If you’re familiar with the history and chronology of Arizona street art, you need no introduction to Suchstyles – the godfather of Arizona graffiti.
Such, whose given name is Noe Baez, is an Arizona native and a graduate of Marcos de Niza High School. His journey from vandalism to gallery artist began in the early ’80s when he read “Getting Up” by Craig Castleman about subway street artists in New York City.
“It threw a fire underneath me and I started studying their fonts and different styles that they were creating on their subway cars,” said Such. “It was so alluring for a teenager.”
After experimenting in the alley with spray paint from his dad’s garage, Such was ready to branch out.
“Me and my buddies formed this little crew called the PCP Bombers and went down to my local high school and did this seasonal — a burner we call it. It said ‘Merry Christmas.’ The next morning the students rallied. The administration came out and looked at it and they didn’t know what to make of it,” he said.
At that point, graffiti was still so new to Arizona that the penalties were minimal. “You had to get caught three times to do community service, because it wasn’t really done, especially in Tempe back then,” said Such.
Now, decades later, Such isn’t getting write-ups or community service. High schools are calling him to cover their walls and teach their students the history and style of his art, which has become legendary.
The making of that legend included a transformative spiritual experience. Though raised in a Christian home, Such had to find God for himself.
“I believe I had a genuine love for God, but I had this energy inside me and I was trying to come to terms with what I was taught. Time passed and I had a spiritual experience for myself. I actually took graff and put it on the back burner for a few months trying to reinvent myself, allow God to reinvent me,” he said.
That reinvention included a redefinition of his name. Such – created as an acronym, originally stood for Still Under Creating Havoc. Now he says it stands for a Servant Under Christ’s Hand.
With a new understanding of God, of himself and his art, Such began to revisit graffiti as a legitimate art form that could support his wife and two sons. No longer would he paint train cars at night, under the moon, looking over his shoulder for cops. Rather, he began operating as a businessman, with a defined set of ethics and an attitude of professionalism and respect for people. He he tries to teach this to his sons, Christian and Champ.
Champ, also a graduate of Marcos de Niza, is following in his dad’s footprints. While Such learned by doing, Champ sat at the feet of masters, gleaning wisdom from his father and other famous graffiti artists, like Hector “Hex” Rios. Champ combines that training with the art history courses he took in high school, adding a new dimension of historicity to the work he and his father do together.
Much of that work is on display in Guadalupe, where entire walls are covered with their art. If you wind your way through the small town nestled along Interstate 10, you might even catch them working on a piece at Juve’s Auto Clinic at the corner of Avenida Del Yaqui and Calle Sonara Street, where they are painting a huge mural of Mickey, one of Champ’s favorite characters, and a new logo for the Auto Clinic. On the south wall of the building, you’ll find a colorful mural dedicated to Guadalupe’s Latin American roots.
While Such and Champ do commissioned work for galleries, clubs, and museums, including the Musical Instrument Museum and the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, their work in Guadalupe is done free of charge, out of love for the community they call home.
“(Such is) definitely a big part of the community,” said Juve Espinoza, owner of Juve’s Auto Clinic. “It’s not about money. He’s never asked for anything. He loves what he’s doing. Everything’s from the heart.”
This outward focus has not only endeared Such to his neighbors and friends, but has also earned him great respect from the kids in the neighborhood.
“He’s got respect from all the other guys. No one’s touched the other murals he’s put up. The taggers don’t touch his work. They respect it,” Espinoza said.
Such uses this position for good, teaching a class with Champ at Alhambra High School about the history and craft of street art. They hope to do something similar at Marcos de Niza and other local high schools.
Eventually they dream of taking their work overseas, and maybe putting together a book or a reality show about their work, but for now, they are local artists, building their community and working for the good of the city.
“I believe we’re trying to make a difference, and I want to be here for that,” Such said.
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