From ‘PUKE’ to ‘LIMBO’: Ranking Chico’s graffiti tags
The best art is illegal art.
To many, graffiti will always be abhorrent, while to others, it’s a unique artistic niche.
While I don’t think it should end up on the Bidwell Mansion or someone’s home, I fuck with it heavy. Graffiti is free, punk and vibey.
After three years in Chico, I’ve come acquainted with a variety of the local tags, five of them have risen to the top of my roster: PUKE, Kulo, RSTR, Smut and LIMBO.
Puke is my favorite for a couple reasons: Puke is the first tag I noticed, it’s everywhere and it has variation.
I first saw Puke when I moved to Chico in fall 2021. In black spray paint along an abandoned shop on West Second Street, the word “PUKE” plain resonated with me.
“PUKES” scrawled on a light post in the Safeway parking lot on Nord. Photo taken Jan. 31 by Molly Myers.
Puke is everywhere. Puke is on the side of buildings, scribbled on dumpsters, city mailboxes and even carved into the screens inside Meriam Library’s elevators — which makes me wonder if Puke is a student.
Seeing Puke wherever I go makes me feel less alone. It’s like my mysterious street art buddy has my back.
Puke has variation. Though I fell in love first with “PUKE” I appreciate the variations. I often see the tag written as “PUKER” and “PUKES.”
Seeing these variations makes me feel like I’ve found some rare, special Easter egg in the streets of Chico.
Kulo takes second. Kulo is a great tag name, like Puke.
Kulo, meaning “anus” or just “ass,” grabs your attention in four jarring, simple letters.
“Kulo” written on a yellow fire hydrant. Photo taken Feb. 2 by Molly Myers.
Kulo has stickers. Seeing Kulo on stickers gives me the same “wow this is a rare collectable item” feeling, I get when I see a rare variation of “PUKE.”
Kulo has a sticker in the Rileys girls’ bathroom which gives my heart a tug at the idea that Kulo could be a girl. Representation! Yet, it is possible Kulo gave a girl a sticker to put in there. Hey, a girl can dream.
My boy RSTR is iconic. “RSTR” is short for “Rooster,” and the tag comes with a cute drawing of a male chicken.
RSTR would likely be higher up if I had become more acquainted with the tag in my earlier Chico days. But since a friend only recently introduced me to RSTR, the tag goes behind Puke and Kulo.
“RSTR” courtesy ilovehamburgers on Reddit.
RSTR is iconic because the tag started a shitstorm on the Chico subreddit, which I highly recommend for local goofs and gaffs.
Smutty! Smut is a stop sign king, or maybe queen (perhaps a gender neutral ruler? Majesty?). I often see the tag under the word “STOP” on stop signs. I appreciate the integration of the street sign, thus making the tag “STOP Smut.”
Smut is a fun one for me because I just discovered what the word means in a media law class.
“Smut” written on a stop sign at the intersection of Hazel and W. Third streets. Photo taken Oct. 2, 2023 by Molly Myers.
Basically “smut,” is obscene or lascivious — another incredible word — material. It can be writing, speech or any kind of media.
Alternately, smut could be a type of fungus or particle of soot. I like to believe it is the obscene definition, but hey, each has its own crass appeal.
Smut also uses a swirly, cute font. The contrast between the meaning of the word and the sweet font is playful and fun. This is also a refreshing break from the harsh-lined graffiti we often see in the likes of PUKE, Kulo or RSTR.
It’s just such a solid word … maybe I’ll name my first kid “Smut.”
LIMBO! LIMBO is also a newer one to me. I don’t see this tag often, but when I do I really see it, because it’s usually quite large.
LIMBO keeps it pretty simple, black letters, nice and big.
The word “Limbo” is great too. I like to think the artist is going for the purgatory-esque definition of the word, or maybe they just like the dance.
The tag also gives me nostalgia for the video game “Limbo,” which was done in black and white, so maybe the artist was a fan. Hey, same color palette.
Now I ain’t claiming no set, but if any of these tags are gang related, these sets got some good art. Personally, I don’t bang. It’s just never been my thing.
You might be thinking, “These kids celebrating vandalism are destroying this country! Each day we stray further from the light of G-d.”
You might be right. But again, I don’t think small businesses, historical sites or personal homes should get tagged. But graffiti adds some spice to life.
Like be so for real — a dumpster does not look better without graffiti on it.
I dream of a world where electricity boxes become community message boards, and city mailboxes become outlets for scrawled frustrations, only to be covered up with another rant the next day.
If you happen to be one of these artists, please feel free to send me an anonymous email! I’d love to pick your brain.
But also, maybe don’t … They say you should never meet your heroes.