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On the streets of the Capitol Hill Arts District, ‘contemporary artists’ and the Woo! Girl creator

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Criscitello (Images courtesy the artist)

“I hope no faggots look at me,” said the young man to his fellows. They were bar hopping through late-night Capitol Hill, strangers in a strange land. Funny thing: One faggot was looking at him — an angry one, local poster (and tattoo) artist John Criscitello. “I was like, ‘What are you doing here?’” he says.

Criscitello — middle-aged, lanky, more ink than flesh — offered this anecdote as an example of the drunk, out-of-town brats who are reportedly ruining the Hill’s nightlife — and believed by some to be behind increasing gay bashings. But the best in art comes from the worst in life. Criscitello turned this experience into a poster: a dude-bro swigging a brewski beside the words “No faggots better look at me.” Other pieces include drunk Kardashian lookalikes proclaiming “WOOO!!” and a sign informing would-be dilettantes that “WE CAME HERE TO GET AWAY FROM YOU.” (“You have the rest of the whole world,” Criscitello adds, referring to straight supremacists. “Try going to a club in Snohomish and doing some PDA with your [gay] partner, and see how that goes.”) After a Jagermeister mural at 12th and Pine was interpreted by many as glorifying homophobic violence with the tagline “Relive the Night You Became Legends On Cap Hill,” Criscitello responded with a “Legendary” dick pic.

Calling out gentrification is an overriding theme in his work, whether he is mocking rich kids who spend their Saturday night slumming on Cap Hill or tech yuppies occupying the neighborhood’s swank new apartments at Sunset Electric. It’s not that rich people aren’t welcome, he says; they just need to occasionally leave their gilded bedrooms and walk among the common people. The Hill has become a “young, straight kids’ drinking destination,” Criscitello said. “It’s like Mardi Gras every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. It breeds this sort of malaise in the people who actually live here.”

IMG_9695Though his work usually debuts along public thoroughfares, Criscitello says he doesn’t really think of himself as a “street artist” so much as a producer of “public art without a review.” And, also, a businessman. “I’m an artist and I’m old,” he says. “I’ve been doing this since the ’80s. I do this for political motivation, but I’m also a business. I like to eat.”

“I’m a capitalist.”

He’s not the only one. Just a couple blocks away from Criscitello’s studio is the Hill’s new supplier for street artists — or, as curator Liz Suman calls them, “contemporary artists.”

(Image: Art Primo)

(Image: Art Primo)

Combine a hardware store’s paint section with an art gallery, and you’ve got Art Primo: the Hill’s, uh, primo outlet for street art supplies that opened on E Pine earlier this year. The day I meet with Suman is the last for the surreal oil paintings, decorated skateboards, and “Only Death Is Certain” biker vest which line the walls around us; by the time you read this, a new sticker-themed show will be up. A projector perches overhead, and a winding staircase ascends into a second floor. In and behind glass counters, a legion of spray paint cans and paint markers are assembled like rainbow soldiers.

“They are obviously working toward the world of fine art,” says Suman, referring to both her clientele and her contributors. She’s quick to distinguish the work Primo displays from graffiti: while the quick-’n-dirty world of illicit scrawl has influenced contemporary art, she says, that world has transcended its roots, combining greater craft and more labor with a “narrative quality” that distinguishes serious work.

This distinction is not embraced by Criscitello. High art/low art is “a twentieth century thing that was wiped away in the ’60s,” he says. In today’s post-postmodernist art world, traditional categories are scrambled beyond recognition. “You’re not [lowbrow],” Criscitello says, “you just don’t want to read a book. You’re fucking lazy.”

Capitol Hill Arts District Celebration
Saturday marks the launch of the new Capitol Hill Arts & Cultural District, a campaign to promote the arts, artists, and art venues in the neighborhood. CHS wrote here about the program and its long road to existence. On Saturday, you can join the party and head out open houses around the area:

Capitol Hill Arts District Launch
Hugo House 1634 11th Ave
Doors open at 11 am
Speaking program at 11:30 am
Hear from Mayor Ed Murray; Councilmember Nick Licata; Office of Arts & Culture director, Randy Engstrom; Capitol Hill Housing Foundation Director, Michael Seiwerath and artist Amanda Manitach. A new group artwork curated by Amanda Manitach, demonstrating the vitality and vibrancy of Capitol Hill, will also be unveiled.

