Peyton Scott Russell discusses graffiti and fine arts

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Minnesota State invited Minneapolis-based artist Peyton Scott Russell to the Ostrander Auditorium Wednesday to talk about his work with graffiti art and its awareness for it to be a teachable fine art. He also conducted a workshop for MSU students interested in exploring the art of spray painting. 

Gina Wenger, chair of the Department of Creative Arts and organizer of the workshop, explained how this opportunity presented itself to the art program and for many MSU students. 

“The beginning of it is a series called, ‘Art & Change’ and it tries to bring in artists who discuss specifically more diversity, equity and inclusion in their work and I was familiar with Peyton Scott Russell and his work from years ago, when I saw him present in Minneapolis. This fall, a student in my class works with Peyton in the workshop he does with community members and so I reached out to Dean Brown, about Peyton Scott Russell coming to the university. And so Dean Brown said, ‘Hey, do you know Peyton Scott Russell?’, I’m like ‘Yeah!’” Wenger said.

“It’s always really cool to bring in an artist that’s a Minnesota artist, because I think a lot of times we think about going out farther across the United States and that’s really useful, but we also want to let our students and our community know what’s happening closer to home.”

Wenger explains how bringing credible artists can help students find more possibilities in their career paths. 

“Any area of study, students who are coming to Minnesota State Mankato are looking to see the possibilities and what’s out there. And I think a lot of times if we have an art speaker, people are like ‘Oh, that’s in the art department’. No, it’s in our community. It’s in our university,” She said. “The arts, the humanities, really the sciences, all of it is about learning to communicate because you can learn this skill or you can learn that skill, but why do you get a college education? It’s to expand exponentially. You don’t have to come to school to get a job. You want your life, your career. And I think that’s what a college degree shows you is what’s out there, what you’re capable of.”

Russell has a bachelors from the Art Institute of Chicago, and for over three decades has been a professional artist and arts instructor. From the mid 1980s, he has pursued graffiti art and has devoted his time and energy to it. 

“It was never a decision of mine. As a toddler, my earliest memories are of making art. I just never stopped and the main thing I remembered was I loved being in my room and playing make believe with my stuffed animals. Just creating and just being in my room and being away from everybody. It’s like my sanctuary. My room was my studio,” Russell said. “I then discovered graffiti when I was 14 years old. Whether you want to call it public art or not, it was graffiti unsanctioned. Painting under bridges, vandalism, and as I teach it today, I teach that as a creative expression that we don’t ask for permission. That freedom of expression and freedom of voice and just going for it but that’s something you need to fight for.”

Through assistance from a Bush grant, Russell founded SPRAYFiNGER, an organization dedicated to teaching, studying and practicing graffiti and fine arts as well as teaching others how to become professional artists in both skill and business aspects.

“It was really the open door that I was granted from the Bush for me to really be brave enough to talk about graffiti as an art form and an educational platform to redefine the work. I’m not the only one that is doing this type of work, but one of the early ones that started to look at graffiti as a viable means of artistic expression,” he said. “Something that really speaks to our humanity and it speaks to society, and how we use infrastructure to tell stories, and especially the civil unrest and the pandemic that we went through. I think people got a chance to see how artists highlight events in real time, and it allowed SPRAYFiNGER to just really grow wings.”

Russell reveals that his goal is to increase awareness of graffiti as a fine art by collaborating with schools, teachers and artists and to continue to impact the community while also deepening the understanding of graffiti. 

“I’m continuing to do what I do, because the genre speaks for itself. The expression on part of it has its own voice. It has its own power. And people are not only discovering that, but they’re embracing that. And that is incredibly important, because I mean, here we are, we’re humans. We’re tribal creatures. We have our peer groups,” he said. “We want to be recognized for the things that we do. We want to leave something. A legacy behind for whatever that means, for whoever you are. And I think graffiti as an artistic format, just kind of highlights that. It highlights individual people, identity and how that folds into the fabric of a larger community.

To learn about Peyton Scott Russell and his organization SPRAYFiNGER, visit www.sprayfinger.com 

Write to Anahi Zuniga at anahi.zuniga@mnsu.edu

Header Photo: Minneapolis-based artist Peyton Scott Russel, founder of SPRAYFinGER, came to Minnesota State’s Ostrander Auditorium Wednesday to discuss his experience with graffiti art and spread awareness for it to become a teachable fine art. (Alexis Darkow/The Reporter)

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