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Chaka, long-lost L.A. tagger-artist, to have first legit art show

March 28, 2009 | 10:45 am

Chaka Tag! After more than a decade out of the limelight he enjoyed as L.A.'s most prolific and most wanted (by the police) graffiti artist, Daniel Ramos, better known by his nom de can, Chaka, will have a chance to be "it" again.

Now in his mid-30s and living in Bakersfield, Ramos (left, in a 1994 photo) is scheduled to reemerge April 25 -- not to re-spray his block-lettered signature on such past targets as the Golden Gate Bridge, the walls of Disneyland and untold L.A. freeway signs and overpasses, but to mount his first solo art show. Dubbed "Resurrection," it will be on view at Mid-City Arts, a new gallery that's an adjunct to 33third, an art supplies shop catering to practitioners of graffiti and other forms of street art.

Ramos was 18 when police caught him pen-handed in November 1990, using a marker to scrawl "Chaka" on a traffic light pole in Lincoln Heights. The authorities alleged that the wispily built kid who grew up in the  Aliso Village project had left his mark in more than 10,000 places, resulting in more than $500,000 in property damage.

Ramos, who took his spray name from a furry character on the mid-1970s fantasy television series, "Land of the Lost," had been pinched plenty of times before as a juvenile, but having reached the age of majority he was sentenced to three years' probation and 1,560 hours of graffiti-cleanup duty.

Chakamural His MO, according to an account he gave police, was to work an 11 p.m.-to-5 a.m. shift, armed with black and silver spray paint -- seven cans hidden in a backpack. By the mid-1990s he claimed he'd found religion and tried to translate his creative drive to legit wall murals (right). But further run-ins with the law ensued, and Ramos/Chaka last appeared in the pages of the Los Angeles Times in October 1998, when he was sentenced to 15 months in jail for stealing three pairs of Nike shoes from a Mervyn's department store, violating his probation on previous offenses.

He owes his comeback attempt to Medvin Sobio, who runs Mid-City Arts, the gallery that opened in September. Sobio, 33, said he spent a year asking around in tagger-crew circles if anybody had a clue what had become of Ramos. He finally traced a trail to Bakersfield and found the erstwhile Chaka around New Year's, earning a living painting murals on the walls of small businesses.

"I just wanted to reintroduce him, bring him back out," says Sobio, who has fond memories of seeing "Chaka" festooning the cityscape while he was growing up in Los Angeles and Gardena. "We hope this can help him get reintroduced back into the scene where he belongs."

Sobio asked Ramos to revisit the style he used during his tagging days -- "I told him, 'Do what you did back then, taking it back to that time to give people a piece of history, a taste of what was.' "

Note to the constabulary: This time the plan is for Ramos to be spraying on canvas rather than on unauthorized private and public property. Sobio says the show will consist of 20 to 30 new, graffiti-like paintings, hung on walls that Ramos, now billing himself King Chaka on the exhibition's poster, will decorate in his back-in-the-day way.

One more thing: Sobio says he asked Ramos if it was true that he really spritzed his tag on more than 10,000 illicit surfaces. "I was going to call the show '10,000 Chakas.'  He didn't want to call it that; he told me it had been more than 40,000."

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Daniel "Chaka" Ramos poses in front of one of his murals in 1994. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / For The Times. A mural from Ramos' religious period in 1994, created for a Lancaster church. Credit: Bob Carey / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (38)

It is nice to hear that he turned his life around and became an artist. Now all the property owners that were defaced with his "CHAKA" tagging, should tag their names on his work.

I do recall hearing in the news years ago after he was caught, he was in the criminal court elevator tagging again.

If we only lived in a societ where taggers got a huge tatoo of their tag on their face tagging would most likely stop.

This work is not lame why cover it?

Is this coverage of a tagger as an artist attempt to create controversy? What other motive could there be? The work in the photos looks like the work of a twelve year old who started his "career" as an artist yesterday. Lame. There are so many great artist in this town why cover one that puts out poorly concepted and hastily rendered junk like this?

40,000 Chakas huh? He should be thrown in jail one day for each one.


Back in the day he was a street legend. I remember hearing that Chaka tagged on a satellite before it was launched. And on the witness stand when he was in front of the judge.

I wish him luck in his transition to the art world. Though I bet there would have been a better market for his work before Wall Street imploded. Those guys are the real criminals.

Lame content, weakly executed, not worth the canvas its painted on.
The only Chaka that ever mattered was a Zulu King, not some ghetto tagging fool.

Great - let's celebrate an "artist" that has defaced hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal and public property while contributing to the overall dilapidation of neighborhoods. Next up: "Killing of 4 Oakland PD officers a response to police injustice."

Nice to see some talentless guy who made his name defacing property get attention while the rest of us artists don't get any publicity. Didn't they throw him some free art scholarship too? I did 4 years in the miltary to get my schooling. Maybe I should start tagging too.

"CHAKA" was such a legend back in his heyday of early to mid-90s that the video for Nirvana's smash hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" features the drum kit with the "CHAKA" tag on it.

I too remember when KTTV (Fox 11) aired the story of CHAKA and after he was sentenced for vandalism, he tagged CHAKA on the roof of the criminal court's elevator.

And you know, it would only be comeuppance for Ramos if during his art show, someone spray painted something on his work. I mean, art comes in layers, right?

