Graffiti is something that suits you or doesn’t suit you. Not everyone understands it, but almost everyone has an opinion on it. Any public display of artwork can be a hotbed of inter-municipal controversy, and this can be especially true when it comes to graffiti.
Alex Watanen, also known as “Gerko”, is a local hip-hop and graffiti artist residing in the Marquette area. He has been involved in the local underground music scene for over 10 years and is currently working diligently to hone his skills both as a master of ceremonies and as a now fully legalized visual artist.
Before “Gerko” Watanen made music under a different pseudonym which referred to part of the female anatomy. His hardcore-punk band, 5 Finger Discount (2006-2009), performed at 231 House of Muses before the house burned down. He started doing hip-hop around 2008. Watanen says he didn’t start rapping under the name “Gerko” until after his case was made public.
On July 22, 2013, Watanen was arrested for writing “Gerko” on a dumpster near the 500 block of Hawley Street in North Marquette. A man walking his dog called the police and said he saw someone “tagging” the dumpster at his apartment complex.
Marquette police located Watanen shortly after and attempted to question him as he was cycling. Officers chased him around the Superior Dome and into a bush, where he was eventually apprehended.
Watanen said before the arrest he tried to stop scoring. Earlier that evening, the night he was caught, he was at a party where he saw his ex-girlfriend “kissing” with her “new boyfriend”. From there he “got all disgusted, went and got a marker and started writing about stuff.”
Watanen was taken to the Marquette police station and charged with one count of resisting arrest (a felony of up to two years behind bars and / or a $ 2,000 fine), as well. than three counts of criminal offense. His bond was set at $ 12,000. Overnight, âGerkoâ became the face of vandalism in the Marquette neighborhood.
Detective Sergeant Heslip, who handled the case, said graffiti in Marquette had existed “since Marquette was a town,” but the arrest rate in graffiti-related cases has always been “generally raised “. Marquette police apprehended another person in a graffiti-related case shortly after Watanen’s arrest. city ââtaken and held responsible.
Watanen says there are even more people in Marquette writing graffiti now than before his arrest. He cites graffiti names like “itnuk” and “bumr”, but has no knowledge of or relationship to anyone who still writes graffiti in the area.
Detective Heslip also said that most of the graffiti in Marquette is done by students and that many consider it to be an âart formâ. A point of view, he says, that business owners in the community do not share.
A close friend of Watanen, who wished to remain anonymous, thinks that “writing your name on someone else’s property is silly”, and doesn’t understand it, but doesn’t consider what Watanen is either. acted like vandalism.
“If Alex wants to put his name on a dumpster, who cares?” ” she said. “There are other graffiti[sic] people in Marquette who think they can ruin small businesses or public statues and cost the city thousands of dollars in repairs and then never have the courage to admit it. I think these people are childish idiots who have no notion of community and who give graffiti artists a bad name.
Watanen’s friend said she was not surprised to learn that he was behind the “Gerko” tag.
âWe all knew somehow,â she said. âI didn’t understand how he’d put on so many labels without getting caught before him. The guy has covered a lot of territory on foot.
Some people, she said, may have taken it differently.
âI think a lot of young kids followed his hip-hop career and idolized him, and started tagging him when they found out,â she said. “I think these kids are bad at what they do, and have really lame labels and bad at graffiti[sic] writing. The rest of our friends don’t really care anyway – we think it’s hilarious how much of a celebrity Alex has become in Marquette. It seems a lot of Yoopers need to hang out in a city where real problems exist.
Watanen identifies as an “outside artist-purist”, and has said he has always admired people who don’t do things “completely as they should be done,” the kind of people who “get on the job. the rails and make it work â.
Watanen is currently signed to Wisconsin-based Arcadiac Records. He performs regularly in the Marquette area and has a show with Toki Wright and Big Cats on Saturday February 21 at Coco’s in Marquette.
Many cities around the world have designated or erected âlegal wallsâ for graffiti artists. The rule of thumb is to give artists a place to do graffiti legally, so they’re less likely to do it on private or commercial property. Could the same incentive behind building a city-owned skate park, like the one built here in September 2013, be used to stave off the vandalism problem in Marquette? It all depends on whether residents and municipal authorities want to take a proactive or reactive approach. at the question.