The sun is just breaking the cold frost of dawn as Jury stands at the boot of his car unloading boxes of spray cans. It’s a winter’s morning on an exceptionally cold Sunday. He and his crew move purposefully as they prepare for the day ahead. Jury’s car, a worn out red Toyota Camry, provides the only useable light source; the waning headlamps cast obscure shadows around the vacant warehouse allotment.
From the stories told of Jury’s past, it was always assumed that he was a tall, gruff man; the sort of person you’d think twice about crossing the street to avoid. He is instead relatively short, a well-spoken guy, his hair is slicked back and wearing a comfy tracksuit. It’s hard to imagine that this could be the same infamous graffiti artist that had been responsible for berthing Brisbane’s street wall art culture.
Jury had what he calls a “misspent” youth. He never knew his mother and his father ran a pool hall for infamous 70s/80s mobster Tony Bellino and was rarely around. He dropped out of school at 13 and planted himself firmly into the life of a rat bag teenager, living with no boundaries. He rolled with a crew considerably older than what he was, but as he describes life in those times, “It’s like prison, you either cozy up to the biggest c***s around, or you get fucked up.”
It was 10 am, the sun had burnt away the wispy remnants of the morning’s patchy cloud cover. The tink tink tink of metal ball bearings rattling away inside of the spray cans had almost become melodic. Jury, and the rest of the crew were into a solid groove and seemed pretty relaxed, it was time to start finding out more about the apparently deviant sub-culture that is wall art, or graffiti to those who despise it.
I knew little about Jury apart from the stories I’d heard from my housemate. What I did know was that he was pretty quiet and didn’t talk much about his past. In classic fashion I launch tactlessly into my first question, “So I hear you’ve been to prison?” The reaction was like a scene from an old western, when the anti-hero first enters a bar- the tink of the spray cans stopped and his crew went quiet. I realised that I had just confronted a convicted criminal, in a remote location, about what is probably the most horrific time of his life. I stepped back a couple of paces, out of striking distance. He looked back at me, ran his eyes up and down my body a couple of times then said, “are you a cop?”
Everyone laughed and I relaxed a bit. He casually stood before me and read a list of arrest charges as if it were his grocery list: break and enter, grand theft auto, vandalism and a string of public nuisance offences. Strangely I just couldn’t picture it. Admittedly, Jury is into his forties now, and I think age has put a spin on his maturity, a lot of the younger artists out with us really looked up to him and he knew it.
Jury ran his crew above the line, which means they don’t hit illegal spots, rather they find sanctioned areas to “put up” or on occasion are commissioned to mural someone’s warehouse/shed/workshop. Jury had turned his street art into legitimate revenue. Of course it wasn’t always that way, as he says, “I was fucking young once too, you know.”
The next couple of hours were spent with paint in one hand and a luke warm beer in the other; we threw up technicolour pieces on the back of a warehouse. I was never cut out for the visual arts, but that didn’t stop the crew from offering advice through lightly veiled insults. At least they were talking to me I reasoned. In my research for this outing, I kept coming across the term “red lighting”, so I asked my housemate about it.
“Ask Jury, he used to do that shit,” was the response.
With a little less swagger than my first approach I presented my question to Jury.
The sun was high in the sky now, it had turned out to be a really nice day; Jury had dropped his Adidas jumper. Now he looked less like the softly spoken man I’d met earlier in the day. His arms, covered from knuckle to shoulder in crudely drawn tattoos; patches of faded colour highlight references to god and the church. I couldn’t figure out if he was being ironic. He wore a thick gold rope chain around his neck that looked like it weighed a ton, and his slight figure filled out to reveal broad muscular shoulders. It was becoming apparent that this guy was the real deal.
We took a break and cracked a fresh beer. He told me that “red lighting” was something they used to do to gain “street cred”. It was important to get your work seen, and what better way than to get up on a moving canvas, seen by the whole city. His crew would block train tracks with scrap metal, causing the trains to stop or risk derailing, he’d then sneak up on the red lit train and put his work on it, coining the term, red lighting.
Sitting and talking, one on one, I could tell that Jury was past his deviant ways, even remorseful about his misspent youth. He was really starting to open up. Right on cue, dark ominous clouds rolled in like a thundering train, except no amount of scrap metal could red light it. “All right boys, pack it in, this bitch is gonna piss on our work,” declared Jury. As we packed up our paint and took one last look at the extremely detailed wall murals, destined for destruction in the impending storm, I was able to truly appreciate the sense of achievement this guy must feel every time he gets up somewhere. Maybe because I’ve seen behind the iron curtain that keeps these misunderstood artists on the outer of society, but whenever I see an impressive piece up on a wall, I stop and appreciate it, for the work that has gone into it, rather than question or diminish it legitimacy.