Justin Manriquez and Gaby Leyva, owners of Overspray, art supply and gallery, held their grand re-opening for the shop on April 13 after moving from Holt Avenue to next to the Fox Theater. The new location still resembles the original shop with its spray paint wall, street walk sign and Overspray freeway sign. A lineup of DJs spun ‘90s hip-hop and R&B vinyl on the Overspray turntable.

Justin Manriquez and Gaby Leyva, owners of Overspray, art supply and gallery, held their grand re-opening for the shop on April 13 after moving from Holt Avenue to next to the Fox Theater. The new location still resembles the original shop with its spray paint wall, street walk sign and Overspray freeway sign. A lineup of DJs spun ‘90s hip-hop and R&B vinyl on the Overspray turntable.

story and photography by Sarah Van Buskirk

The glowing “Emergency Exit” sign hanging from the classroom ceiling faced Justin Manriquez in his 8th grade class after the teacher turned the student’s desk toward the corner as punishment for not being interested in linear equations, or why Ray Bradbury used a metaphor in “Fahrenheit 451.”

Manriquez scribbled to pass the time, studying the sign as he repeatedly wrote “exit,” “EXIT,” “eXiT,” in his notebook. He fixated on how the letters looked best together, in different fonts and styles — now intrigued with typography.

Though the ancient Romans set the foundation for graffiti art thousands of years ago by etching their names or protest poems in dusty caves, Manriquez first experimented with his art style as the word “emergency” paralleled “exit” on the sign. Manriquez challenged himself to draw the letters fluidly in an artistic pattern. With “emergency” being such a long word, he eventually shortened it to “emerg,” which stuck as his writer name, tagging throughout Los Angeles in his young adulthood.

Manriquez turned his junior high punishment into a full-scale business where he now provides a safe space for graffiti artists to purchase art supplies without “racking,” which is stealing graffiti supplies, and is popular within the graffiti community.

Manriquez is no longer an active graffiti artist, but supports other artists’ work in his gallery.

Overspray, an art supply store and gallery owned by Manriquez and Gaby Leyva, opened in 2021 on 478 East Holt Ave. in Pomona, but moved next to the Fox Theater on 158 West 3rd St. in Pomona, with their re-grand opening held on April 13.

DJ Mishaps, DJ Luman and DJ Javie Lopez set the vibe for the re-grand opening, spinning ’90s hip-hop and R&B vinyl. Live murals by world-renowned artist Man One and Los Angeles-based artist Saints are splattered across two walls in the store’s new upstairs gallery, in homage to the live muralists who painted at the first store’s grand opening on the backside of the building.

Overspray has a built-in wall organizer to display spray paint cans for a rainbow illusion. Markers, sketchbooks and spray paint can caps are for sale in the counter display case. Overspray also sells hats, shirts and jackets with their logo.

Overspray has a built-in wall organizer to display spray paint cans for a rainbow illusion. Markers, sketchbooks and spray paint can caps are for sale in the counter display case. Overspray also sells hats, shirts and jackets with their logo.

Man One’s mural covered a blank, white wall with thin, black lines as he spray painted “Overspray: The Second Verse,” signing his name and Saints’ right above “2024.”

Manriquez said Man One’s galleries throughout Los Angeles motivated him to open the original location for Overspray, and continues to be a trustworthy friend, now helping Manriquez celebrate the opening of the store’s new location.

Man One exhibits a large mural and smaller mixed-
media works in the new store on the wall to the right when entering, such as shadow boxes filled with spray paint cans with his signature goblin-like creatures on the front. Down the wall is a variety of large and small canvases painted as boomboxes by Saints.

Saints spent his childhood Saturday mornings infatuated with cartoons and comic books, as the animation of the characters caught his attention. Unlike other writers who usually spray paint their graffiti name, Saints started making street art as the Boombox Kid, and painted cartoon characters inspired by old-school B-Boy characters—reminiscent of the golden era of hip-hop—as his “tag.”

