Bellingham artist spray-paints murals to deter graffiti scrawl

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 18, 2013 

Years ago, Shawn Cass was arrested in Bellingham for spray-painting a bridge. Now he promotes his spray-painted murals as deterrence to graffiti.

"People are less likely to deface a mural," he said. "I'm working on the other side now."

Cass recently put the last touches on his biggest work so far, a roughly 30-foot-square mural on the blank north wall of the Alamo Apartments, where he lives. He painted the large mural, and a smaller one on a nearby retaining wall, with the OK, and with free rent as payment, from Rita Gordon, manager and part-owner of the building at North Garden and East Maple streets.

"I was sick and tired of covering up the graffiti," Gordon said.

A friendly, loquacious fellow with short, dark-brown hair and whiskers, Cass is starting to leave his legitimate mark on Bellingham as a spray-paint artist. He has done interior or exterior paintings at several locations, such as McKay's Taphouse and the pedestrian tunnel at Larrabee State Park.

Cass, 32, grew up in Arkansas. He took art classes in school whenever he could, and was drawn into the world of graffiti in Fayetteville, where his spray-painted signature, or "tag," became "Ruckas."

After high school he accompanied friends to the Northwest and settled in Bellingham. He held a series of jobs, took classes at Whatcom Community College, moved with his friends to San Francisco for a year, then returned to Bellingham for more schooling at WCC and at Western Washington University, where he graduated with a degree in environmental science.

Along the way he maintained his interest in music as well as in art. He's also a deejay, playing hip-hop, techno and dance music under the DJ name "Mr. Pickles."

After he was arrested, Cass decided that painting on canvas was the smarter way to go. Inspired by a fanciful book illustrated with images of flattened fairies, Cass painted a fairy and traded the painting for some clothes. Suddenly, he saw the potential to earn money for his artwork.

He often paints on a small-scale, such as portraits of Jimi Hendrix and Cheech Marin, but the Alamo paintings have been his focus for several months.

His design on the retaining wall next to the Alamo parking lot includes Mount Baker and an eagle, a sasquatch, a train, raccoons positioned so they appear to be sitting atop a real Dumpster, and, to make a back-door Alamo entrance more inviting, a butler standing next a chandelier and a female genie floating out of a magic lantern.

At first, Gordon wanted Cass to paint only the bottom 10 feet or so of the large back wall to keep graffiti artists at bay. But with the four-story concrete surface tempting him, Cass persuaded her to let him think, and paint, much bigger.

To keep costs down, Cass obtained house paint from The RE Store and the use of a scissors lift from Hardware Sales, and repaid both by putting them in the mural.

The bottom of the painting shows a man leaning against a railing as he gazes over the scene. The railing's placement mirrors the real-life shadow that a sidewalk railing along North Garden casts against upon the wall on sunny days.

The cityscape features several landmarks, notably the YWCA, The Majestic, The Herald Building and Old City Hall. Look closely at the swath of rooftops and you'll see a stylized "Ruckas."

The mural also has some futuristic touches. Two buildings are topped by Space Needle-like structures, and jet engines and wings keep three classic-looking cars aloft over the city.

Cass hasn't named the mural, but he has an idea for a name.

"The city of pursued delightment."

Contact Dean Kahn at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2291.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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