October 25, 2016

Grape Juicy

Sour Grapes Graffiti Crew brightens up the walls of the Oak Cliff neighborhood and beyond.

Graffiti is what make a city come alive, brightening the urban landscape and giving the viewer a signpost that they are, indeed, somewhere cool. The temporary nature makes it even more enticing, as the energy and attitude of a work may not be there in a day, a week or a month.

No one understands this more that Sour Grapes collective, an Oak Cliff-born and based group of local muralists and painters. Sixteen years into a career that began as a lark (with an off-the-cuff name to match), the crew co-founded by Carlos Donjuan moved from bombing local buildings and trains to accepting commissions from the likes of Nike, Blue Moon Brewing Company and American Express.

“We were a group of friends in high school who were really into graffiti, which we got into through break dancing and hip-hop culture,” says Donjuan. “We started doing a lot of illegal graffiti, but after a major run in with the police we started thinking about our future. With graffiti being a felony, we had to think about how we can still what we do and not end up in jail.”

The solution was to ask small business owners if they could paint a free mural on the side of their shop or restaurant, starting a “dialogue with the neighborhood.” Bigger clients noticed and came calling, and by the mid-ninties the collective were full-fledged artists making a living from their work.

Donjuan says he was interested in giving a traditional background to his work, so he left the group temporarily to garner his Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Texas San Antonio.

“I thought to myself, how can I and Sour Grapes as a collective move in the territories of (the art world) and I figured I could bring us all together once I laid the road out. In 2008 I had my first big show with (the Deep Ellum gallery) Kirk Hopper and I haven’t stopped since.”

Other members of the crew—who currently include Donjuan, his brothers Arturo and Miguel and wife Emily as well as Isaias Torres, Elias Torres, Ricardo Oviedo, Eddie Castro, Adam Peña, Tomas Renteria, Johnny Lucio, Martin Lucio, and Mario Sanchez—dip in and of the fine art realm, but their bond remains strong.

“We understand each other and our needs,” says Donjuan. “Some people aren’t too concerned about the commissioned jobs. Some are more into their own studio work.
Everyone does their own shows and once in a while we come together and do group shows as a collective. We’ve created a kind of dialogue between all these artists that keeps us motivated and creative.”

Although with the gentrification of the neighborhood the days of brightening local businesses are long gone, current Sour Grapes murals include quirky characters off of the Jefferson viaduct, an “Oak Cliff” mural in Bishop Arts and a splash of candy-colored pyramids at the Belmont Hotel. If, at first glance, Sour Grapes seem part of the gallery of street art in the city that includes the murals from Faile and Shepard Fairey in Trinity Groves, think again.

Donjuan draws a definite distinction between the graffiti and street art, explaining, “Everyone wants to jump in and get instant recognition. As graffiti artists we’ve been in it for years and years and never had the quick gratification street art gets.”

Instead, he looks to the work the Grapes do as an inspirational foundation for the next generation of self-taught artists. “If we make a mural kids can be attracted to, they can grow up and maybe they’ll want to paint something as adults.”