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Seattle Graffiti Gang 3A: Artists or Assholes?

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Jonah Spangenthal-Lee

Jesse Edwards is a well-known, controversial figure in Seattle's art community. His work has been shown at downtown gallery BLVD. Edwards's brusqueness and unusual artwork—oil paintings of skateparks, Twinkie-and-bong still lifes, and vomiting cheerleaders—have earned him profiles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Seattle Magazine, highlighting Edwards's irreverent aesthetic and ruffled nature. In a 2006 article, P-I art critic Regina Hackett portrays Edwards as a rebellious, lovable scamp; she seems both entranced and repulsed by Edwards's spartan lifestyle in his studio littered with bongs and porn. Seattle Magazine also featured Edwards in its 2007 issue, championing Edwards's "big mouth and unwillingness to put up with the politics of academic art." While Edwards's abrasiveness was titillating enough to editors at the P-I and Seattle Magazine, portraits of the young artist left out the most important detail: It's no wonder Edwards is abrasive; he's the cofounder of the infamous Seattle graffiti gang 3A.

Edwards—tall, wiry, tattooed, and eager to talk about his art—just turned 30 in August. He works nights as a security guard at a Sodo club so he can spend his days painting. On Saturday, August 25, Edwards is working the door at a black-metal show in South Seattle. As the leather-clad lead singer screeched and the cloaked keyboardist pounded away next to a billowing smoke machine, Edwards spoke about his younger years of skating, tagging, and getting into fights at Westlake Center. He says that when he was growing up and getting into graffiti, older writers wouldn't give him the time of day. So Edwards founded 3A with his brother Travis and several other skaters as a support group of sorts for young graffiti writers. Now, 3A has upward of 50 members. At least those are the ones Edwards says he knows about. The loosely knit group of graffiti artists, taggers, and skateboarders—whose ages range from 18 to 35—is constantly growing, inducting new members, and marking their territory all over the city. It's hard to go more than a few blocks in downtown or the Capitol Hill area without seeing a 3A tag—a simple 3 next to the letter A—splashed across a bus stop, garbage can, wall, or window.

Other graffiti artists are very guarded when talking about 3A, and no one wants to cross them. The group has developed a bizarre, near-mythic violent reputation. The Stranger contacted several 3A members, most of whom readily admit to dealing drugs and assaulting rival taggers. One member, according to court records, is in jail for stabbing another man at a party. While no graffiti artists were willing to go on record about 3A, local graffiti message boards are littered with trash talk about the group.

"3A is a bunch of meth heads. They have SOME talent but other than that they are just crazy motherfuckers who get fucked up on meth and go kill shit," says one post on the Pacific Northwest Graffiti site. 3A stands for American Aerosol Artists or Against All Authority or 3 Assholes, depending on whom you ask. The latter a disparaging nickname given by Seattle Public Utilities graffiti ranger Anthony Matlock ["Lone Ranger," Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, Aug 23]. 3A has its share of detractors in the Seattle graffiti community, but members seem to feed off of the group's reputation. "I think people should be scared," says GORE, a 23-year-old 3A member. "It's okay to feel that we're a gang and a bunch of thugs. We are." Cofounder Travis sent me an e-mail touting 3A's tough-guy reputation, claiming they even have a constitution "lightly based on the Mexican mafia code of conduct."

While Edwards doesn't necessarily consider 3A to be a gang (Edwards' criminal record consists of minor driving infractions and citations for skateboarding at Westlake), he does require unwavering loyalty from members of his crew. Back at the rock club in South Seattle, several other 3A members have shown up to talk about the group. After talking for a few minutes he clams up and tries to minimize his involvement with 3A. Edwards—who refers to 3A as a "brotherhood" rather than a gang—loses it. He abruptly tears into the man, chastising him for never getting a 3A tattoo and for not "representing" 3A, and immediately revokes his membership. "That's what we do to weak-ass motherfuckers," Edwards says before turning his back on the man and walking away. "We're stronger now that we got rid of the weakest link."

After the show, Edwards heads up to a legal graffiti wall, just across from the Seattle School District's headquarters on Third Avenue South and South Lander Street. Along the way, he points out numerous 3A tags—and those of rival crews—on Dumpsters, walls, and train cars.

Edwards says he has used the group to mentor its younger members. He claims he's gotten one member into art school, and tries to help kids hone their spray-can craft whenever he can. All he asks for is a bit of allegiance.

3A's appeal seems to be the bond found in the piecemeal familial network Edwards and the rest of 3A's older generation have created. Members waver back and forth between referring to each other as soldiers or as family, but ultimately they all fall back on a shared love of graffiti and skateboarding. That's what Edwards tries to focus on. He knows drugs and violence are part of the young 3A members' lives, but he tries to intervene when he can.

