Judge says graffiti artist ‘Smear’ needs to set example for young vandals
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Thursday sentenced a graffiti artist to 13 days in jail and 45 days of graffiti removal for violating his probation, saying that his success as a tagger-turned-artist could help inspire young vandals to take their art into the studios.
Judge Marcelita Haynes sentenced Cristian Gheorghiu, also known as Smear, after he acknowledged he violated the terms of his probation for vandalism by posting photos of illegal graffiti on his website.
Gheorghiu was arrested March 16 on a probation-violation charge, a day after sheriff's deputies searched his East Hollywood home and The Times published an article recounting his rise from concrete walls to chic galleries. His work has appeared in art galleries from Long Beach to Romania. Gheorghiu's arrest came as the city attorney sought a one-of-a-kind court injunction to bar him from profiting from his art.
Calling Gheorghiu a "renowned" artist, Haynes said she wanted him to set an example for youngsters vandalizing the streets and show them that they can make a real life from art. She is requiring him to work 45 days on a graffiti clean-up crew alongside young taggers.
"You have lived that life," Haynes said. "You started off as a bad boy."
The judge also sentenced him to 13 days in jail, but because he has already served time behind bars, he was expected to be released Thursday.
His attorney, Blair Berk, persuaded the judge to narrow and better define the conditions of his probation stemming from a 2007 vandalism conviction. She said he would accept restrictions on his website during the remainder of his probation. She said links to street graffiti had been removed.
"He has created as an artist a life that is perfectly lawful," Berk said. "He doesn't want to be the target of law enforcement."
Haynes issued an order making it clear that Gheorghiu could have art tools and that they would not be considered a probation violation. He is allowed to possess them at his art studio, art shows and where he teaches. Sheriff's deputies have alleged previously that his art supplies were tools of graffiti.
Gheorghiu is on probation for tagging buses. He received a 40-month suspended prison sentence, but the judge Thursday agreed to end his probation immediately after he pays off a remaining $23,000 in restitution.
In a prior interview, Gheorghiu said he stopped vandalizing property after his 2007 conviction. He insisted that his only artwork, pieces of which fetch about $2,000, is created in a studio.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Street artist Cristian Gheorghiu in his East Hollywood garage studio. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times