After the program, many Capitol Hill culture locations will host open houses in the early afternoon.

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58 thoughts on “On the streets of the Capitol Hill Arts District, ‘contemporary artists’ and the Woo! Girl creator

  1. The art district *sounds* good, but what is it actually going to do to protect the arts community? This can very easily turn into a joke.

    • The arts district allows Seattle to allocate grant money towards preserving the identity of the hill–that means working on branding that will hopefully signal the this is the historically LBGTQ part of town and bigotry will not be tolerated. It also means incentivizing developers to include art space and affordable housing in their buildings. The people planning it are all Capitol Hill residents and are aware that it must be implemented thoughtfully.

    • “The arts district allows Seattle to allocate grant money towards preserving the identity of the hill–that means working on branding that will hopefully signal the this is the historically LBGTQ part of town and bigotry will not be tolerated.”

      You got to be kidding me. So in other words, the grant money will be used to educate those who visit and move-in that bigotry is wrong? Maybe the grant money should be given to artists like Criscitello because they do a much better job educating and spreading messages than self-appointed art districts.

    • About a decade too late, innit? Perhaps there can be a museum of all LGBT members and artists/arts orgs that were already forced out before anyone thought there was something worth preserving.

  2. First, nice article. Second, I support the sort of reactions/outrage shown in John Criscitello’s work. The gentrification topic is too big to tackle here, but when it comes to idiotic/hate-filled behavior, every community everywhere should and can stand up to this in both big and small ways. For example, back in the day, the Capitol Club had a “no hats” policy. It didn’t seem like much, but it made a statement that their bar was not Tool Town. Doormen, bartenders and most importantly the owners of the various establishments on the Hill can have an impact by immediately 86ing assholes. As patrons and citizens, we can probably all do a better job at making sure those around us are safe and not threatened. The “gentry” should know this. Let’s see if they’re willing to support the communities they moved into.

  3. “Straight supremacists”. I gotta admit, that’s kinda catchy. I like it. I’m going to start using it.

    Nice artwork, keep it up.

  4. “WE CAME HERE TO GET AWAY FROM YOU.” Was one of my favorite pieces in the neighborhood; it was an amazingly concise and accurate statement that expressed the feelings many of us have about the most recent major influx of douchebags into the area at night. Thank you (and thanks for the article CHS!).

  5. Just like to say, I have a deep and abiding appreciation for both the work that defaced the Jager billboard and the giant Legendary veined penis blessing the light control box (now pasted over) at Madison & 14th, as well as the Love You Bro there. THIS is what the Hill needs: art that is absolutely in the face of the invasion of white yuppiedom that has come to populate the ‘hood. It not only sends a clear and distinct message but it’s also outrageously pretty and liberating to see. The best way to support it is to support the artist doing the work you like. Cheers & $$ to Criscitello! Now could someone do something about the giant idiot dog on the Chole building?

    • I guess you either don’t know, or don’t care, that gluing up “art” or posters on public property (such as electrical boxes) is illegal. It’s vandalism, and creates extra work for city employees who must (eventually) clean it up. I don’t have an opinion about Criscitello’s art, but I do think it should be displayed in compliance with City regulations, or in a private space.

    • @calhoun:
      Thanks for your concern: and let me set you on a project you can sink your teeth into: you know those A-boards real estate companies crowd the sidewalks with? Every single one of those is illegal. Every one blocking wheelchair access on the ramps at intersections, every one you have to step around when waithing for a light, every one, often hugely oversized and in the middle of the sidewalk. They’re there because the city claims they don’t have the money to enforce their own laws that clearly prohibit them. Chapter 23.55 – SIGNS “No sign shall obstruct or impair access to a public sidewalk,…” That’s why everyone can feel free to throw them in dumpsters, or at least make them flat on the sidewalk, so they can be stepped over. I’d like to kindly suggest that you direct your energy towards remedying a real problem that matters. Giant dicks over Jeger ads are ART.

