KATSU’s videos

An extinguisher fill-in piece by KATSU. Photo by Jason Taellious.

An extinguisher fill-in piece by KATSU. Photo by Jason Taellious.

KATSU is a pioneer of fire extinguisher graffiti, pieces made by filling up a fire extinguisher with paint and spraying that rather than a spray can. With fire extinguishers, one can paint something in a matter of seconds that might take hours to do by any other means. In 2007, after mastering this method himself, KATSU posted a how-to guide on Instructables.com. This gave anyone with a passing interest in the subject the know-how to turn a fire extinguisher into a massive paint sprayer. Then, in 2009, Artprimo.com posted two videos on their YouTube account showing KATSU in action. The first, The KATSU Extinguisher Video, shows KATSU and Moral painting with fire extinguishers in New York City and is set to a classical piano track. While it was essentially showing graffiti writers what they already knew, it helped to explain to the general public how such massive pieces were being painted in much the same way that Style Wars helped the general public understand how graffiti on trains was made. The second video was The KATSU Extinguisher Fill-In Video, which showed writers that KATSU could take things further than the standard extinguisher piece. The video shows how KATSU made a “fill-in” with an extinguisher. Whereas most extinguisher pieces up to that point had essentially been massive tags, KATSU’s piece in this video resembled and was executed like a filled-in throw-up or a roller piece, but was made entirely with extinguishers. KATSU’s method was subsequently emulated very successfully (also on video) by Demos and Dekor in Canada in 2011.

But it was another video of KATSU released in 2009 that really took things beyond the traditional bombing video posted to YouTube and gave KATSU a popular appeal while at the same time highlighting the performative nature of graffiti: The Powers of KATSU by Red Bucket Films. The video is a KATSU-style homage to Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero, the classic film by Charles and Ray Eames. First, KATSU tags a grain of rice, then a piece of paper (twice), then a piece of metal, then a small wall… on an on with implements from an extremely fine-tipped pen to a fire extinguisher to whatever spraying device KATSU uses to paint his logo on a rooftop at a size of about 120 x 120 feet. Despite the relatively old reference, Evan Roth considers The Powers of KATSU to be the ultimate in graffiti meets mass appeal and popular culture.

KATSU’s work had been on the streets of New York City and the world for years and he is well-respected among the graffiti community, but I think it’s fair to say that his videos are what first helped to expose his work to an audience that do not write or follow graffiti, and certainly they helped to spread his name around the world more than the occasional piece in any given city could have done. With these videos, KATSU could continue primarily working in New York City while keeping his name on the minds of people everywhere. I don’t think that a typical video of a graffiti writer doing traditional graffiti and not promoting it rigorously online could have done that. KATSU’s videos were successful because the performances clearly and simply illustrate the techniques behind graffiti that are still such mysteries to the everyday viewer, although it also helped that he linked his work to pop culture.

KATSU has also used video to document and distribute super ephemeral work. Although fire extinguisher pieces usually last a while since they are a complete pain in the ass to remove, they are not impossible to buff if necessary. One instance where certain people felt that it was necessary to remove a fire extinguisher tag by KATSU was at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, just a few days before the opening of their show Art in the Streets, which it was billed as a show about street art and graffiti. In a sort of test of MOCA’s commitment to true street art and graffiti, KATSU wrote his name on the wall that everyone entering the museum would see, the wall that Os Gêmeos had been scheduled to paint. News of KATSU’s piece hit on April 11th when AVONE aka DESTROYREBUILDNY posted a video to his YouTube account of KATSU in action on the outside of MOCA in broad daylight. KATSU tags MoCA is a simple video, but it shows KATSU using a fire extinguisher to tag MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary building, and that’s all it needed to do. The piece was very quickly buffed and photographs of the unbuffed piece did not surface right away. Because KATSU’s work disappeared so quickly and there was no independent coverage of the incident until Martha Cooper wrote about it more than a week later, it was essential that KATSU get that video published. AVONE’s video allowed word of KATSU’s actions to spread quickly as it was immediately posted to many street art and graffiti blogs. I doubt KATSU expected this particular piece to last, but he had the documentation and that counted for a lot.

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