Since I've been going to school in the city, I've seen a lot of graffiti. After a couple months, I really started noticing it. A lot of it was dumb, pointless, insulting. And some of it was good, really good. Here I'm writing about some of the good and some of the bad, in the hopes that some aspiring vandals and public artists will see, at least in one passer-by's eyes, what kind of response things get.
ETHEL ♥ JULIUS
One of the first ones that really made me think is on the north side of west 21st Street, between 6th and 7th avenues. When the cement in the sidewalk was wet, someone scratched into it "ETHEL + JULIUS", with a Star of David where the + or & or ♥ would go. It took seeing it several times for it to hit me; Ethel & Julius Rosenberg? I still haven't guessed what it might mean. It's not as if it's in front of a judicial building or some other symbol of the authority that condemned them; it's in front of a residence between a hardware store and an art school.
Black Hawk Down posters
These are certainly not "tagging for the ages", as any advertisement has a necessarily limited life, but in the spirit of encouraging thought-provoking graffiti, I'd like to share two examples of how to do it wrong and one of how to do it right.
In the pedestrian tunnel between the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Times Square subway station, there's a ton of posters (and one poem...). When Black Hawk Down was in theatres, there were several identical posters there, with a soldier leaning out of the door of one of the titular helicopters, holding his rifle. Three in the tunnel were defaced; all in different ways.
Walls in West Chelsea
A few times in Chelsea on the west side, visiting galleries, I've seen some interesting graffiti - the area being a mix of art galleries and warehouses, only a short walk from residences and busier establishments but with a narrow range of interest for visitors, the people who walk through the westmost blocks of the teens and twenties of streets must be a rather particular crowd. Here's one day's set of observations, again a pair of misses and one hit.
- "YOUR ARE NOT REAL" - I can't help but wonder about this one. Clearly trying to say something more than "I was here", but confusing, mis-written, and undirected...
- "I GRAFFITIED OVER THE BAD GRAFFITI -Memphis" - The real humor in this one is that it was on a wall with almost no other graffiti on it, and nothing crossed out or painted over. The problem with it is that if anyone else paints other stuff around it, that's clearly not done over something else, Memphis will look a bit foolish. Based on a /msg from jasonm, I'm coming to think that Memphis' point may be that any decoration on the outside of a building, even the base color of the walls, is as valid or invalid as graffiti is, and that people have a right to alter or improve it.
- "PRETTY GIRL CEASE TO EXIST" - Ever felt this way? That you can't bear to be around someone anymore because your feelings towards them are too positive, and they won't have it, and it just destroys the possibility of interaction between you? I imagine the guy who felt that if he and the object of his affection could not be together he'd rather be without her presence completely, who felt that and had no one to tell it to except anonymous strangers, and I feel sad that such circumstances must befall people. This is the type of tag that I hope stays there forever.
This is kind of like Teen Bride Im Sorry.
Billboards in West Chelsea
Yeah, so advertising is in one sense the opposite of graffiti. But both are publicly visible, and seek to communicate something and to implant themself in the viewer's memory. And if you just print a message on a billboard, and don't put a name or copyright or anything on it, what more is that than licensed, paid-for graffiti?
In the same area as the last three messages there's a few billboards, owned by the Vista Media company, that just have black text on a white background, and nothing else. No company name, no copyright, nada. They're clearly out to say some particular thing, and have no effect beyond getting themself into the mind of the viewer. The once I've seen so far are as follows: (They're changed every so often)
I had no idea what to think or say about any of these. I have no idea what they're trying to say with these. All it communicated to me is that someone thinks their ideas are better than mine, and are trying to tell me what to think or how to act in the least subtle manner possible. These are not the sort of public communication that leaves a lasting impression on people of the intended message, I think.
If you're writing graffiti and you want people to think after they look at it, just put out a simple idea, or an observation you think most of your audience can relate to. And make it articulate and modest - it will surprise people. Once your mark is guaranteed to be big and obvious, as spray paint and such always will be, simplicity and unpretentiousness are not what people will expect from it, and will lend the graffiti a type credibility that a 4-foot-high day-glo wildstyle name will never really have. Paint will always come off walls whether or not people decide to get rid of it, but all the rain and sandblasting in the world won't eradicate a thought from the mind of one who adopts it.