    • I agree with you about the A-boards, and have done the things you suggest. I also have reported them to the City on occasion….not that it does any good.

    • Exactly how do you see “racism” in my comment? My criticism is of vandalism and illegal actions….nothing to do with race.

  6. I love his work and message and hope he keeps it up. Make more art (this goes for everybody)!

    @p-patch The corporate “Mexican” and “Belgian” and “dive” bars won’t 86 or refuse service to their bread-and-butter, no matter how obnoxious they are. Longtime Capitol Hill residents need to stop patronizing these places; they can’t stay afloat on Thurs-Sat business. At this point I won’t even meet friends or clients at any of the offending places; I come up with an excuse to go to Presse or Machiavelli or Poppy, etinstead.

  7. I admire John Criscitello and applaud his graphic work. It’s one thing to complain about the changing climate of Capitol Hill, but entirely different to approach it with bold creativity.
    During Belltown’s painful shift from artist community to county-wide nightlife destination in the 80s, some neighborhood clubs began staffing their doors in order to keep out the unwanted elements, keeping it safe for the local denizens…at least for a while.
    I find it difficult to imagine an establishment like Havana, or most other bars on the hill, succeeding with a ‘velvet rope’ policy, but it was nice to have the support of the businesses that had long profited from local customers.
    Just replace a few words and change a few names in the following article and you’ll have the story of mid-decade Pike/Pine.
    http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19921018&slug=1519229

    • THANK YOU for linking this article and drawing this parallel. As someone who’s lived on the Hill off ‘n’ on for almost 20 years, I sometimes have trouble feeling patient with the complaints about what’s happening now… I get all irked and think, YOU GUYS HOW IS THIS NEW?

      This kind of infiltration pretty much happens every decade. Less tolerant nightlife folks invade a cool neighborhood (Belltown in the early ’90s, Fremont in the early ’00s), things get frustrating, and then after a few years the neighborhood becomes uncool and the 21-year-olds stop going out there as much. It’s just the cyclic nature of nightlife.

      It absolutely sucks that it’s OUR neighborhood getting infiltrated this decade, and I’m absolutely glad folks are taking a stand about it… but this feels like a completely familiar pattern for those of us who have been going out for a couple decades.

  8. Also, the city and community council need to help take action against the haters. Hang rainbow flags down Pike/Pine and Broadway, encourage permanent artworks that send tolerant messaging (for LBGTQ, women and minorities) and push business owners to do the same. Put more patrols on the street and find funding for Q Patrol and LBGTQ plays, performances, readings, and events. When I moved here 23 years ago all of these things were clear and visible elements of the Hill. Everyone must work together to bring that spirit of tolerance back.

  9. Solid piece of writing. Keep it up.

    It’s nice to be reminded there are smart, strong, sensitive people in the world (and thankfully, the Hill) that stand up and move confidently forward in the face of a lot of the idiocy in society. Thanks!

  10. Thank you for such a positive and empowering article. It is the first time in a long, long time that I feel there is some hope of regaining a sense of community. Rather than thinking about moving away, I’m thinking about other things we can do to take back our neighborhood. I couldn’t agree more with alibumbayay’s comments. And thank you to Criscitello!

  11. For the first 7 years I lived in Seattle, I lived in Capitol Hill. Down on Melrose starting in ’96, then up on 17th, then later near the old Bauhaus coffee. I met my husband in 1999 through friends I knew on the hill, found out I was pregnant with my second kid by peeing on a stick at the brand new (at the time) Trader Joe’s.

    I’ve volunteered for HIV/AIDS awareness and treatment organizations, carried signs in defense of marriage equality, raised my kids to think it makes no difference who you love, and I write gay fiction. (For which, by the way, I regularly get fan mail from gay readers who say I’m helping to change the world.)

    But I’ve stopped going to Capitol Hill—why? Because last year I sat at my favorite table at my favorite bar, filled with people I considered friends, and saw a sign that read, “We came here to get away from you.”

