Graffiti art is probably not the first thing that crosses a person’s mind when they think of Onalaska, Washington. Situated halfway between Portland and Seattle, Onalaska is an unlikely location to hold one of the largest aerosol art events, the Annual Northwest Spray Day; a regional live painting event that since 2014 has been bringing together and showcasing of some of the best graffiti art talent in the Pacific Northwest. 

Every June artists from as far as Oakland to Vancouver, B.C. gather to create their aerosol-based artwork at three sites scattered around the small town: the abandoned waste transfer station, the old 300 foot-tall Carlisle Lumber Mill smokestack, and the Onalaska Middle School basketball playshed – a space totaling over 3,000 square feet.

Justin Boggs, the event organizer and once-Onalaska native, secured space around the small town from several local governmental and non-profit entities, raised money, and networked within his community to make this happen. He, along with several other graffiti artists and supporters, turned the once abandoned, dull, and un-notable structures into colorful, energized spaces marked with distinct personality.

Boggs and his family also did a lot of community outreach to raise money, even securing art donations to auction off. This year, Boggs parents even donated $1000 to the event; Boggs explained, “It wouldn’t happen without their support.” Boggs got permission from the Onalaska Volunteer Fire Department and Lewis County Public Works to access the main Spray Day venue, the abandoned transfer station. Local paint distributors Jerry’s Color Center and Rodda paint each donated 20 gallons of primer. Spray paint sponsorship comes from Silika Store (in Tacoma) and Ironlak. 

Boggs, now student at the University of Oregon in Eugene, described the main goals of NWSD as a way of bringing together and networking the best spray paint talent in the Pacific Northwest. He also wants to bring vibrant public art to his rural hometown community. “It’s a unique celebration of graffiti art that helps regional artists gain exposure within the global graffiti community. There’s also something special about the atmosphere of so many talented artists gathering in one place during one day and painting all at the same time next to each other. It produces a higher quality of work,” explained Boggs.

Amidst the sound of rattling and hissing aerosol cans, non-stop hip hop beats, and sizzling BBQ, graffiti artists took center stage, painting their unique characters and stylized monikers in an impressive array of styles and techniques.

The basketball court play shed at Onalaska Middle School is the largest of the three painting locations, displaying 12-15 individual pieces of graffiti art each year.

Local parents, children, and students visit the event throughout the day to watch the artists transform the structure’s formerly blank aesthetics into something quite notable. Many onlookers seemed to appreciate and admire the efforts of these local and visiting artists. They not only helped bring the community together for this event, but they also provided kids with positive examples of how transformative this style of art can be if you put your mind to it (and ask for permission). It takes a lot of time, skill, and diligence to master the medium of aerosol. In a time when the school’s art programs have been cut due to budget constraints, this town needs all the positive art outlets it can get. 

Overall, Spray Day was a community effort, big and small. Graffiti artists throughout the region worked together to provide an outlet for their craft, a legitimate modern art form that’s still sometimes feared, repressed, and regulated in nearby cities like Portland and Seattle.

On a smaller, but no less significant scale, Boggs and other local organizers, were able to give a special gift to their hometown, one that’s plagued with boredom and poverty. They were able to bring these spaces to life in a style that they and the town’s youth can connect and identify with. The art not only brightened up the often grey and rainy town, it also sparked imagination and interest throughout the region. A random town off I-5 is now a Cascadian graffiti art landmark. Next year, Boggs is considering changing the location of Spray Day, bringing this gift of art to another deserving site. As with graffiti, there’s always the urge to go bigger and better.

2014 Northwest Spray Day Artists:

  • Syhis – Vancouver B.C.
  • Pest – Seattle, WA
  • Isrek – Seattle, WA
  • Noise – Seattle, WA
  • Sim – Olympia, WA
  • Rite – Portland, OR
  • Sens – Portland, OR
  • Live DJE – Portland, OR
  • Kango – Portland, OR
  • Grime – Portland, OR
  • Dr. Greed – Portland, OR
  • Ashley Montague – Portland, OR
  • Case12 – Portland, OR
  • Trips – Salem, OR
  • Akses – Salem, OR
  • Conus – Eugene, OR
  • Frey – Oakland, CA

2015 Northwest Spray Day Artists:

  • SYHIS – Vancouver B.C.
  • MERLOT – Washington
  • KANGO – Salem, Oregon
  • They Drift – Seattle, Washington
  • Jeremy Nichols – Portland, Oregon
  • ISREK – The Universe
  • Ashley Montague – Portland, OR
  • EYESR – California
  • UTER – Oregon/California
  • ZAFOS – Washington
  • VIDEO – Washington
  • TASK – Washington
  • HARLEM – California
  • PEST – Washington
  • 179 – Washington
  • JRATS – Washington
  • SEZUR – Washington
  • RITE – Oregon
  • SABLE – Oregon
  • CKOS – Oregon
  • CONUS – Oregon
  • FONE – Washington
  • COMBO – Vancouver, WA

All Photos © PSAA