There are two stories to tell today.

One is of a compassionate artist in Rapid City, South Dakota, who believes in fate and uses that conviction to fuel his devout passion for graffiti art.

It’s as if he can’t help but create, but he also uses this talent for good— to inspire me and you and a community who perhaps just isn’t quite convinced yet.

They will get there. This artist has a very big heart and is very good at what he does.

The second story is about an idea this compassionate artist has to resurrect an art community — with the help of young, emerging artists especially — by teaching them about screen printing.

Perhaps this “new” kind of print technique will be enough for a community to see that investment in high quality art is absolutely possible — and necessary.

Two very different stories, but both with the same goal: Help to grow an art scene, and help Rapid City adjust how they see, accept, welcome and engage with art.

Of all kinds.

His name is Tyler Read, and I hope he changes your perspective, too.

Graffiti art offers a positive perspective

Let’s start with that first story.

Tyler has been a graffiti artist since he was a kid. But when he moved to Rapid City about 10 years ago, he was at a place in his life where he had “retired” from the art form.

It didn’t take long for fate to help him find his place again. About a year into his time in the Hills, he found Art Alley.

“It was in that space that I started painting again. That was a game changer for me.”

Growing up, he didn’t have any sort of “art alley” to create in. “So my art was very personal. It had to be. I couldn’t share it with anybody and could never see how my art affected people.”

This is Tyler’s first piece in Art Alley, which he created in 2005. “This was actually the first full letter-based graffiti piece in Art Alley.”
This is Tyler’s first piece in Art Alley, which he created in 2005. “This was actually the first full letter-based graffiti piece in Art Alley.”

But when he began painting in Art Alley, a place where artists can go to paint and express themselves, the community started watching him.

“People would come up to me and ask questions. A lot of times, the first question people would ask is what gang I was in, and that weirded me out. I have a wife and kids. I’m not a part of that just because I do letters,” he says. “People had a lot of misconceptions of who I was as a person because of the letter-based art form that I was doing.”

So he proved them wrong.

“I started doing more positive images and messages, and then I began mentoring a lot of kids,” he says. “Immediately, people became more curious.”

With the help of his own work, a small, great culture began to emerge in Art Alley, but along with it came conflict.

“Artists were emulating the more negative parts of the culture that didn’t really fit here in our small, welcoming community and in a special place like Art Alley.”

People were carelessly crossing out one another’s work, and eventually, a mural done by a kids street art camp was destroyed.

“I saw that, and it really affected me,” Tyler remembers. “These kids did something so special, and their expression wasn’t valued. I knew that they were going to come back and want to show their parents.”

So he destroyed his own art work — his first piece of graffiti work on Art Alley that was really respected — to give the kids room to make something new.

He gave them a second chance.

“I put a big, long-winded message on there, talking about how we needed to hold ourselves to a higher level if we wanted to be considered artists. Then I offered that space to the kids whose mural got destroyed.”

About a month later, the kids came back, and they started over.

This was the poster that Tyler painted on top of his own original graffiti work to offer the space to the kids who had their mural destroyed. “The image of the man on fire is the Bhuddist war protestor, Thich Quang Duc, who sat down in the middle of a busy intersection, and set himself on fire in a horrific act of protest against war. The idea of self sacrifice as an end to violence seemed a gripping visual and strategic model to follow to stop the warring artists from further destroying artwork in the alley. A month later, the kids from the art camp came back and painted a mural in this spot that I offered them. They painted peace signs, flowers and hearts, and even painted the flames in and around the burning man. I still choke up when I think about this.”
This was the poster that Tyler painted on top of his own original graffiti work to offer the space to the kids who had their mural destroyed. “The image of the man on fire is the Bhuddist war protestor, Thich Quang Duc, who sat down in the middle of a busy intersection, and set himself on fire in a horrific act of protest against war. The idea of self sacrifice as an end to violence seemed a gripping visual and strategic model to follow to stop the warring artists from further destroying artwork in the alley. A month later, the kids from the art camp came back and painted a mural in this spot that I offered them. They painted peace signs, flowers and hearts, and even painted the flames in and around the burning man. I still choke up when I think about this.”

