By Sophie Cannon, news correspondent

The graffiti artists of Boston were out in the open this Sunday at the first annual Off the Wall event at the South End Open Market.

“Boston has a tremendous amount of artists that are out there, but it’s an underground scene. It’s not like New York or Los Angeles where they are out and about,” Chris Masci, founder of the South End Open Market, said. “Our focus was to get them out and give them as much positive exposure as possible.”

The South End Open Market is usually home to local craftsmen, food trucks and live music, but for the first time ever, it extended the invite to local graffiti artists. Huge pieces of blank plywood were hung on the surrounding fence lining the borders of the marketplace, with each designated to one of the many artists. At around 1 p.m. the artists picked up their spray cans and the audience settled in to watch the artistic outpour, some viewers bringing folding chairs or taking a seat on the pavement in front of the artists.

“Graffiti is a tough word to actually come up with a definition for, because there are so many different types,” Boston graffiti artist, Brand “Brandalism” Rockwell, said.

The art ranged in style, including, but not limited to, pop art, abstract shapes with vivid colors, cubism, hyperrealism and traditional bubble letter graffiti. Taking around four and a half hours, each artist finished with a complete work of their own, marked with their graffiti name and #offthewall.

“Modernism, cubism, influences from cartoons, political influence, etcetera, every artform you can think of somehow found its way into graffiti,” Brian Life, a graffiti artist from Boston, said. “It’s a mixed bag of tricks. But there are no tricks when it comes to grabbing a can and working with colors and shapes and making something drab and boring or decrepit and corroded and adding color and brightness.”

This event was not only a fun time for the public to watch the artistic process, but also a statement on the public’s view of graffiti as an artform. The South End Open Market gave voice to underground artists in the hopes that the stigma surrounding graffiti would have some daylight shed on the subject and illuminate existing stereotypes.

“I think that graffiti is really cool and is on the rise because of Banksy and JR,” Christina Allan, a third-year interaction design major attending the event, said, referencing the popular English and French graffiti artists. “I think that people are opening up to graffiti as an art form rather than destruction.”

This open mindset towards graffiti as art informed the event. Crowds formed to look at the finished and in-progress work. Photographers, bloggers and writers flocked to the canvasses and bystanders exchanged words of praise for the work they were seeing. However, the stigma surrounding graffiti was still present and a hot-button item for conversation.

“For the most part, I can make a damn ugly thing look beautiful, and that’s what we like to do,” Life said. “In an ugly situation, like the unfortunate stereotype graffiti has right now, I hope that we just stimulate beauty out of somebody where they cannot deny that they smiled or they felt something and they felt okay about it. Because it’s really okay, it’s just paint. There ain’t no guns, there ain’t no bullets, there’s no violence, it’s just color.”

The event’s goal was to bring graffiti out of the darkness and into the light of day. For both the artists and the founders of the event, this goal was achieved, as evidenced by the smiles and praises of the thousands of people who came out for the five-hour show.

“There is a wealth of talent in the area, huge, and a lot of people just don’t know about it, so that’s why we created this event, to bring them out,” Masci said.

In response to a turnout of over 3,000 people, the organizers of Off The Wall announced that it will become an annual event, taking place at the end of September.

“Looking at the crowd, I think the impact speaks for itself,” Rockwell said. “I really think that we need to see more, bigger pieces, more walls, more people. Because we are people too, we’re not vandals or trouble makers, we all have families and careers and we also love to paint. You can’t govern something like this. You can’t define it. It’s just the love of life and being able to portray your thoughts in a painting is tremendous.”

Photo by Lauren Scornavacca