Last month, we posted about our friends at Canlove–just after we previewed the new ANIMAL site–and were amused that the LA-based collective was selling graffiti spray cans at a Santa Monica Bloomingdale’s for Mother’s Day. Street art in a luxury department store setting. The pieces were vivid and considered, all with a unique beauty to their subtle and obvious variance.

After quitting their advertising day jobs as penance for their souls’ well-being, long-time friends and colleagues DJ Neff and Paul Ramirez moved out to LA to give birth to their overdue brainchild dubbed Canlove: The Graffiti Recycling Program. The genesis stemmed from DJ’s curiosity and fascination with spray paint, “trying to own and understand it better than anyone else”.

Then Paul came along with an equally intense love for graffiti, a fixation amplified by his
natural inclination to obsess, create and refine.

Instead of just tagging the walls of Bushwick (or now those of Venice beach), they wanted to make a mark on the medium itself–the spray can. And so they began collecting discarded cans from streets and beaches, slicing them open, popping the tops, saving the straws, unrolling the metal canisters, and in a way obsessively saving, studying and organizing the deconstructed components into a number of permutations–some better than others. But honing the idea and finding their purpose only in the refinement of this project.

Without the healthy ad dollar support, getting deeper into the art scene, networking, pontificating, brainstorming, bartering and planning logistics for their immediate and long-term project–they set up shop with partners Jason Wolske, Chris Neff and Justin Mitchell at Chalk LA which would serve as both incubator and initial gallery space for some early can concepts.

But Chalk was also a studio where even bigger ideas could be nurtured and polished.
A personal visit last year left me floored by the hyper-evolution of the Canlove concept to full-blown, massive pieces. I was given a personal tour of the space and bartered my stay at their place in exchange for cranking out a few cans. I sourced, selected, cut, popped, unrolled, and reordered. For hours on end. I was happy to see this thing coming together.

After winning some client-work (K-Swiss and Chick-fil-A) to keep them swimming in cans, the team acquired the momentum that set the stage for an opening at 941 Geary in San Francisco–the first exhibition of its kind for them (Canlove).

Presented with a completely empty 3,000-square foot warehouse, they dressed the space with 15 of their “Spray Bouquets” made from 100 flattened cans, measuring a large-scale 70″X45″. Other exhibits included color ‘Canscapes’ (can-popped paintings, made from the quick release of gas and paint), an American flag assembled from several dozen spray can bottoms and a hand-constructed flower cart to feature the bouquets themselves.

The most exquisite and intricate of them all is “Graffi-tree,” a monumental geometric tree bearing “colorful sprays of hanging flowers all around.”

To make the installation possible, MTN Colors generously donated 1,500 white, unusable cans of spray paint to the cause.

The space also included 15 empty canvases which led to the idea of commissioning 15 separate street artists to contribute their own work to complement the installation. Collaborators included Meggs, Risk, Hush, APEX, Neon, D.J Neff, Niels Shoe Muelman, Kofie, Codak, Haste, Mearone, KrushTWS, and PeopleLA.

Here’s some exclusive time lapse footage of the installation:

From the start, Canlove’s mission has always been very clear – recycle and transform the spray can into stunning works of art to deconstruct and understand the tool itself. And to imagine a wide range of artistic applications. This is evidence of a beautiful execution.

The opening is free and will continue to run at 941 Geary through July 28. Graffi-tree will be up for ‘adoption’ thereafter, quite fitting for a public park or playground, museum, gallery, or lobby. For more info on that you can email them at getlove@canlove.org or tweet to #graffitree

(Photos: Colin M. Day)
(Video: Michael Mazzola)