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Friday, April 27, 2012


The Blue Ridge Parkway has been closed along the Air Bellows section a couple years for extensive repairs. This hasn't stopped the local teenage artists. The urge to art goes on. I went to see the tunnel through the overpass just slightly south of the Air Bellows Overlook. For many a year, narry a spot of paint had been put on the walls inside the tunnel that is as long as the road is wide. One year in the 80s somebody put some spray can markings on a wall. In a very short period of time, a summer, the whole interior was covered with names, sayings, words, squiggles, whatever. It became more and more interesting as it filled up, then layers on top of layers. Somebody in Air Bellows ratted on a guy he caught spraying in there. Parkway made him paint a solid gray color on top of the art work that was becoming more interesting with time. All that did was start a new canvas. More colors accumulated and more words, cartoon figures, professions of love and lust, all of it spontaneous and more or less random. Like the subway cars in New York, this open-air museum is site-specific, free admission, open 24-365.

The walls in the tunnel have been painted over by Parkway authority several times by now. Every time it starts getting really good, when several layers have made what I call Pollock Punk, a layer of dark brown or dark gray paint returns it to empty canvas. It's not many days before words and images begin again. In the early years several images like spray-can profiles or cartoon face, a stick figure. In the recent years the images have faded away. It's almost all words now with the occasional image, like the man with the watering can. I've been concerned that the Parkway maintenance people might feel compelled to paint over this most recent surface that has been on there 3 or 4 years in the growing. I wanted to get some pictures of it's colors before they paint over it again. I'd like to see the Parkway let it go and never paint over it. They may be responding to calls from Air Bellows people who hate the art in the tunnel. They complain every time they see it. They hate the Museum of Modern Art too, so what do their complaints mean? Nothing.

I say, Allow art. Rural America has no contemporary art museums; nobody is interested in art except for discount-store prints. There's not even curiosity about art. Television honors no art except occasional PBS for the few. When a painting by a dead artist goes for 150 million at auction, everybody complains that a work of art can have such value. Like eco-philosopher Henryk Skolimowski said, Life is short, art is long. Only a very few historians know who the bankers were in Renaissance Florence, but the artists of the time and place are well known unto this day. Teenagers with all their hormonal activity, not far from childhood, in the time of enormous ego development, the kids need moments to express self, to say in public, I AM. That's what these spray-can scrawlings are saying on the tunnel walls, each one in his and her own way, thus making it infinitely varied. When I stand in the tunnel with the camera looking at the two walls, the colors juxtaposed without conscious placement show me the Dada ideal in art, an absolutely spontaneous Dada expression. People who don't know each other write their names and statements on top of other expressions as if they weren't there. I feel like it is an important spot in a community to have a place where teenagers can make their spontaneous art expressions, a place chosen by them high on the mountain where they can shout for all the world to hear: I AM.


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