Stick ‘Em Up! Screening at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston

This movie did what it was supposed to do. Stick ‘Em Up! evoked. It motivated. It fired me up to do something wild and crazy and defiant! …like vandalize this bandwidth with my creative process (also known as a blog-post). I hereby trespass onto this forbidden webpage with the hopes that my words will last as long as some of the artists exhibitions on our streets. Inevitably, this blog post will fade into the 404 pages of the cached graveyard, like a wheatpaste erased with power washers.

While I’ve grabbed your attention, I invite you along to explore some of the films rhetors. Your comments are also invited, especially from those of you with careers in the creative and graphic art industry.

First of all let me just say I am ecstatically proud of my fellow Houstonians involved in this film. Perhaps in a future blog post, I can express just how much I appreciate what GONZO247, Tony Reyes, Alex Luster, Give Up, DUAL, Eyesore, Cutthroat and Bomit, did making this movie. But as with any creative space bound by its dimensions – such as a standard sized streetlight call box or small billboard – I only have 1,500 words of space to work with, and mere seconds to captivate your attention before the traffic light changes, bouncing you onto the next webpage. I’ll “stick up” my interpretation of the art, and how having a glimpse into these lives has forever altered how I respond to any future street art I encounter. In a good way.

Beldar Conehead

Beldar Conehead - Coolidge

Coolidge Pig

Parachute Pig - Coolidge

I loved how I instantly recognized every street corner. I am fairly confident I know exactly where Give Up lives now, having walked that block several times when I lived in that neighborhood. This also explains why I’ve been exposed to so much of his work. It also validates why I emphatically choose to live inside the loop. I never see artistic street art in “master planned communities”. Maybe it exists, I don’t know. I try not to spend enough time in Pleasantville to ever find out. One thing I know for sure is never take for granted any street art I am lucky enough to encounter. I am fortunate to live close enough to where this is happening. I snap pictures when I can in vain attempts to prolong their life. I mourn the loss of my favorites after they’ve been taken down. I grieved over the loss of Beldar under 59 exit to Greenbriar/Shepherd. The part of my brain that reacts to injustice and inequality in the world news was stimulated when my beloved flying pig disappeared from Shepherd bridge at Memorial Drive. Soon I’ll be crying over Coolidge’s camera stencils on 290 @ 610 that have cheerfully welcomed me back to civilization after long trips to visit family in Cypress. Well… I hope those are Coolidge’s work. Please forgive me if they’re not Coolidge and tell me who is responsible for them. I want to give credit where credit is do. I am still perfecting my artist recognition which takes a while to develop.

Give Up doesn’t know this, but several of his posters push me over my “wall” during my workout around the bayou running along Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive. Smelling the bat guano while looking at Give Up’s poster causes multiple sensory neurons to feel discomfort. Guano stinks, the trail is difficult, the sun is hot, and Give Up reminds me to be grateful for all of it.I’ve been a fan of Give Up for several years. I’d so much rather focus on one of his posters, or any street art for that matter, than the hundreds of “Work From Home” or “I Buy Ugly Houses” or “ Single?” signs polluting every inch of surface area at major intersections. It was gratifying to see how his art has taken a life of its own transcending beyond billboards and call boxes into being a key figure in a movie about this addictive form of expression.


Eyesore is enchanting, waving his magic wand creating the same haunting creature repetitively challenging our aesthetic appeal comfort zones. Cutthroat was endearingly sweet and adorably funny. DUAL is incredibly talented. DUAL keeps a nice pad too.

I am just as interested in where these craftsmen live and dwell, as I am in where they choose to display their masterpieces, and how they create them. My eyes drew a connection of their artwork reflecting their living spaces. For example, Give Up’s dark, dusky, antique-ish , bungalow duplex – was somewhat messy (from what the cameras showed us anyway). I imagine that old house has been refurbished and re-painted more times than some of his own re-copied images. His suite is charmingly old, with character and depth. Give Up surrounds himself with modest possessions, only basic needs. There is something very carnal, instinctively barbaric about his home. I see these themes in his art as well. On the other hand, DUAL’s tidy, organized, well-kept, and brightly lit flat is as refreshing as his artwork. I couldn’t help but make a correlation between where the artist sleeps , showers, and constructs their craft, to the imagery born of these environments.

DUAL's workspace

DUAL's workspace

During the Q&A I’d held my questions because I didn’t want to hold the audience hostage like the jerk back in college who always waited until the professor was about to let us all out of class early before the jerk asked his question that was only relevant to him. After all, the only person who can answer my question was not present. So Give Up, if you’re out there and you’re reading this: you know that horrible feeling you had when someone defaced your art with the word “never” in an attempt to somehow change your message and your signature? Do you ever wonder if you’re capable of making someone else feel that same violated injustice?

My favorite scene is this very moment captured on film revealing that Give Up is no more immune to raw emotion and reactive behavior than any of the rest of us are. Is the person responsible for posting “never” a less worthy artist than Give Up? Sure they’re piggybacking on the hard work and popularity of Give Up, but are they not an artist as well? Ah the ethics. The unwritten code of street art culture to never tag someone else’s art. I’ve been ruminating about that one scene more than any other. The answer is not black and white. For now it’s a shade of grey, faded by my memory of this scene replaying over and over like a copy of a copy loosing it’s clarity with every flash.

I pondered this question all the way home after the movie. I thought who could possibly feel violated by street art? My mind mapping led me to two possibilities: Clear Channel Outdoors, and the City of Houston. One is a monopoly polluting streets and diluting airwaves. One is a bureaucracy granting permits to companies like Clear Channel to continue to destroy natural landscapes with billboard upon billboard. Both are inescapable for at least 40 miles in every direction. But every time I see street art targeting them, I feel like I have escaped, even if only until the next traffic light cycle.

The opening scene features Give Up on a resentful rant to every man or woman living a double life unauthentic to their true desires. Every person who works a mundane job to support an even more mundane life and ignores their fantasies should give up. My perception was that the phrase “give up” is directed to every Bernie Madoff, Sen. John Edwards, Jerry Sandusky, Sarah Palin or Herman Cain. Heck, we might as well throw Michael Berry in the mix now. The crooked cop. The pill mill doctors. Anyone who publicly denounces homosexuality, prostitution, illegal drugs, but who actively secretly engages in the very things they oppose. “Give up” is meant for the fake two-faced conman who’s public image is a facade of the person their trying so hard to hide: afraid of their shame, their sin, their vulnerability. If I understand Give Up fairly, I gathered that his main philosophy is: give up trying to be Jack’s wasted life, give in to Tyler Durden. Oh dear, I’ve just projected my own resentments and life experiences onto his work!

On the note of subjectivity, I wonder if Give Up ever anticipated how his message could be transformed in translation by someone with different life experiences and a different perception of their own mortality? After seeing this movie, I am drawn to Give Up even more for his humanity.

I turned to my daughter and my husband after the movie and said let’s go tag the city! I’ve got stickers! I was most definitely kidding, because the only stickers I own are left over from Easter. Yet, if Give Up had tapped me on the shoulder in the dark shadows of the theater and whispered “I’ve got supplies if you’ll drive” I wouldn’t have hesitated. I’d be an accomplice in another form of self-expression rather than writing this blog post.

*Please note that I would love to enhance this article with as much detail as possible. Give Up, DUAL, EYESORE, Cutthroat, Coolidge: if you want me to take down any of the pictures or you’d prefer to give me different ones, please let me know. I will update them ASAP.

By Melissa Darragh
Published May 7, 2012
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