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‘Smear’ graffiti artist arrested

Cristian Gheorghiu, a.k.a. Smear

A graffiti artist already being sued by the Los Angeles city attorney was arrested Wednesday on an alleged probation violation 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.

Cristian Gheorghiu, also known as Smear, was taken into custody around noon. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Vince Carter said Gheorghiu was arrested for a "probation violation" but would not provide specifics. He said the booking related to new information and "vandalism tools." Gheorghiu is on felony probation for a 2007 vandalism conviction.

Authorities searched his home Tuesday as part of a probation check, officials said. The Times article that day described his transformation from tagger to sought-after artist. His work has appeared in art galleries from Long Beach to Romania.

Gheorghiu's attorney, Peter Bibring, said deputies told him they planned to show that Gheorghiu's possession of graffiti tools was a violation of his probation and also merited new charges.

They seized markers, stickers, wheat-paste posters, art prints and a copy of Tuesday's Times, Bebring said.

"It raises extreme 1st Amendment issues," said Bebring, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "The government shouldn't be in a position of saying you can't make art from certain materials."

Gheorghiu, 34, told The Times on Tuesday that he was not home when deputies searched his house. He said they removed an artwork, some art supplies and his computer. He said he was ordered to surrender to deputies for an alleged probation violation related to possession of vandalism tools. Gheorghiu, however, said that a judge at a prior hearing had deemed his art tools exempt from the terms of his probation.

In 2007, responding to Smear graffiti on buses, sheriff's deputies raided his home. A graffiti vandalism conviction resulted in a 40-month suspended prison sentence, three years of probation and about $28,000 in restitution for scrawling on buses. Gheorghiu remains on probation because he has paid only about $5,000 of his fines. In a prior interview, he said he stopped vandalizing property after his 2007 conviction. He insists that his only artwork, which fetches about $2,000 to $2,500 a piece, is created in a studio.

But in 2008, when his old tagging crew was suspected of creating a quarter-mile-long "MTA" tag in the Los Angeles River, Gheorghiu was arrested in the ensuing Sheriff's Department sweep. He spent three days in jail in 2009. Charges were never filed.

Gheorghiu's arrest Wednesday comes as the city attorney is seeking a one-of-a-kind court injunction to bar him from profiting from his art. In 2010 the city attorney sued him and nine others. The suit alleges that they are all members or associates of Metro Transit Assassins, the "MTA" tagging crew.


Graffiti artist's past is tagging behind him

-- Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Cristian Gheorghiu, a.k.a. Smear, stands by one of his paintings during the opening reception for his show at the Buckwild Gallery in Mar Vista. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

Comments () | Archives (51)

"It raises extreme 1st Amendment issues," said Bebring, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "The government shouldn't be in a position of saying you can't make art from certain materials."

No, it does not. He's a convict, and apparently was released only on condition that he not possess vandalism tools. He apparently had.


"Gheorghiu's arrest Wednesday comes as the city attorney is seeking a one-of-a-kind court injunction to bar him from profiting from his art."

So much for capitalism and the First Amendment.

Keeping him from making an honest living from his art isn't right. What could possibly be better than turning him into a credible professional artist, who can pay his fine, and go on to be a positive force in the community. He could have a positive influence on other vandals, to show them that they can use their abilities to make art, without destruction. There is no rational basis for destroying him. The City Attorney should support his efforts to become an honest artist, and not thwart them.

He's 34 years old and still "tagging" public spaces?

Sounds like it's time for someone to face the music.

Let's see they want him to pay 'restitution' BUT they DONT want him to 'profit' from his work to PAY the restitution ? Hmm somewhere Ms trutanich must have a hand in this, it sounds SO ridiculous !!

Gotta love the mental imagery of LAPD officers as they "seized markers, stickers, wheat-paste posters, art prints and a copy of Tuesday's Times" -- sounds like they raided a kindergarten classroom! This is straight up ridiculous.

The District Attorney's Office and the LAPD are going after the wrong criminals. I'm not saying "Ooooh, leave these graffiti artists alone, they're artists, boo-hoo" - I'm saying: The fact that law enforcement goes after these kinds of "petty" criminals and not the heavier criminals who are ruining this city smells of corruption, not to mention the clear violation of citizen rights. They're lucky most of the city is too busy following the Lakers, American Idol and Charlie Sheen otherwise people might do something about these corrupt cops/DA's office.

If he's an artist, why can't he use canvas instead of private property to paint on? Poor baby didn't get enough attention while he was growing up.

This is truly amazing that the city of la, would try to bar him from making a profit. Sounds like someone is a little mad, they haven't figured out a way to make a profit off of his profit. The MAN always trying to keep the little guy down!

WOW! So now we have the Art Police? Don't we all have more pressing concerns? (Gaia's wrath on Japan (GOD be with them), the ugly economy, gas prices, the destroyers of real food at Mansanto, silly men running the city, NPR/PBS... what, no Huell Howser?, politicians making up their own rules, insipid men deeming the importance of maintaining capitalism over human life, our air quality after Friday)

And Lt. Deputy Dip is picking on a guy who seems to be doing the something as benign as painting and creating now, in his own studio... Since when is "Freedom of Expression" in your own home is a crime? This man can't profit from what it is he does to pay his debt to the city? Art! WTH? "vandalism tools." aka art supplies...
Oh brother!...Are you kidding me?

He hasn't finished paying his fine. So he needs to work as an artist. The cops just took away his means of paying the fine; they didn't arrest him for any specific recent act of vandalism. If they had caught him vandalizing, then by all means lock him up; but they didn't. So it sounds to me like they are just harassing him.

