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Saturday, November 1, 2014

GRAFFITI ART TODAY

air bellows outdoor art museum

Saw another documentary today about graffiti artists called BOMB IT. It concerned the people who paint what we associate with graffiti, signatures in spray paint, names written in ornate paintings like on the sides of NY subways recent in the past. Evidently, the city has found a way to wash the paint from exterior and interior walls. It followed the people doing this graffiti, largely thugs, though sometimes just outsiders, who are bullied by the thugs. Some of it is gang related. Some is beautiful and some is hideous. The filmmaker went through NY and LA, then to London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Sao Paolo, to look at the graffiti art in these places. In LA, a man has taken it on himself to take a bucket of paint and a roller to graffiti on walls and dumpsters in his neighborhood. When one appears, he covers it. He found when he covers them up, the graffiti people go someplace else. The people doing the graffiti do it as an act of defiance, by their own admission, outsiders, people who want to get back at society. They call it a war. They are "bombing" society. They make a good point with billboards everywhere, ugly, advertising junk. Some of them say what they are doing is beautiful, some say it is meant to be ugly. I'm of both minds about it. Some of it is beautiful and some of it is ugly. I have to say I agree with the city of New York for washing off the graffiti. Their reasoning was that it made the subways look gang infested, made them into frightening places. The graffiti covering everything, inside and outside, does have a threatening association. I concur. The subway cars without the graffiti do feel safer. And I have to say the man in LA cleaning up his neighborhood had a better looking area than parts where graffiti was on the sidewalks, lampposts, windows, cars. This kind of graffiti is largely an aggressive sharp stick in the eye to the society that shut them out by way of poverty. 

air bellows outdoor art museum

I came away from this one feeling dirty, like I needed a shower. One I saw a couple weeks ago, called, BEAUTIFUL LOSERS, concerned graffiti artists who wanted to do interesting visuals with graffiti and it bloomed for them into an art form. It was punk style. These kids, too, were outsiders, though not so much from poverty and gang neighborhoods. They were outsiders because they could not find it in themselves to be fake enough to fit in. It appears all the graffiti is about saying, I AM. I found Beautiful Losers inspiring in a creative, artistic way. I found Bomb It more or less depressing. I was glad when it was over. I don't deny those people and I don't say they're invalid. I say they are as valid as any. It's just that they failed to satisfy my personal taste. When I in late teens, I'd have wanted to be right there with them, defacing, vandalizing, "bombing" the society I resented. I believe I'd have gone the way of the punkers who thought up clever things to say and illustrate, not in-yer-face assaults. Anger has its place in art, and I'm all for artistic expression of anger, a legitimate human experience that is universal; therefore, belonging in art. Some of the expressions of anger were beautiful, things I'd like to have on walls around where I live. However, to have one is to have many, and too many gets boring immediately. I have to agree with the artists in Sao Paolo, who said, look around at the city. It's ugly everywhere you look. They use colors and big graffiti to liven the place up, to add the people's touch. I came away from it without judgment. I can see the beauty in it and I can see the offensive in it. Like the kid in Sao Paolo said, the city is ugly anyway. If you see the graffiti as ugly, what's a little more ugly? If you see the graffiti beautiful, it enhances the ugly city. 

air bellows outdoor art museum

I am happy that the graffiti in the county is localized to one spot, and that spot is one mile from my house. All I have to do is take the Parkway and drive through the tunnel under the road. The walls were bare cement all the way along, then one year one kid spray-painted something, then another and another and soon the whole place was covered. The authorities painted over it. Another round of graffiti covered the painted surface in a short time. People that didn't approve would call the Parkway and say, "Why don't you do something about it!" The authorities painted it over again, and it came right back. One of my neighbors I'd have thought better of, caught a kid painting in there and turned him in, got him in trouble. To pay for his crime, the kid was forced to paint the whole interior of the tunnel, essentially put down a bare canvas. Another round of graffiti came. I took pictures of these different surfaces over time. Fortunately, since the withdrawal of maintenance funding for the Park Service by the republicans over the last 35 years, the authorities have not been painting over the graffiti. It is finally having a chance to evolve, layer on layer, to grow and be multi-leveled, colors on top of colors, all of it random, a living work of spontaneous Dada art. Yes, I have added to it. The black line around the big blue A is mine. I took a can of black paint and just highlighted a few colors. Didn't want to assert self onto it so much as add to it, give it a touch that was mine, a few lines in the whole, to participate. Years ago, in the early nineties, I wrote on it in yellow JANES ADDICTION RULES. Right away, somebody came along and painted a black line through it and wrote SUCKS in black over RULES. I loved it. Markings were put on top of it over time and eventually it disappeared under layers of new markings. 

air bellows outdoor art museum

I love about the tunnel that it constantly changes. It changes so fast through the summer months, it's new every time I drive through. I drive slow and look at both sides, sometimes stop and study it or take a few pictures when I have camera. I park outside it and go in on foot with camera to get as many pictures as I want. Invariably, a car comes through. Women look at me and smile uncertainly. Men look at me like I'm a fool. I don't give a shit. Its got nothing to do with them. It surprises me every time I hear somebody rant about how the kids oughta be stopped. I don't don't even go there. It can't be stopped unless you want to keep armed guards there around the clock. Paint over it and it comes back. I recall a time in my early years here when litter was out of control really bad. Periodically, I would take a walk around the three mile circuit of Waterfall Road and Air Bellows Gap Road carrying four big trash bags. I'd walk and fill one, leave it in place, walk and fill another, leave it in place, and fill another, leaving it in place, then drive around the circuit and throw the bags in the back of my truck for the dump. That's how I took care of litter. Some people from Vermont lived here a short time. They complained to me one day about all the litter, how the people doing it need to be stopped. I said, How? Well they oughta be. I said, You don't like it, pick it up and take it to the dump. They thought that a ridiculous solution. They wanted somebody punished. When it's that pervasive, it's not one person. It's a belief system. You have to change the belief system. Wish you luck. Unable to change a belief system, I accept graffiti as an artistic expression in a society devoid of aesthetic appreciation.

air bellows outdoor art museum
photos by tj worthington


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