‘Smear’ graffiti artist arrested
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.
-- 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