The guy on the sidewalk sizes me up.
"You from the Boho?" he asks.
"Yeah," I say, as he swings around and opens the door. I pass through a cluttered lobby, and then walk into the biggest graffiti art show Santa Rosa has ever known, with over 40 artists collaborating on the walls of a vacant 4,000-square-foot downtown warehouse.
"I'll go get him," the guy says, disappearing past numerous cans of the spray paint and Mickey's variety, and I'm left with the aroma of aerosol in the expansive, high-ceilinged space, its walls covered in huge, beautiful murals.
"Hey," says Roman D'Argenzio, the curator of this wholly unique exhibit, "Out of Order," extending a hand. "Thanks for coming."
I should be thanking him. "Out of Order" has been the county's best-kept art secret for months now, and only after my visit will the address of the show be released. Combining the clandestine hush-hushness of a rave and a DIY mentality of a punk-house show, "Out of Order" has already obtained sizable underground cachet; today's sneak preview while the floors are still sticky and the art still unfinished is rare.
And with its staggering array of artists and breadth of style, the show more than delivers on its buzz. From floor to ceiling, it's like reading an issue of Juxtapoz in real time. Today, atop shaky scaffolding, Julia Davis puts outlines on a group of cannibalistic fish; in a nearby corner of the warehouse, Jared Powell evaluates a mural populated with misplaced eyeballs. Around the corner from a Ricky Watts mural are two more artists—but they don't want to be mentioned in the paper.
Standing in the center of all this, a show four months in the making, D'Argenzio allows himself a bit of satisfaction. "I'm proud of the whole thing," he says. "I'm proud of how it all meshed into one piece and all the artists respected each other. So many artists came in here not knowing what to expect, and a lot of them were blown away."
Some of the murals depict animals—there's a two-eyed raven overlooking a vortex; a breastfeeding wolf; a black-and-white terrier; an Andre-the-Giant-sized cat lovingly cradling a fish; owl-like birds by the artist known as Berds. Still others depict a comic-book-type fantasy: monsters, dildoes, naked women, Obama with his face ripped off, skulls, zombies.
Taken together, the collaboration has a staggering heft. "We must carry each other," typefaced in 3D on a large hallway wall, takes on an especially elevated meaning when surrounded by work from dozens of mostly struggling artists.
D'Argenzio is 26, with brawn beyond his years: a thick beard, plugs in his earlobes and a serious mind about art. A don of vacant buildings in Santa Rosa, he enjoys the cooperation of his father, real estate manager Dino D'Argenzio, who lets Roman utilize otherwise unused spaces. Until recently, he and partner Jimmy Hits filled these spaces as Kaleidoscope, a monthly transient party with DJs, breakdancers and live art.
When D'Argenzio put Kaleidoscope to bed, this building—the former Santa Rosa Printing warehouse—opened up. His ideas began to churn. He made some calls. And once word got around, participation began to snowball. D'Argenzio met all of the artists here, let them in, and sometimes, as in the case of two artists from Oakland, picked them up from the bus stop, brought in some mattresses and gave them free food and beer for two days while they worked.
It's the least he could do. "I didn't give anybody any paint, I didn't pay anybody, the whole show's free," he says. "All the artists are donating their time, paint and creativity."
All in all, "Out of Order" is legitimizing an oft-maligned art form—sometimes called "street art," sometimes called "mural art," all of it stemming from the graffiti world. On the eve of the opening, D'Argenzio takes delight in knowing the show will change people's minds.
"This is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in Santa Rosa," he says, looking up at the walls. "When people come in, they're blown away. My mother was, like, stunned."
'Out of Order' opens and closes on Saturday, May 25, at the former Santa Rosa Printing building. 575 Ross St., Santa Rosa. Free. 4:30pm–midnight.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the words "we must carry each other" as lyrics from the rock band U2. They are no such damn thing. We regret the error.