Atlanta painter and tattoo artist Miya Bailey reaches for a photo album on the floor of his Castleberry Hill studio and opens it to a random page. The album’s full of photographs that Bailey shot in the early ’90s of graffiti pieces layered so dense on wall after wall, they form a continuous texture, an endless tapestry. There’s prototypically East Coast wild style writing with its sharp angles and indecipherable lettering, but also 3-D bubble letters and exaggerated, cartoon characters all in searing neon colors.
“That’s the Civic Yard,” he says, casually shuffling through other sketchpads, books, and drawings heaped on the floor. “Everybody used to go down there, man. Everybody. It was a tourist attraction.”
The Civic Yard at Peachtree and Pine streets once served as Atlanta’s legally sanctioned space for graffiti artists to show off their skills and practice their craft. Not only was the spot ground zero for Atlanta’s graffiti culture, it was also arguably the center of hip-hop’s visual identity south of the Mason-Dixon Line. According to Bailey, the Civic Yard was always abuzz. “Twenty-four hours a day, you would see somebody down there,” he says. Graf writers could spend hours on a work only to come back a few days later and find it completely covered over by another piece – bigger, stronger, brighter.
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