    I’m straight. So I’m not welcome. Thud.

    I get that people on the hill want to get rid of the hipsters, and assholes, and the bridge and tunnel crowd (because of course all straight people live in the suburbs, according to popular lore), but when you make it clear you don’t want straight people around, you lose not only your enemies but some of your friends as well.

    Am I being hypersensitive? Maybe. But I’m no longer young enough to think I’m “one of he cool kids” and the signs can’t possibly pertain to me. I’m just a middle aged lady looking to have a gin and tonic on the nights I can get a break from my kids. I’ll stick to places I feel welcome . :/

    • I really don’t think that sign was aimed at you! My wife and I are middle-aged and still living on the Hill after 12 years, and I really don’t ever feel that way anywhere I go in the neighborhood.

      But–there really is a greater influx of horrible, dumb people late every weekend night. I’ve lived in view of a couple of pay lots where they park–usually five dudes or woo girls per car. TWICE in the past year I’ve heard/seen people firing guns in these lots, and have seen *lots* of 2 am fistfights and related drama. I’m sure you would agree it’s okay to want to “get away from” people like that.

    • Yes, you are being hypersensitive. I’m boggled that you’d think you’re the type being targeted by that message…it’s for the straight supremacists mentioned in article. Portraying it to be anti-straight is just idiotic.

    • you misinterpreted the message. i am a straight, late-thirties, professional chick who lives in and loves to go out on the hill. I have never felt anything but welcome here. please get over yourself and come on back! we need nice, non-douchey folks to take up all the barstools so there’s less room for the douchebags to whom the message was actually addressed.

      on the topic of this article – love the art!!! i get a real kick out of it everytime i see it, and the comments in this CHS piece make me smile.

    • Let me add my 2c worth too, Jen. No, it’s not you—you’re not the “YOU” we came here to get away from. Gaydar detects lots of things besides just who is or isn’t gay; mine can tell who the “YOU” is, and who it isn’t.

    • oh FFS. yes you are absolutely being hypersensitive. I can’t imagine anyone with the history on the Hill you’ve got thinking even for a second that poster pertained to them.

      Capitol Hill has always had plenty of straight people who “belonged”…. but getting all #notallstraightpeople after seeing street art borne of the realities of living here these days is an odd reaction for an ally.

    • I guess like everything, this art is open to interpretation. I read “We came here to get away from you” not to be a gay/straight thing so much as a freak/mainstream-yuppie-drunk-young people interloper thing. I’ve lived on the hill for 20 years and I’m not gay and I love what Criscitello is doing. Come back Jen.

    • jen.. you stooped coming to the hill because you read a sign you didn’t like ? yes .. really really hypersensitive.. mostly about your age and cool. you don’t have to be a ‘kid ‘to be cool or even considered cool. i’m 60 and don’t have this problem, why would you ?.no where has anyone said or implied that straight people were not wanted or needed and if you didn’t lean that from all your years of advocacy and activism, i’m afraid that you may not have learned much.

  12. @Jen

    You misread that sign. “We came here to get away from you” refers to the “straight supremacists”, the rich, privileged, gentrified crowds. The homophobs. NOT the gay allies, the artists, the blue collar residents that made this neighborhood what it is.

  13. I’ll bet the Woooo girl and the Bro both misinterpret those signs as a celebration of them – as that’s the world they live in

  14. i part time uber drive most friday and saturday nights, many of these people seem to view the hill as some sort of zoo. there have been numerous occasions when i hear them excitedly chattering in the back of my car telling an out of town friend about the “weirdos” they’re going to see tonight on “cap hill”. its taken every ounce of my willpower to not tell them what total ass holes they’re being, not sure how much longer I’m going to be able to hold back. whats most annoying is many of they types of people they’re referring to have been run out of the neighborhood so really what you end up with is bros looking at bros being bros. cool.

    • Maybe we could all pitch in on a big **WELCOME TO CAP HILL** sign…and stick it in Pioneer Square. They won’t be able to tell the difference.