B-Boy characters’ styles have exaggerated eye sizes—usually with a boom box or spray paint can in hand—and are dressed in true ’90s hip-hop fashion, sporting bucket hats, sweat suits and sneakers.

“Graffiti is a culture, and only we get it,” Saints says.

Local residents and graffiti artists supported Overspray during their grand re-opening, purchasing markers, spray paint and Overspray’s own merchandise. To end the celebratory night, Overspray employees shot T-shirts out of a T-shirt cannon to the sea of about 50 people.

Manriquez says that, after three years, their previous landlord—who owns the entire block of that strip mall on Holt Avenue—did not want to re-sign their lease out of a desire to reduce the amount of graffiti in that area.

“As a matter of fact, I believe it will be the exact opposite,” Manriquez says, regarding the landlord’s thoughts on Overspray’s location move. He believes now that Overspray has left that part of the Holt Corridor, graffiti writers will have a free-for-all and tag more than they ever have.

“People who come into this store—especially vandals and writers who are very active in doing illegal art—respect our store, and 99.9% of them don’t do anything right here because they know how special this place is to our graffiti community.”

Moving into the Arts Colony in Pomona felt like the right move for Overspray, according to Manriquez. He finally feels like they are in a place where they belong, close to other artists who splatter creativity and beauty throughout the city without the echoing complaints of those against the art.

Leyva says this store always has had a negative reputation, even from random people who walk in saying, “Oh, this is a graffiti store.”

“Well, you can call it that,” Leyva says. “I’m sure a lot of people who come in here do use it for vandalism, but the main purpose is for muralists, and it’s a part of art.”

Manriquez says that when he grew up in Whittier, tagging was not considered an art form. It was more of an attention-grabbing activity, usually for kids or young adults needing attention elsewhere. Tagging originated from street gangs’ desire to mark their territories. Gangs will also tag in other gangs’ areas to define their turf. Writers’ names come from what veteran gang members think describe new members best. Manriquez gave an example of someone being skinny, and their writer name becoming “Flaco,” which means skinny, in Spanish.

But Manriquez never found enjoyment in doing gang-related graffiti. It was the flow, font choice and color palette of the letters that fascinated him. The rush of hiding from law enforcement and finding the most tricky spot to display the largest tag possible was what captivated Manriquez as an adolescent.

Sophie’s Flowers and Events at 1002 E. Mission Blvd. in Pomona is already a pink building with a flower field painted on one side, but owner Jackie Hernandez said a local man spray painted the parking sign on the other side of the building after gang-related graffiti tags appeared on the flower shop.

Sophie’s Flowers and Events at 1002 E. Mission Blvd. in Pomona is already a pink building with a flower field painted on one side, but owner Jackie Hernandez said a local man spray painted the parking sign on the other side of the building after gang-related graffiti tags appeared on the flower shop.

Sock, a 26-year-old graffiti artist from Los Angeles who started graffiti art in 2019 and is still active in the lifestyle, is aware that there are repercussions to making graffiti art. He says that sometimes it’s not worth getting caught up with police to get your name out there.

Sock was arrested just once for vandalism. Some of the newer billboards have sensors, and he tripped the alarm as he scaled one towering sign in Los Angeles. He said he was on the wrong billboard at the wrong time. “But it’s a living-in-the-moment feeling,” Sock says, “like when you’re going down a roller coaster. It’s definitely an adrenaline rush.”

Growing up in Pico Union in Los Angeles—a borough in a city that spends millions of dollars covering up graffiti each year—Sock found himself immersed in the culture right away. “When I was younger, it didn’t look good to me,” Sock says. “It was different. It was more tag-banging and the hood. But over time, I found graffiti that looked good to me.”

Sock’s style of graffiti is categorized as “bombing,” which usually is quick and more readable, similar to “throwies,” which tend to be less detailed and usually just a writer’s name in bubble letters.

