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Friday, June 1, 2007

Some small thoughts

I'm sure this will only inspire more angry comments, but nonetheless fellow urbanist Julia Kite sent me this postcard from NYC a while back:

There was a time when the Lexington was a beautiful line.
When children of the ghetto expressed themselves with art, not with crime.
But then as evolution passed, the transits buffing did its blast.
Now we wonder if graffiti will ever last.

--Epitaph for Graffiti, Lee, 1980.

I wish I could locate the postcard (rehab + home = disorganization), because the image of the whole mural, a graveyard painted on a subway car, is really something to see and is really beautiful.

Since I spent a lot of my childhood in an area with a marked gang problem, um, if anybody should hate graffiti, it's me. Early on in my life, tags meant that possibly violent attacks might be on the way. I even had the strange misfortune of riding bus #p62 in an area where other gangs were battling Six Deuce for control. New graf on our school was sometimes accompanied by things like members of rival gangs symbolically throwing glass bottles at the windows of our #p62 school bus to publically display their hatred for all things with a 6 and 2. Consequently, when I was a kid, I was terrified of gang-style graffiti.

That said, still, I have early memories of wonderful murals. I still distinctly remember going to Chicago when I was maybe six or seven, and thinking that it must be a bigger, better city because they had many more beautiful, elaborate, large colorful graffiti pieces around the city than StL did. To me, a kid from vibrant but unfancy urban places, an abundance of street art meant I must be in a great and important city. I knew that some of it was illegal, but still the line between some of the truly masterful illegal pieces I saw, and the also lovely legally sanctioned murals, was blurry in my young mind; all of it was so wonderful and made the city so much more vibrant and beautiful.

Now I own property, and now I try to advocate for historic buildings that have been deemed "nuisances," and now I try to convince more timid people that the city is "okay." I am learning some new and painful downsides to graffiti, but for the most part it almost never scares me anymore, even when it sometimes brings me great frustration and sadness (not on terra cotta or unpainted stone or brick, plz plz plz!).

Still, as a young woman who, frankly, spent a lot of her childhood in various so-called ghettos, I have to say, sometimes the line between a truly wonderful, thought-provoking tag and a truly wonderful, thought-provoking legally sanctioned mural is still a little blurry. Where I come from, this is just another form that public art takes.

I'm not saying I think graf is perfect, but I am saying thatgraf at its best is one of those things that can help make the city magic. Like a late night conversation at some crowded coffeehouse, like the feeling of seeing the skyline when you have been away for a while, like walking down a street that you never knew existed, like the corners of absolute surrealness that hide themselves in pockets near the river, like church carnivals and street kittens in springtime: magic. And people live in cities for that special city quality, that something, that overall accumulation of small magics. I'm not saying you moved here to watch the Orpheum get "vandalized," but I am saying that if you wanted endless predictable, pristine and orderly, you'd be livin' in New Town.


Anonymous said...

There's a new grafitti on the top of a roof somewhere along Hampton Avenue. Anyone seen it?

The graf painter must have climbed up on the person's property and walked on the roof to do it.

How do you remove grafitti from asphalt shingles?

There are many gray areas in life, and there are also absolutes. There is absolutely no justification for the unauthorized defacing of public or private property.

Or, if you wish to defend the work of grafitti artists, are you also willing to spend your own time and money removing it at the request of the violated property owner?

Under our current system, we taxpayers or the victimized property owner foots the bill and that's just not right.

Okay, so was that an "angry comment"?

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

I don't get down to Southwest City much. I haven't seen that particular tag (just as you haven't seen the North City or ESL ones that have been written about of late), and for those who are capable of reading English, I think it's plenty clear that I have been very careful to say that I don't unequivocally love all graf all the time in all locations--uh, was the fact that I associated graf with violence I witnessed and sometimes experienced as a child, somehow not obvious enough?

I'm sick of repeating myself for folks who are patently uninterested in actually responding to my actual point, which is that graf ain't perfect but the best and most responsible graf can (GASP!) have some merits.

I am tempted to tell you about how I probably agree with you about the stuff on Hampton and about a lot of graffiti that I think is awful, and to tell you about gang and Nazi tags I've painted over, erased, or edited in my lifetime, from my own property and that of others.

But you know what? I already wrote two large commentaries on it, so go read em again.

Or you can just keep pretending I'm saying shit I'm not.... fine, whatever.

Graf rising.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this graffiti reporting card might help?

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a Mayor Slay blog survey about grafitti.

Eric said...

Let's not forget that two of St. Louis' most notable current local artists, Justin Tolentino and Peat Wollaeger, are *horror of horrors!* graffiti artists.

Not advocating vandalism, just sayin', Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring had to start somewhere, and it wasn't the Guggenheim (yet!).

Anonymous said...

"Let's not forget that two of St. Louis' most notable current local artists, Justin Tolentino and Peat Wollaeger, are *horror of horrors!* graffiti artists."

Where can one view their work?

Eric said...

Well, a bunch of places are listed here, though Tolentino's website could probably use an update or two:


Both, I think, are involved with ArtDimensions to some extent.

Anonymous said...

Are there examples on the outsides of buildings?

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

Peat has some LARGE pieces up on the outside of several buildings.... legally, and 100% legit.

In the Chouteau's Landing area, just south of the Ballpark, more or less across from White Castle. They are colorful and wonderful. Can't miss em.

Anonymous said...

How'd he get permission?

Eric said...

I don't know, osmosis? Either he asked the building owner or the building owner asked him!

Anonymous said...

Our company, Chivvis Development, hosted a mini festival called the Chouteau's Cho-Down last October and invited 7 muralists to paint the exteriors of our buildings. You can see more about the Cho Down under the events section at www.chouteauslanding.com

I'm glad you like it!
Gelinda Connell