    • “Zoo” is quite literal for these mouth-breathers. Hordes of them gawk like slack jawed apes at the gamers minding their own business at Gamma Ray Games. I’m not exaggerating. One witty fella (with the obligatory backward baseball cap and oversized pants, natch) pressed up his nipple to the plate glass to “shock” us locals. Anyway, I’m banking on the hope this is a generational thing. That is, when these tards start raising their broods in Bellevue and Mill Creek, they won’t have time to witlessly razz the Hill. Unfortunately, their squalling, un-vaccinated spawn will return to the Hill in their 20s to repeat the process. Some things will never change.

    • One can only hope the spawn of these parading hoards will have found another neighborhood to trash in the 2020’s – perhaps by then Georgetown will have become the new trendy location for binge drinking, displays of testosterone, and hooking up.

    • Jason, I’m not trying to be rude, but it seems a little hypocritical that you decry the kind of behavior you describe, yet you are personally profiting from them by driving them around in your Uber car. Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

  15. Very glad to get a spotlight on the artist of these posters. The WOO! girls poster on 12th/Pine is so perfect and makes me laugh every time I walk by it (especially if I’ve just encountered some bona fide woo girls in the Bway-to-11th stretch on Pike).

  16. As a young lesbian who just also happens to belong to a minority ethnic group, I can say that I’ve had a variety of experiences on Capitol Hill over the years, both good and bad. However, I do believe that those living on Capitol Hill are, for the most part, overly sensitive and generally behave like babies when it comes to certain issues. If you don’t like another’s company, leave the space or confront them or don’t frequent the place or report them or yadda yadda yadda. But, please don’t claim that your “freedom of whatever” is being challenged or threatened. Just do something about it and move on. The amount of complaining that I hear about a relatively safe and down-to-earth area is disgusting. If you want to complain about not having a gender neutral restroom or not having organic hemp seed soft serve vegan ice cream or being insulted by someone at a bar (a place where insults are to be expected, given that alcohol is served), please go try living on the streets or not having enough to eat or not having clean drinking water. Your problems are those of hipsterish Seattle, and not those of the rest of the world. Grow up and leave if you’re not tough enough to either make a change or to be grateful for what you do have.

    • I agree people are too sensitive. The “no faggot better look at me’ guy is a dick and deserves to be mocked. Wooo girls seem ok to me and besides the bars like customers with money.

    • Seriously. Try going to see a drag show in the middle of Bachelorette Party season. Just count the tiaras, feather boas, and little black dresses. They drop some serious coin. They help feed and clothe our Drag Queens. They’re annoying sometimes, but they can stay. :-)

  17. As a Capitol Hill resident since the 90s I’ve seen lots of change in my neighborhood. Still, I love it here (much more mid-week without the hordes of “tourists”).

    The posters are super neighborhood public art that I always appreciate. Glad to see the posters showcased and hope to see many more hilarious rifs on the state of our neighborhood invaders.

    Woo girls and the legendary cock are two of my favorites! More please.

  18. It has kinda gone both ways I’ve noticed. That’s why I have recently moved away from Cap Hill after 15 years. For one, the obvious…the bro’s and their loud mouthed female counterparts. They don’t behave. Secondly, the hill has been pretty crowded for a long time and the massive explosion of high end condo development is just too much.

    But…on the other side of things, I’ve been accused by Capital Hillites of being the high tech yuppie destroying the neighborhood. That’s only because I’m white, don’t have tatoos, and sometimes wear a collared shirt. I’m like excuse me? I’ve probably lived here longer than you have! I came to the hill in 99′ cause I’m gay, so it seemed like the right place, but that has all changed now.

  19. i don’t care what point you’re trying to prove; dropping the “faggot” bomb is just lazy. Stop perpetuating hate speech.

  20. I recently moved off the hill because of all the new homophobic visitors and attitude that Capitol Hill is a place to come and get trashed and misbehave. Not fun, and I love this artwork. Maybe the “woo girls” provide money to the bars, but they treat the gay clientele of the bars like zoo animals to be pawed at and observed as entertainment, not to be respected. Let them find some other place for their bachelorette parties.

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