His graffiti name came from an interesting encounter at a liquor store when he and his brother were in middle school. He said a drunk man walked into the store screaming over and over “sock” in Spanish, which translates to “calcetín.” Sock said he was in the back of the store when this man approached him, grabbed him and continued screaming at him, “calcetín!” After the man stopped shouting, Sock said the stranger told him he reminded him of his son who passed away, and whose name was Calcetín.

“I felt bad for this guy; he was really going through it and I didn’t know whether to hug him or look at my brother to get this guy away from me,” Sock says.

The drunken man gave Sock $10 and said to buy whatever he wanted before he walked out of the store, never to be seen again. Afterwards, as a joke, his brother started calling him sock in English. When he started graffiti, he thought the nickname from his brother was a perfect writer name. Sock is also known for drawing a sock character with different expressions or doing different actions.

In high school, before Sock was a graffiti artist, he spent most of his time skateboarding, which he still does today. He had a friend who was a graffiti artist that wanted to get into skateboarding. They exchanged “lessons” of each other’s hobbies and grew as friends. One day, Sock’s friend said he was going to draw him. Sock said he thought he was going to draw how he realistically looked but once he turned the notebook around it was a sock character skateboarding and smoking a joint.

“I was like ‘Yo, that is so sick,’ and that’s where I got the inspiration for the sock character I draw,” Sock says.

He said some of the greatest advice and knowledge he gained about graffiti came from the people he met out making art on the street, but he still prefers to paint alone.

“I don’t have to deal with anyone’s s***. I get to do what I have to do and get out of there,” Sock says. “But it is also cool painting with people because they have been through their own stuff and it’s cool hearing their perspectives.”

The best lesson Sock received was to not pay for paint, because if you get in trouble you basically paid to get yourself caught.

“At first it was for fun, and then after I got into it I started looking at graffiti differently,” Sock said.

Though Pomona is known for the intricate murals slapped across buildings throughout the historic city, the law still calls for a misdemeanor charge on those arrested for vandalism. Some cases even move up to a felony, based on the words or images painted. However, according to Pomona Police, unless the vandalism case is a felony, these incidents usually are not investigated.

Live murals from Los Angeles artists Man One and Saints splatter across the walls of the new upstairs gallery at Overspray, an art supply store in Pomona. Overspray celebrated the grand re-opening of their new location new to the Fox Theater, titling the event, “The Second Verse.”

Live murals from Los Angeles artists Man One and Saints splatter across the walls of the new upstairs gallery at Overspray, an art supply store in Pomona. Overspray celebrated the grand re-opening of their new location new to the Fox Theater, titling the event, “The Second Verse.”

Pomona Police Sergeant Rick Aguiar says Pomona does not have a unit to look for or handle crimes associated with vandalism, but it is documented by patrol officers and investigated by detectives. The graffiti writers that officers catch for vandalism crimes usually range from 12 years old on up. Aguiar says it just depends on what or who they are associated with.

“(For) street art, they want people to see their work and for their name to get notoriety,” Aguiar says. “Gang graffiti is used to mark territories, intimidate people or call out rival gangs.” Aguiar says catching vandals in the act can occur at any time, but it is difficult since they typically spray in the middle of the night under the cover of darkness.

The city of Pomona’s Public Services has a graffiti removal team for public and private structures. Graffiti personnel are assigned geographical areas in Pomona, and are on call to remove graffiti. The city established a 24-hour graffiti reporting line (909-620-2265) for local residents to report incidents of vandalism.

Though laws are set to prevent graffiti artists from vandalizing businesses and billboards, many beautification projects in Pomona create a sense of community for local artists. One example is a piece titled “City of Pomona,” by Jimmy and Darlene Canchola at the John F. Kennedy Park on 1150 Fairplex Dr., which embodies the history of Pomona.

