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It isn’t every day graffiti artists, or “writers,” are encouraged to paint whatever they like outside a business in daylight hours, but that’s exactly what local business owner Jeff Holmes has done. For the last 10 years, he’s held a free annual event that welcomes these artists – young and old – and gives them a place to express themselves.

The Spray Can Slam is held outside of Holmes’ businesses on California Boulevard – Napa Valley Art Supplies and Cartons and Crates. This year’s event just happened to fall on one of his customer’s birthdays.

“He and his dad came for the event last year and just found his calling,” Holmes said of 11-year-old Jesse Westin.

Jesse discovered his love for graffiti art last year and has been spray painting ever since. His artwork can be seen outside the family’s home on Eggleston Street because, as his dad Aaron says, “He likes his stuff to be seen not hidden in the backyard.”

“It’s really fun to me,” Jesse said. “It’s a very nice style of art.”

Jesse typically writes names or letters using spray paint but the art medium can be used in other ways, too.

Daniel Alcazar, 22, of Fairfield used a combination of spray paint and oil paints to create ethereal trees. This is the third time he’s attended the event, but he’s been shopping at Holmes’ store since he was a teenager.

“This is the only event that I know of like this,” Alcazar said Saturday.

Several artists at the event came from Fairfield while others came from places like Vallejo and Oakland.

“You never see this,” said Manny Morales, 17, of Fairfield. Graffiti isn’t typically something that businesses are open to, he said, so events like the Spray Can Slam, where artists are provided with a free wall and inexpensive materials, are rare. “Graffiti is looked down upon even though it’s an amazing art.”

Holmes tries to add something different to the event each year. This year it was the addition of a piano from PopUp Pianos.

“To have the piano here has just been a blessing because every day people are riding their bicycles by, walking by, and they see a piano and they’re gravitated to it – it’s like a magnet,” Holmes said. “I’ll be in my office or helping customers and I’ll hear the piano start playing and I just love it.”

The piano has been at the store for a little less than a month and, for the last two weeks, local artist Neil Coates has been painting it.

Coates was working on the piano, which he’s painting scenes from Alice and Wonderland on, during the Spray Can Slam. It wasn’t the first time he’s been to the event, though, usually he’s using spray paint.

“I’ve been coming here to buy art supplies since I was in high school,” Coates said. Nowadays he does more than graffiti art, but it is how he got into art, he said.

“I have a big graffiti background,” he said, but “if you want to grow as an artist, you gotta grow with the world.”

Coates has nearly been taken to jail for his graffiti art, but says that it’s not worth it.

“Graffiti nowadays is not a game; you can literally lose your life,” he said. He has friends who’ve been fined thousands of dollars for expressing themselves in graffiti, he said.

For young artists trying to get into the graffiti scene, he said, don’t risk your life. Find ways to do your art legally – like at events like the Spray Can Slam, practice all the time, and always wear a mask.

The event has filled a need in the art community, according to Holmes. Not only do these artists get a place to express themselves, but people get to see the process, he said.

“To showcase it like this to where people can watch ‘em and see it evolve, it’s really neat,” Holmes said. “Hardly anybody paints like another ... they’re all different styles.”

The original posting of this story misidentified the owner of Napa Valley Art Supplies and Cartons and Crates. He is Jeff Holmes. 

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Maria Sestito is the former Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She now writes for the Register as a freelancer.