HARTFORD, Conn. — Richard Crapht knows his graffiti is approachable, his green and yellow dragons a crisp, clean addition to the ragtag look of Heaven Skate Park in Hartford.
On Saturday, the Hartford artist paced around the park distributing paint canisters, scaffolds and ladders to friends from his native New York so they could add their own large-scale pieces to the downtown park’s walls. He helped organize Saturday’s Character Assassins graffiti jam, in part, to bring some sophistication and quality to the 3-year-old park, the only public space in Hartford where spray painting is allowed.
But he also had a message for those who call Heaven an eyesore: Hartford’s street art contingent isn’t out for approval.
“It doesn’t work like that,” he said. “I love the distress of graffiti. We all do.”
Crapht, who guys by Sest2, said he just wants to see Heaven reach its full potential. Kids will, and should, keep tagging their names on the walls throughout the year, but he hopes they’ll see the park — not far from the Hartford Yard Goats’ new Dunkin’ Donuts Park — as a canvas for real art.
“If you have a space like this, it’s special,” Crapht said.
In addition to artists from New York, Character Assassins brought out Hartford locals and street artisans from New London and New Britain. From 11 a.m., to sundown, they covered big swaths of wall with their characters and illustrations.
One mural depicted three “trap houses” — slang for drug dens — as birdhouses. Long Island artist “Phetus” added big, goofy eyes and toothy smiles to the brightly colored cubes in a style that he calls “monstrous expressionism.”
On another wall, Harlem-based artist “Shiro” painted one of her own original characters, a pink mermaid, in the style she honed in Japan 20 years ago.
“It’s going to look good when it’s done,” Crapht said of Shiro’s work. “She’s a hard worker and this is the kind of ethic I’m trying to instill in Connecticut.”
Dennis “Sinned” Bauser of Queens was still plotting what to do with his section of the park, though it was sure to be a neon mix of sweet and scary. In New York, Bauser is a “box truck guardian” who paints large, cartoonish murals on trucks that had been eyesores thanks to seemingly random tagging, said his wife, Ria.
The truck drivers who seek Bauser out own their own vehicles and say they want to bring friendlier images home to their families and neighborhoods, and Ria said she can appreciate why Hartford residents may want the same for their skate park. Murals and large pieces have “more obvious artistic value,” she said.
But she also appreciates the scribbles and the swirls of rainbow paint that she and Dennis covered with a coat of gray paint Saturday morning to make room for his new work.
“Maybe they want to know what it feels like to see their name up there,” she said of amateur graffiti artists. “Maybe they just want to know what it feels like to have the can in their hand and paint.”
She pointed to the middle of the park, where blue and white skulls and multicolor tags curved around the raised concrete.
“Like that. There’s something so beautiful about that,” she said. “It’s just raw.”
Phetus, who’s been painting in New York since the 1980s, said he liked Heaven’s look of a “teenage, cutting-edge playground.” He and Shiro agreed that New York is short on public spaces where spray paint is sanctioned.
“If they had something like this on Long Island, there’d be a lot less trouble in the streets,” Phetus said before cracking a smile. “Or it might cause trouble, I guess.”
But there was no trouble to be seen Saturday.
As kids and adults skated around the park, vendors set up Hartford-themed merchandise, a toddler pedaled laps on a pink tricycle and a 10-year-old girl used black paint to spray her signature on the ground.
It was the first time Jadyn Dewitt-Smith, of Manchester, had drawn her character — with its floppy orange hair and hands tucked in its pockets — outside of a notebook.
“It feels like I finally did something that was on my bucket list,” she said.
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