graffiti in Greensboro

May 3rd, 2013 | By | Category: Entertainment, Feature, Sights
Eric + MCA  - Photo by Nix Given

Eric + MCA – Photo by Nix Given

Wheat paste and sweat, stencils and cigarette burns. You can find them in train yards, risking their lives and toes for a prime tagging spot. Others can be found in back alleys, side streets, and behind dingy bars. Greensboro may not have the biggest graffiti scene in the world, or even in North Carolina, but you can find some surprising pieces. You just have to know where to look.

Eric Moss, who bar tends and books shows at New York Pizza on Tate Street, has been doing graffiti and street art in Greensboro for about eight years. One of the first pieces of street art Eric saw here was a stencil of a face with glasses painted on the ABC store at Friendly.

Nicole Given was a Art History Major at UNCG. Nicole has seen graffiti all over town and always wanted to try her hand at it. Once she found out that Eric Moss did street art, the two started collaborating.

Nicole works at Kinkos and that background supplied her with the access and knowledge necessary to making posters for wheat paste based street art. “Eric and I would come up with ideas” said Nicole, “and then we would stay up making glue all night.” Even with her poster making know-how, there were still troubles. “We ruined about three paintings before we finally got it right.”

Casey Cranford is a musician in the improv collective Pizza Jams which plays regularly at NYP. On street art, Cranford says “Street art and music have a symbiotic relationship, they play off one another. Music facilitates a place for street art to occur. Not only that, but the visual stimulation creates a better atmosphere for music and aids in community building.”

“The first time I saw live painters with music,” said Manui Tomlo, “I knew it was a scene I wanted to get into.” Tomlo is music promoter and student at UNCG. “In both live music and in street art you get a sense that it happened in a specific moment in time and it’s something you can never get back.”

Photo by Nix Given

Photo by Nix Given

People have been tagging the outside of trains and the interior of subways for as long as graffiti has been around. Sometimes these are simple, stylized signatures and other times, they are elaborate murals and explosions of color. The reason is pretty simple, what better way to get people to see your work than to paint it on a traveling canvas that crosses state lines?

“There’s always been a cross pollination in the cultures of train hopping and graffiti,” said Cranford. “People prone to do street art are probably travelers themselves.”

Photo by Nix Given

Photo by Nix Given

“Trains travel across country faster and further than some people can. It brings your art to other areas,” said Moss. Moss goes on to say, “Trains that have been tagged and painted on don’t rust as quickly. I love watching trains, theses psychedelic movements, pass by. Since they have two sides, you know you’re always missing something but never know what.”

Aspiring graffiti artists with an interest in tagging trains should be aware that it can be extremely dangerous. A friend of mine was tagging a train a few years back when it began to move unexpectedly and crushed his foot. He’s now missing all his toes except the big one on his left foot. If you have an accident in a train yard, you’ll be lucky if the only part of you that gets hurt are your toes.

When comparing Greensboro to bigger cities, Moss says, “The intelligence and creativity is here. However, in other cities, a bigger population is contributing to the scene.” There’s not much competitiveness in the Greensboro street art scene, according to Moss, because there’s not a lot of people doing it. Those that are contributing are doing so to help create a local canvas.

“When I was in Switzerland,” says Cranford, “there was beautiful graffiti everywhere with no effort to cover it up.” Such is not the case in Greensboro. “Most of our work was taken down

 Nix Given

Photo by Nix Given

quickly,” adds Nicole, “the Bill Hicks piece we did was taken down in less than a day.”

Tomlo, originally from Asheville, said, “Here in Greensboro, they try to keep art contained, framed. I believe street art is beautifying.” Tomlo goes on to say, “The graffiti scene in Asheville is similar to here in Greensboro, but there’s more of it up there.”

Moss has a few tips few wannabe street artists:

  1. Survey your area.
  2. Don’t get a big head about it
  3. Don’t talk about it.
  4. If you’re doing it with a partner, make sure it’s someone you can trust.
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4 Comments to “Colorful Chaos: Graffiti in Greensboro”

  1. Billy Jones says:

    “When I was in Switzerland,” says Cranford, “there was beautiful graffiti everywhere with no effort to cover it up.” Such is not the case in Greensboro.

    “Most of our work was taken down quickly,” adds Nicole, “the Bill Hicks piece we did was taken down in less than a day.”

    ‘Tis the DGI, Action Greensboro, Greensboro Partnership, Chamber of Commerce mindset. They see no difference between beautiful graffiti and gang tags. There’s no profit in it. But should Mr Hicks demand extravagant payment for his works of art you will no doubt see our Downtown boosters lobbying City Council for taxpayer funding to pay Mr Hicks a pittance while scraping their huge cuts off the top.

    Want beautiful graffiti in Downtown Greensboro? You just have to know how to work the good ol’ boy system. It was put in place by Southerners, the Yankees learned to work it well… and if you can live with yourself you can do it too.

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. Claire Carter says:

    Awesome wish there was graffiti everywhere it is so beautiful. People should see the difference in gangs symbols/slang and actual beautiful art. Thanks! “Graffiti Greensboro”! That should be a project name.

  3. Claire Carter says:

    Also I was wanting to know some spots that haven’t been removed yet in Greensboro so that I can go do a photo shoot there. I have been searching forever and I was so happy when I came to this website and found out that people actually do create graffiti artwork in Greensboro. Email me please please!

    • Nix Given says:


      These generally get taken down quickly. One Way Shark lasted months even though it was in shambles for much of that time and even though we expected it to be painted over quickly (as MCA was painted over within a week). My theory is that is served a dual function as art and signage. Greensboro is very hesitant to embrace street art and provide places that sophisticated and creative street art can be collected and preserved (especially if it is not by artists imported from other cities). They would rather import artists from cities like Miami than provide opportunities and areas for local artists to step up and create uniquely local art. It’s a sad fact unfortunately that you will not find local street artists very welcome in GSO and so they’re resorting to forgiveness rather than permission. Then of course the art disappears! Keep looking and keep your eyes open though! We’ll never stop!

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