While Edwards is trying to help the kids in 3A grow up, he's not quite there himself—and he doesn't want to be. He's seen the path many other graffiti artists have taken. "They grow up, they get a job, they get comfortable," he says. "I'm too far gone. If I give up now, then it's all been for nothing."

Edwards stands at the legal graffiti wall, holding a copy of Seattle Exotic Underground in one hand and a spray can in the other. He shakes a can of white America's Best spray paint, turns and begins painting a portrait of a woman from the magazine. It doesn't look much like the photo—the jaw is too strong and the eyes are cold and lifeless—but Edwards doesn't seem the type to care what other people think. recommended


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this 3A crew is a fake... the REAL, world-known 3A is based on the east coast. Seattles 3a pales in comparison, and when 3A is mentioned anywhere in the world, (including seattle in most cases) its the east coast 3A that people think of... like it or not, those are the facts...
Posted by lester berns on January 21, 2009 at 7:36 PM · Report this
i see ghoul adek in bremerton and siverdale.there ever where .

i want to be a part of 3a since 06

Posted by HAKONER on March 14, 2009 at 2:38 PM · Report this
actually lester..
3A is not fake
you cant say a crew is fake because the name is taken by someone else.
i also know a lester berns
So I guess you must be the fake one.
Posted by (CK)RAB KILLAH on March 19, 2009 at 1:41 PM · Report this
3A from seattle is the truth. they are like a light in the fog..they are the meaning of AWESOME! lester berns is probably just another doooshbag that was beat up by the studly men of 3A..or he is just jealous cuz his slutty girlfreind had a train run on her by the awesome men of 3A.... tred btm
Posted by tred on September 29, 2009 at 9:04 AM · Report this
thanks for proving the 'broken window' theory here in Seattle.

if you see one broken window in a building, odds are more people will throw rocks and break another window...and so on, and so on...

tagging is no different. the more we allow these jerks to tag our city, the more disgusting and dirty it will become. if you want to "express your art" do it legally and not on somebody's property. a mural that somebody PAID you to paint on the side of their building is WAY different than some jerk-offs painting their names in random places to "claim turf." that's NOT ART. it's just being an asshole.

and, i'm sorry, but, "they even have a constitution "lightly based on the Mexican mafia code of conduct."" ANY group of people who base their belief system within their gang on that HORRIBLE GANGS' ways NEEDS to be shut down IMMEDIATELY.

So, to answer the question posed in the title of this article...

ASSHOLES, hands down. (if you make the city 1. unsafe, or 2. more dirty with what you're an ASSHOLE.)
Posted by no excuses on October 1, 2009 at 8:21 AM · Report this
Writing your name to "mark territory" is the equivalent of peeing on a building. It ain't art, and should land the mofos in jail. Banksy does art. Sounds like Edwards is trying to maximize his potential in his regard, but his talentless followers who are content to just tag are just dragging this city down with their lameness.
Posted by Jikkyp on February 6, 2010 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Greg 7
What a bunch of motherfucking clownshoes high on paint fumes and meth.
Posted by Greg on February 10, 2010 at 8:23 AM · Report this
smash 8
Posted by smash on February 12, 2010 at 10:44 AM · Report this
None of you would ever say this in the face of a 3a/btm member. hahaha, or you'd probably get killed!
Posted by 3abtmgang on July 9, 2010 at 9:30 PM · Report this
You guys act like art and being an asshole are mutually exclusive... Even if they are being an asshole it is still art. "Art" isn't defined by whether or not you did it nicely or legally...
Posted by JayPea on October 5, 2010 at 2:45 PM · Report this
Jesse Edwards will be having a solo show to kick off 2012 in New York City! The opening will be on January 13, 2012 from 6-10pm at Klughaus Gallery in Chinatown/LES aka The Lower "Far East" Side. For more information, please visit the web site: *The show will be sponsored by Bomb Lager.
Posted by klughaus on January 3, 2012 at 9:20 AM · Report this
I'm a graffiti artist and I refuse to be part of any of these crews. There's nothing artistic about violence, SOME 3A members are talented and want to paint real art. But others are just the sad dumb brainless followers who become fanatics and shit all over the fucking art we make. Fuck you piecesof shit!!! Arrrrrg.
Posted by GrafArtist on November 30, 2012 at 4:40 PM · Report this
Iam from portland the smaller Seattle. But i give props to 3a and btm
Posted by plaq503bfckms on October 19, 2013 at 3:01 AM · Report this

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