Graffiti is part of a city, it’s culture and visual aesthetic, no matter how its citizens feel about it. Public art like murals and graffiti document the times, celebrate communities, and demarcate neighbourhoods. For artists like Saber, it’s something to be treasured and respected, an art style that is important because it moves in and out of public space. Saber in particular knows the importance of preserving mural art, having creating some of L.A.’s most famous and widely seen murals, but he also knows that it can’t simply stay on the street. It needs to be in galleries, in homes, in places where people want to go and look at art. Saber also knows that graffiti can challenge convention, and that’s exactly where his art likes to be.
Saber first rose to prominence in 1997, when his massive mural on the banks of the L.A. river began getting international attention. The mural measured 55’ high and over 250’ in length and reportedly took over 95 gallons of paint and 35 days to complete. Highly visible from the East L.A. Interchange, Saber’s piece was seen by millions and stayed up for an astounding 12 years before it was buffed by the US military. In his signature eloquence, Saber said it was quite the “way to go out” before noting that the government could probably be spending their money better. “The Army uses millions of federal funds to help fuel the LA war on graffiti, painting out layers of raw history in the armpit of the city,” Saber said in an interview, “While schools have no books and hospitals are closing.” This commentary on America and its priorities has been a focal point of Saber’s work his entire career.
Take, for instance, the time he was accused of desecrating the American flag. By this time, Saber was travelling the world to show off his fine art, popping up in galleries in from his hometown in L.A. to Europe. He had become a renowned fine artist, someone who bridged the gap between street art and fine art while still making amazing contributions in both worlds. But in 2010, Saber once again came into the media spotlight for his work using the American flag, a mixed media piece he was experimenting with that discussed his lifelong struggle with epilepsy. Being accused of flag desecration seemed to be another instance of backwards priorities, this time by America’s citizens instead of it’s government. In response to the controversy, Saber said his intention was to “show it [the flag] as a living, breathing, changing organism, that represents me as an American trying to manage this lifelong disease without health care.”
Throughout his career, Saber has been first to defend the arts in all their forms, going as far as to hire planes to skywrite “Mitt Romney hates arts” in L.A. Since murals were outlawed in his hometown, Saber found another way to fight against America’s war on art. At the Huffington Post, he argued the state of art in America is under threat. “You have candidates like Mr. Mitt Romney saying that he would completely eliminate funding for The National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, and NPR if elected, claiming they’re a ‘budgetary nuisance,’ he said, “These things cost .003% of the budget, and Romney says it’s a fucking budgetary nuisance! And so art is nuisance now in America.”
Always on the fringe and never one to stand idly by, Saber is a voice for street artists and the arts in general, unafraid to get political and fight for what he believes in.