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Artists find expression at street level

Tom Lucero, 26, has been drawing since he knew he was right-handed. In August, the tall, bearded artist moved to Jamaica Plain from Bakersfield, Calif., to pursue his dreams of becoming a rapper and going to the Massachusetts College of Art on Huntington Avenue to study animation.

He and his girlfriend, Veronica, make up the hip-hop duo Unorthodox.

And while Lucero admits he can't afford art school, he hopes that one day all the time he spends framing photos and art at the Big Picture in Needham will pay off.

The fact that, as he says, he draws all day long is evident in every piece of art the self-taught artist has created, much of it influenced by urban graffiti.

His portfolio includes carefully shaded pencil renditions of masterpieces of the Renaissance, his favorite artistic period. It also includes realistic street cartoon characters, tattoos, and the warped lettering that is a staple of graffiti. "I don't know any technique," he said. "Everything I can see, I manipulate, and I can do."

For tuition money, Lucero may not have to look further than the hand-painted shoes that sold, some for more than $300, on a rainy Monday night at the Middlesex Lounge in Central Square. His shoes with graffiti lettering on the sides appeared to be every bit the equal of those that sold for much more.

Snek Atak, the sneaker showcase in Central Square, attracted artists whose medium is graffiti and street art, a discipline that combines semidistorted realism and aspects of sign painting. The event was the brainchild of Kerry Simon, 28, owner of Harvard Square clothing store Proletariat. Snek Atak was a coming out party of sorts for some of the brightest underground street artists.

Graffiti, long a sign of urban decay, is becoming a profitable industry. Shoes, hats, and shirts are created by artists for customers who want something original.

"Graffiti is personalized," said Aeon, a 20-year-old Colombian native and part of Rekloos.US, an international artists group, as he showed off some of his hand-painted hats and shoes.

Aeon said that in Colombia everyone from politicians to soccer players wears his apparel. Now he and the Rekloos.US crew plan to take Boston by storm, showing off pieces at Hoffa's on Mt. Auburn Street in Cambridge March 26-29.

The sneakers on display at Snek Atak featured baby blues so smooth that the shoes looked as if they had fallen from the sky. Oranges and greens splattered high tops that featured both cartoons and graffiti-style lettering.

"I love art," Rob Bennett, 29, a North Cambridge designer, said of why he was at Snek Atak.

Mike Lee, 30, and partner Drew Schill, 22, both from Cambridge, are also members of the Rekloos.US crew. They helped put together the show, and their work included women's dress shoes decorated with cartoon characters.

Lee said that it is important for graffiti artists to find legal ways to express themselves.

As for Simon, he is planning a show featuring skateboards soon.

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