“Do Not Tag these walls – CBS Crew Only” is written on a wall in the Melrose Alley in Los Angeles. The CBS (Can’t Be Stopped) crew has controlled these walls for over 20 years, getting permission from shop owners to paint sometimes-elaborate productions. Before forming relationships with Melrose Avenue shop owners, members of the CBS crew would go from shop to shop in the mid-to-late 1980s with black books and portfolios asking if they could use the wall space to produce pieces. Over the past 20 years these Melrose alleys have been frequented by writers, taggers, piecers, street artists, and photographers from all over the world.

Aside from seeing the graffiti pieces and productions as aesthetically pleasing and bringing a degree of visual cultural capital and authenticity to the trendy shopping area, these pieces by well-know graffiti artists are thought to deter unwanted tagging from taking place on the walls. To maintain good relationships with shop owners, and even maintain good relations with area residents and police officers, graffiti artists promise to keep tagging off the walls in exchange for undisturbed use of the walls. This is a sort of graffiti-writer-enforced protection against tagging in exchange for maintaining “appropriate” usage and therefore less threatening aesthetics: that is graffiti art, not graffiti writing.

This form of self-policing within the graffiti community is seen as a small concession for those who value the location and right to paint in particular high-profile areas without the risk of arrest. ANGER, the head (ranking member) of CBS, argues that “respect for business owners is as important as respect for other writers. They watch out for us and we watch out for them. If this fool who owns some store that sells shitty clothes is going to vouch for me and keep me from going to jail than ya, I‘ll make sure no toys write on his store” (1).

However, within the graffiti community, and even within the very same crew, others express reluctance to “sell out to a bunch of rich store owners. Who am I to tell some kid not to catch tags here when this is how I started writing back in the day” (2).

In this photo you see an example of a CBS graffiti artist using spray painted graffiti-style writing to deter tagging at the behest of a shop owner. Although piecers have always disliked tags in there productions, it is respect and fear that traditionally kept taggers from writing in such productions. Demanding that taggers not “tag these walls” is now either a sign that shop owners are insisting that CBS members make this known more explicitly, or it is a sign that CBS has not maintained respect or instilled fear in the new generation of taggers who have been writing in their work.

"Respect!" on a legal mural production by CACHE and EYE ONE on a Sunset retainer wall in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008)

Aside from the paradox of using graffiti-style letters written on a wall with spray-paint and signed by a graffiti crew to deter “tagging,” it is the use of language in this message that strikes me as interesting. Using graffiti vernacular, a writer would say “do not catch tags on these walls,” or “do not write on (or, tag on) these walls,” if they were to make such a statement at all. But the fact that this message says “do not tag these walls” is a sign that either the graffiti writer wrote what a shop owner or resident told him to write verbatim, or the writer is a “graffiti artist” for whom graffiti vernacular is foreign, despite their ability to produce stylistically appropriate graffiti pieces.

Melrose Alley "CBS" by AXIS, CBS veteran (quoted above). Photo By Stefano Bloch

Some more images of recent Melrose Alley CBS graffiti:

"CBS" by Atlas. Photo by Stefano Bloch

"CBS" by Atlas. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008)

Melrose Alley. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008)

Melrose Alley. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008)

"CBS" by 1987 on dumpsters. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008)

"CBS" by 1987 on dumpsters. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008)

"Xpres" by XPRES, veteran CBS crew member. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008)

"Xpres" by XPRES, veteran CBS crew member. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008)

"CBS" in Melrose Alley by Tyer. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2007)

"CBS" by Tyer. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2007)

(1) Personal interview with ANGER CBS, 2007
(2) Personal interview with AXIS CBS, 2007


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