Thursday, September 2, 2010

The City Writes

and in so many cases, it's vandalism. The institution versus the vernacular. But I must say, it interests me.
Two wars: Chikin versus the 8, and the taggers versus. the businesses that try to keep graffiti-free.

Close to this, Lil Ray 77, Ed, and Ally left their mark. The other two were more interesting, but Ed is the one that reads, so Ed you get. I have a bunch of these, from different places. Some proclaim love. Some look almost like the credits on the side of an old bank building. Yet we walk on them. I think besides the fun on breaching the pristine, there is a desire for being known, remembered. I also think the ancient impetus to art--as in horor vacui, the fear of the open as an impulse to decoration--is a part of this universal expression/annoyance.

Here is a sign where the vernacular and the official meet beautifully.

A Vietnamese family runs this Mini-Mart. The son is clearly headed to greater things, but has helped out all summer. This is a gorgeous sign, and I imagine he made it. However, it's silly, because if people can't park, then they can't come in and buy Gummi grapes, Scotch shortbread, or Vietnamese iced coffee, am I right?


Not a gorgeous shot. However, the top sign tells us that volunteerism still exists: it's a backpack drive for returning schoolchildren.  The second sign: stolen bike. I once saw a bicycle courier rip off a bicycle tire in 30 seconds with one tool. Unbelievable. I flagged down a police officer and gave a description, but no, the guy was long gone. It was a fun conversation though.
The third one: Math tutoring for money. Somebody please hire me. They've even taken the risk of putting their phone number out there.

Right next to that, someone possibly desperate has written on the side of a traffic-sign utility box. This box frequently serves as a communications center, as you can see. But this is in pencil--a schoolchild, maybe?--and starts out, "To All my Friends" and then becomes illegible. Sad. It's so small in the picture (along the top rim) you'd need Federal help in parsing it out.


Then there's BYPO. He writes perfectly legibly. I think with a Sharpie. I've seen a few others of these.
This is already covered up--didn't even take a week. For him, I think it is performance. Does he keep a notebook with his poems in them? Or are they just ephemera, like all the rest of this?

It's the life we know: some people are better at communicating than others. They have different things to communicate. Their messages are deemed worthwhile or not. Either way, it's hard to keep them in the forefront. Other stuff happens--new distractions, a coat of fresh whitewash. Yet we continually assert our identity, whether it is permitted or not. And I think, when it comes down to it, that's true in lawful communications as well as unlawful ones.

8 comments:

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the sampling. The unapproved signs in our small area appear from time to time. Here though, I think they get their ideas on what to paint after they visit some relative in big city or watch too much YouTube.

Bob G. said...

Ann:
Having lived in Philly, I have seen MY share of tagging...and neighborhood MURALS.

Some of the less "financially-endowed areas banded together and on one side wall near some corners you can see some BEAUTIFUL murals depicting all sorts of things...and none of it gang-related.

The elevated cars and subway trains were another matter...
LOTS of graffiti..and even along the rooftop water tanks and air conditioning units.

If there was a space...there was a "Tity"..or a "Cornbread" to be placed.

There even used to be a coffee table BOOK of graffiti as "art"...gotta wonder about SOME of it these days...sure ain't the 70s any more, is it?

Thanks for the look-see.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
Yes, these days I think so much life is lived in the arts that art imitates life imitates art. It can be so bad, and one can only hope that its meanings don't signify the beginning of true trouble.

Have a nice evening!
Thanks for writing in.

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
Like you, I read indicators. And yes, I think a lot of the uplifiting murals were a victim of their own success. Soon it seemed like anyone could do this kind of thing, which isn't true, and then the work suffered. Then it became indicative of a whole other mood.

That said, even though it's defacing and vandalism, graffiti is not one of the things that sends me into hyperspace. I think it is a communication (and sometimes a warning, as in my Gang Graffiti post) and I am always interested in them. I know you and I have very different feelings about it. My feelings are the inconsistent ones!

Thanks for writing in! I hope that math tutor gets some students!!

Have a great Evening!
Ann T.

Christopher said...

I was going to say that I appreciated the last one, the poetry, because at least is was poetry. Then the thought occured to me that it's all poetry, to someone.

But the cop in me would still arrest their ass :)

Ann T. said...

Dear Christopher,
Oh, no, I don't think it's all poetry. Most of it has little thought and no form behind it. I think it is all identity though. Some of it is created by people who have plenty of other areas of expression. In short, a lot of it is monied vandalism, at least here.

As to arresting them, that's part of the risk they take--and the steady appearance of graffiti means an entrenched conflict with society and frequently with each other. I have seen "good work" cut over by "bad work" when there are other walls available. It's a record of those unresolved to the legitimate, and frequently to each other.

So book 'em, Christopher! We'll call it the official answer and an opportunity for intervention! Even the monied (artist) taggers need to grow up. The rest need to express their disaffection in a venue that can answer them and possibly give them a better way.

Because it's also a sign of wasted talents and impulses, too.

Thanks for stopping in!
Ann T.

the observer said...

Ann T:
As I think I mentioned somewhere, I was a great follower of graffiti when I was living in New York in the early-mid 1970s, and actually kept a journal of all the tags I saw. (My mother threw it out not long ago...my bad, I should have rescued it.)

I think you are right on the button about the identity thing. At bottom, I think that is what it is,even the more ornate and artistic work. I agree, if people want to be serious about the art part, they need to take it to non-illegal venues.

Nice post and pics.

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
yes, I think it's definitely about identity. And I think some of it is art, but it doesn't go through an official approval process.

A lot of artists don't get approved. They don't get showings. It's brutal. On the street, they show anyway and then get crossed out. Brutal a different way.

THanks for writing in. I wish you still had your journal!!!

Ann T.