FOX Files: The Surprising People Behind St. Louis Graffiti

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Many 'taggers' work full time in the day and paint at night.

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - We`re going to take you inside the world of illegal street art.  You've seen the graffiti appear on impossible places, like the roof of armory off Highway 40.  Investigator Chris Hayes spoke with two of the men responsible, about who they are and why they cannot be stopped.

The topic angers and fascinates people, sometimes simultaneously.  Taggers risk their lives to paint things that don`t belong to them.  Some call them vandals.  Others say they`re street artists.  But they`re not usually kids.  Many of them work full time by day, but claim they cannot be swayed from painting other people`s property at night.

Two insiders met with me after Fox 2 caught a 'tagger' painting a railroad overpass, on camera.  Though viewers watched a single man on camera, the insiders say he was not alone.  On live TV, you could see him initial it L.D., then he disappeared before police arrived.

One of the illegal artists told me, "Most of them don`t get arrested and if they do, it`s usually for something else."

Two men, who would only talk in hiding, described most illegal graffiti in St. Louis as the work of four groups.  One illegal artist said, "Some of them get together just to paint.  Other people get together to paint and party and drink and other people try to run businesses together.  Usually those are illegal businesses."

Heroin is the big money maker for one crew that they would not name.

Usually the letters stand for the gang responsible or as the graffiti artists put it, their 'crew.'

  • OFB stands for Only Fresh Bombs.  (Another 'tagger' said sometimes it changes to 'Out For Blood.')
  • LD - Lowdowns.
  • HSK - Handstyle Kings.

They estimate 40 taggers are responsible for most of what you`ll see.  And they say these are not people you might expect.  The men who talked to us both have full time jobs by day.

One of them said, "Some of us wear suits and ties, dressed like you, that come into work."

They say BANG is the nickname of a 30+ year old working mother.  They say HORSE travels to do this, as does the FST crew (which sometimes goes by DarkFST).

One of the taggers told me they include, "Nurses.  A chiropractor is one I know of, people that really have their stuff together, but are artists and like to express themselves in different ways."

They acknowledge it`s  vandalism and admit they could express themselves legally, but they go big and climb high because they want everyone to see it.

Artist/Teacher Chris Sabatino explained, "Tagging and graffiti is almost trying to brand an object."

Sabatino says he appreciates illegal street art, even though he won`t do it.  He said, "I believe in karma and karma`s a big deal in this world and if you project good energy, it`ll come right back to you."

Though he says illegal artists usually believe they`re improving something.

He described the feeling when you see good graffiti, "It is like 'wow, that`s awesome. Look at this. It`s pretty incredible that they just changed that rusty old item into something that just pops.'"

We walked outside of his shop Artmonster, where he described how graffiti might improve Cherokee Street.  Sabatino said, "This is a scene out of a movie.  This is a scene out of just real life and if it`s not esthetically correct.  I`d like to help that."
Chris Hayes asked, "Graffiti can help that?"
Sabatino answered, "It can help that."

He's going to get a permit to paint an overhang in his scene, legally.

He said, "You don`t have to vandalize things to get the gratification that your graffiti brings to some people."

The illegal artists appointed themselves as street artists.  They claim no one can stop them.

One of them said, "If I feel like I can make a masterpiece out of it or make it look better than it does, then I`ll paint it."

Another one put it this way, "As long as I can run jump and climb, I'll probably stick it out for a few more years."

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Raw Video - Tagger spotted marking up bridge.