What good is prison and restitution he can't repay? He should be sentenced to 10,000 hours of community service - removing graffiti from our blighted landscape, every day for 8 hours per (1/2 hour for lunch). That seems fair and effective.

"Artist"? Eh, no....VANDAL.

Best day of my life!

"The government shouldn't be in a position of saying you can't make art from certain materials."

Uh, it seems they not only CAN, but MUST. Artistic liberty doesn't mean an 'artist' can use a handgun as his easel, thus claiming he doesn't have to register the handgun, or can violate concealed weapons laws, etc over concerns of violating HIS 1st amendment rights. You'd have to be doing a lot of huffing to swallow THAT line of reasoning.

Instead, Gheorghiu made a choice to commit crimes using the very same tools he uses to create art; even if nothing else, why would an artist disrespect the tools of his art in that manner? If he cannot be trusted to use those tools in a responsible manner, then it seems perfectly reasonable to limit their use, and take them away.

For example, a rock musician who holds band practice at 3 am can be warned, charged with disturbing the peace, fined, and in extreme cases, have their instruments confiscated. Does THAT intervention carry 1st amendment concerns, too?

Gheorghiu built a reputation on lawlessness (graffiti), and there's precedent law saying criminals cannot profit from their criminal behavior (e.g. Manson cannot receive proceeds by writing a book with bloody details of the murders); this guy is no different.

He worked hard to earn that reputation as a vandal - now he's reaping the rewards of his effort.



this kids art sucks... and his tagging style is horrible. to compare him to basquiat is a laughable

Dave, the issue is not what time or part of the day he can use his instrument the same provisions where set on Cristian. you cannot use those painting tools on the streets or on private property but the judge did allow him to use those tools to continue painting in his home. If you take a look at the reasoning in "Son of Sam" ruling and a few similar cases that followed just after you;d see that in fact it is a violation of his 1st amendment. its also a violation of my first amendment because you cannot control what i want in my painting. If i want a smear character painted on my canvas the 1st amendment allows me that. For the record Cristian has not tagged since his original arrest in 2006, he has obeyed his probation and paid some monies back to the city.

It's unfortunate how misguided some of the comments on here are. Let's break this down, straight forward and simple for those of you reading this articles and not understanding the gist of the case. First and foremost, for those of you complaining about the artist paying restitution - it is impossible for him to pay restitution, work towards an amends or provide any good service for the community while behind bars.

While this article neglects to mention to the full extent in which he has served time previously for his prior convictions, actively been involved in community service, and payed partial restitution (which, is our judicial systems way of saying you have done your share to repay and repair the damage you caused) this only serves as a further hinderance to the state of California in regaining any additional funding he may have been able to provide.

Seeing as how incarceration costs us, the tax payers money this is likely the last thing anyone wants. As yet another point of focus, this is, again a very poor attempt on the district attorneys part, in co-operation with the joke that is the Los Angeles police department to attempt to make up for the TREMENDOUS pie in the face that happened as a result of the L.A. River MTA scandal last year. Remember how they flexed their mighty muscles, gave official statements and then - by their own sheer lack of ability were unable to convict ANY DEFENDANT'S for the charges they rigged up? HILARIOUS.

Lastly, to be brief - there was NO violation of the artists probation. On top of the constant barrage of threats, mistreatment and raids by the Los Angeles police department (apparently being led by a police chief hell bent on being the real life equivalent of Leslie Neilson in Naked Gun) they found - art making tools - at an artists house! Wow. Groundbreaking. He already went to court for this, already got cleared last year on the same grounds, and with any luck will be able to counter-sue the police department for interference of business, 1st amendment rights violations and loss of wages - with emotional damage on top.

Good luck Chris, your friends, family and the public ( at least those with some redeeming qualities) support you.

what part of felony don't u uber-libs understand? does The Man have more important crimes to deal with? certainly but if this loser vandalizes public property then he committed a crime not to mention incurs loss of your tax dollars to remove this man's so-called. All u uber-libs would be screaming bloody murder if this guy put graffiti on your house or car. there's a word for that - Hypocrite. I bet there's not one poster here who know the origins of the word vandal to begin with.

Its so sad to see that so many of you have no appreciation for art. Street art is a form of art, just like music and art found in galleries.

I think most of you commenting have no idea what is at question, and are lacking alot of information. First of and foremost, SMEAR WAS NOT VANDALIZING PROPERTY! he was simply working from his home, on pieces to be sold in galleries. For years, this man has not been "tagging public places" but putting his work in galleries all over LA, such as C.A.V.E Gallery, and CREWEST.

I think that Smear should not have been arrested. Yes, he had markers, stickers, and so forth in his possession, but they were not found on him while on the streets. Smear is an artist, he uses those materials for his work.

What a coincidence that right after an article, LA Times (front page) on Tuesday, the police come out they arrest him?
It is completely uncalled for that someone gets arrested and stripped from his rights as an individual. His art is freedom of speech, his nickname is as known as his name, so it is unfair that this is taken away.

Why can't he just pay for his mistakes and be able to make a living in the art world? Stop looking at the past because you will never see the future!

So they are arresting him because he has graffiti tools but not because they caught him doing any tagging?

Reminds me of the minority report movie when they arrest people for crimes they have not done.

Great post. I recently stumbled upon a new Internet project for the arts that looks very promising, called Art of Me. The web address is http://artfme.com/ . It is not trying to sell anything, but rather it seeks to provide an online space where talented actors, musicians, writers, dancers, and other artists, can display and discuss their works, collaborate with each other, and interact with fans.

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