As a former L.A.U.S.D. art teacher for nearly 25 years, now retired, I look back at the untapped talent that my students had. I taught in what would be considered the hood, at Horace Mann Jr. High School, near Western & Florence. The code name for this area is "urban". My students won many honors and scholarships. Unfortunately youngsters in the "hood" are usually recognized for the negative rather than the positive images or accomplishments by the media to the point that the population at large has associated this area with gangs, etc. A lot of that image is media hype. When my students won honors and were transported in a limousine wearing suits and nice dresses to pick up their awards the media ignored this potential story. Why do I mention all of this? It is because there is talent that is untapped and unrecognized in the "inner city". I have seen graffiti art that is akin to that of a Picasso or other famous name. I do not condone graffiti and despise tagging as much as any other property owner, of which I am one, however I would like to see a would be artist directed in a positive direction not scorned.
Although I wonder when I see this so-called Chaka now being recognized as a "legitimate" artist and all of the thugs who have become rich and famous , what has become of our value system, I still see potential talent in the least expected amongst us and my instict is to nourish that talent. I also agree however that those who vandalize , deface property need to be taught a lesson and I am in favor of those taking responsibility for their misguided actions by accepting their karma and helping to clean up the city by serving community service, ironically cleaning up the work of taggers. These taggers remind me of what dogs do to mark their "territory" except they use a spray can instead of lifting their leg to make their mark.
With our country so consumed with celebrity due to the success of the mass media in brainwashing the "sheeple", most everyone has become caught up in the syndrom of wanting to be rich and "famous". Chaka has taken this form of mental illness to the extreme. I must admit however that I do see potential in the art work shown by Chaka in this article. I would like to see him turn his life around and become a positive and not negative role model. I hope however that tagging does not become the pathway to fame. by the way there is a difference between tagging and graffiti art. Carmelita Pittman

Has Ramos reimbursed the County for its labor and materials expenses in painting over his tagging? If not, no one should be sponsoring an exhibit unless moneys will be garnished by the County.

God I have not heard that name in years. I remember when the show "In Living Color" did a skit where someone was wearing a fur coat I think that had Chaka spray painted on it.

This is kid was a legend and it is nice to see that he is still around and trying to make a name for himself in the art world legally.

You people need to give the man a break.. I mean he was a kid for gods sake when he was doing this during some of the most violent times in los angeles.

He is a grown man and its nice to know that he is still alive and trying to do it right this time.

Chaka is the true meaning of "Urban Legend."

I will definitely be there for this. Its art people so dont take it so seriously. if you were not here during that era, then you have no right to speak on it. L.A. in the late 80's and early 90's was a whole different animal then the disneyland world it is today.

Thats great for Chaka!! He always was a talented cat. His succes is well deserved. People dont understand -> this guy is a very humble person. That alone makes him a great humanbeing. Peace

OKAY... GO GOR IT!!!...'tag' on his pieces at the show...u'll get caught, pay the consequences...go to PRISON...maybe for a few ... (lets see how u survive that?)... and then... what? ...then what? ...balance?


...quit hating 'cuz ur not famous, my brothers and sisters!!! ...appreciate the progressive essence of turning Negatives into Positives...

The L.A. times has been covering Chaka for years so why is everyone so but hurt about him going ligit and getting coverage for it? In N.Y.'s gallery scene of the early 80's you had people in art shows who's names were written all over town and on the subways i.e. Basquiat, Keith Haring, Futura 2000, Lee Quinonas ( who has a piece hanging in the Whitney, by the way ). People can never open their mind when it comes to the arts regardless the medium. Art is evocotive and provocative, no one seems to grasp that ideal. The guy is going ligit and it seems as though many are upset about it.
Many of you that are upset should refocus your energy on combating the visual polution the billboard companies are forcing on us and not some artshow in west L.A.
By the way congrats to Danny...

that gus the bomb

CHAKA did things that no one else could or will ever do, that is why he gets the coverage. He did some damage, but he also served his time so lay off him. After the graffiti artist from NY, KAWS, show did so well here in LA....selling a piece for $100,000, and a line around the corner to get in.... GUARANTEED our West Coast graffiti LEGEND will sell big! If you can, get yourself a piece of this movements' history. If you can't, get yourself enrolled in a university and start toward a career where you make enough money that you can afford one of these "street" pieces. Or just get yourself some cans and a grappling hook and try to outdo the king. Oh, and if you hate this type of art, don't read about it or go to it, simple as that.
Heros one, MBkrew, 209310562, out.

Graffiti can be looked at in two ways: creatively, and daringly. That is to say, how good it looks, and where its at. The people who are complaining about the apperance of some of his stuff don't realize the other half - he put it up everywhere and anywhere, lots of the spots being impressive. And to society, yes, that is criminal. But among tagger circles, that's what makes a legend.
The illegal appeal is part of it. Artists can't show some image that goes against the grain to be controversial anymore. When impressionism started, critics abhorred it. It was horrible. Well, now its kinda hard to make something stand out like that. So, what more controversy can we make than to throw it up where it shouldn't be? Its a laugh at society - you'll pay for an 'artist' to paint a wall of a school, but when a water tower gets 'defaced' by a similar image, the artist becomes a 'criminal'. but at the same point, there is a lotta crag out there (crap tag). People who scrawl some illegible swear word on a wall.
And for the record, a famous graffiti artist named Banksy once said: "Is graffiti art or vandalism? That word has a lot of negative connotations and it alienates people, so no, I don't like to use the word 'art' at all. "
So now Chaka has a gallery. well why not. Sure, it goes against that underground feel, its a sell-out. Well, for better or for worse, we all have a price. And you know, considering it took Chaka $500,000+ damage, and countless community service hours, hey, he has all the right in the world to throw some stuff up on canvas and finally proclaim that Chaka is king.







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