“It was an incredible experience to see that something I left behind for them transformed in that way,” he says. “It started to change me as a person, to start considering what I want to do in a real positive way.”

That kids camp was from the Rapid City Arts Council, and when they found out it was Tyler who defended the kids’ work, they sought him out, literally with gratitude and hugs. From there, he began collaborative work with the Arts Council that eventually led to a job.

“Even though I had absolutely no credentials, I sent in a resume with a three-page essay on what I would to increase art participation in youth.”

And he’s been an inspiration to them ever since.

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“Last summer, I was teaching the Rapid City Arts Council street art summer class. As we were prepping the wall, I got chills when one of the kids pulled off a giant paint chip, revealing behind it my first piece in Art Alley. On the back side was the message from the poster I created offering the kids from the original class my spot. (Above) is the wall with the black and white Z from my first piece, and that huge paint chip (below) has the old poster attached. Layers of paint and serendipity, with a bit of destiny thrown in.”

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Screen printing is a way to engage in the arts

Tyler has been with the Rapid City Arts Council for a few years now, and his work focuses a lot on teens and young adults.

“I work with a lot of emerging artists, and I really want to help them develop a body of work where they can think of it in a more professional and commercial sort of way so that they can start selling it,” he says.

Tyler says not only do these artists not have a lot of work to sell, but when they do, there isn’t always a buyer there who wants it. It’s discouraging.

In his community, “people have less money to spend on art. But I want them to be thinking more in a way that collecting art is something they can still do, and in a way that’s comfortable.”

So screen printing came to mind.

This was Tyler’s first screen print poster that he purchased. Artist is Aaron Draplin.
This was Tyler’s first screen print poster that he purchased. Artist is Aaron Draplin.

“I have a huge passion for screen printing, and I want to see that grow there,” Tyler says. “It might not be in somebody’s price range to spend $400 on a painting, but if they pick up a screen print they really like for 20 bucks, that’s affordable, and it’s still a rare work of art.”

Someday, Tyler would like to have his own gallery and screen printing shop that would really serve and benefit his art community.

“Local artists would build affordable bodies of work that would stimulate a market of art collectors in the region.”

It makes perfect sense! But for now, it’s about introducing the community to something that could really benefit the arts.

And it’s just fun.

“When you become familiar with screen printed art, the work and the quality and the process speaks for itself,” Tyler says. “The process of each screen being laid down to provide a color and pulling the screens — it’s a secondary art form.

“There is a charm and a romanticism that I really like.”

In the same way he encouraged a community to see graffiti in a new, positive light, he believes we can grow to understand and appreciate screen printing, too.

“We need to find ways to introduce screen printing to those who aren’t familiar with it, so they can actually see the process and fall in love with it,” he says. “Then everybody can add to it and make it an even bigger dream than I could do on my own.”

For Tyler — or anyone who has come to love screen printing — the work is more of an experience than anything else. With that, comes respect.

“Once you can understand what screen printing is — when you look at a poster — you can identify that quality. You can see it, the way the ink fits on the paper, and it’s beautiful. Screen printing has a bit of the artisan’s heart and sweat in every print.

“I dig that.”

Isn’t that what it takes, really, to enjoy what we do? There has to be a level of appreciation and love and admiration for the process that’s nearly poetic.

Once you get there, it doesn’t matter where the journey goes, so long as your heart is with it.

And that’s where Tyler is.

Just wants to ‘grow art’ in Rapid City

Whether he’s painting in Art Alley or educating kids about screen printing, Tyler is always making.

Always creating.

“My art at this point is everything I do to try and grow art for everybody here.”

It doesn’t matter if he succeeds through his graffiti art or by educating a group of people on screen printing. Both are meaningful and enchanting expressions that can bring faith and life and excitement back into an art community.

What matters is that he’s willing, and he’s trying.

And he’s not about to give up.


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