“I think graffiti should be everywhere,” says Justin Robinson, an adjunct professor who teaches graphic design at the University of La Verne. “You have the walls, you have the spaces, so use it for beautification.”

Robinson grew up in Pomona surrounded by its art scene, and now teaches students about typography and color theory at ULV, showing them how to elevate letters from words to abstract art.

His introduction to graffiti came from his cousin who skateboarded and was part of the graffiti lifestyle in Los Angeles. Robinson says that once he saw the 1997 “Sabre” piece—which some say is one of the most extravagant art pieces on the concrete slabs of the Los Angeles River—he fell in love with that style of art.

The famous Sabre piece took 97 gallons of paint and 35 nights spread out over the course of a year to complete. It was painted by graffiti artist Sabre, who is most known for his large pieces. The full-color piece stood for 12 years, but was removed due to an environmental protection initiative—part of a politically motivated agenda that added more paint into the waters trying to cover up the art along the canal.

Robinson says graffiti has evolved since he was a kid, and is more socially acceptable. He believes graffiti is more than street art and can open doors to work for big names designing logos, websites and more.

Man One is a prime example of making an international career out of graffiti art. He was commissioned for local murals like the one titled “Protected by the City of Angels” at the Claremont Colleges in 2008, and the piece titled “Manos a la Obra” at the Huerta Del Valle community garden in Ontario in 2017.

He now teaches at the Man One Academy out of his Ontario art studio. His goal is to give artists a space to be seen and to feel beneficial to the community while ensuring they are being properly paid.

Fences and buildings along train tracks near Pomona’s FirstStreet are splattered with graffiti art and writers’ names.

Fences and buildings along train tracks near Pomona’s First Street are splattered with graffiti art and writers’ names.

Artists look out for other artists, according to Jackie Hernandez, owner of Sophie’s Flower Shop, on 1002 E. Mission Blvd. in Pomona. Hernandez has a mural on one side of her shop. Gang tags have appeared on a blank wall on the other side of the business. She says a neighborhood man who never told her his name came by one day and said he would cover up the gang markings with something artistic for her business.

“He said to give him a chance to make something nice for the shop, and once we accepted his offer he got the cops called on him like three times,” Hernandez says. “Customers were calling me saying, ‘Jackie do you know they are tagging your wall?’ and I said ‘No, they are actually covering something and making art.’” The man spray-painted a parking sign with an arrow and phrase in the corner that says “Dream Big,” for the flower shop. He told Hernandez he was going to spread the word that she allowed him to paint a piece on her shop.

Pomona continues to push past its stereotypes in small ways, and Overspray helps advocate for graffiti to be viewed on the same level as other art forms.

“I believe we are enriching the community by giving local artists a space to come and get their paint,” Manriquez says. “Illegal or not, I believe in illegal art, I love illegal art. Just because it is illegal doesn’t mean it makes it less of an art form than something you would see on a canvas.”

Larger yet simpler graffiti pieces tower over the smaller, more intricate tags below near the railroad tracks along First Street in Pomona. “Keep your hopes up Pomona” is one of the phrases painted on the walls parallel to the train tracks.

Larger yet simpler graffiti pieces tower over the smaller, more intricate tags below near the railroad tracks along First Street in Pomona. “Keep your hopes up Pomona” is one of the phrases painted on the walls parallel to the train tracks.

Cargo trains pass along First Street in Pomona, with each train car covered in graffiti art. Some are simple tags but some carouseled cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny from Looney Tunes. Freight trains are commonly used as a canvas by graffiti artists because of the empty lots where the shipping containers are stored at night.

Cargo trains pass along First Street in Pomona, with each train car covered in graffiti art. Some are simple tags but some carouseled cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny from Looney Tunes. Freight trains are commonly used as a canvas by graffiti artists because of the empty lots where the shipping containers are stored at night.

Sarah Van Buskirk

Sarah Van Buskirk is a senior journalism major at the University of La Verne.