Thursday, September 19, 2013

Writing Graffiti

Graffiti is the modern day cave drawing forever changing form and color as slates are wiped clean with a new coat of paint.  Walls of the past form the canvas of the new. The spray can transforms into the artist's brush.

Graffiti is the poor person's post-modern art and expression. The graffiti artist clandestinely enters where nobody else dares. They venture towards high places: not in status, but scale scaffolding and delve deep into the guts of abandoned buildings to express their creativity. The work of a graffiti artist is frowned upon by a society grounded in convention unless it's commissioned. Commissioned work loses the rough edge which is the appeal of graffiti. However, that does not remove the quality and creativity of commissioned work. Commissioned work has transformed stark gang-tagged neighborhoods to colorful  urban art galleries. Graffiti is supposed to be subversive and underground which gives it that edge. Unlike music, paintings, or words in a novel, play or book, the work is often temporary. Graffiti is a subculture that bucks the system by purposefully deviating from the norm.

My admiration of graffiti started four years ago in the Marin Headlands after a visit to Hill 88; an abandoned military site emblazoned with color and bright images juxtaposed by green hills, the ocean, and wind wailing through the concrete abandoned barracks of yesteryear. I recently returned to admire the work that I had  photographed four years ago and to see what else the graffiti artists had added to the abandoned walls that formed the open air canvas.  Alas! All of the work I'd photographed four years ago was gone. A blank wall stared back at me. It's blankness screeched conformity:  dull, colorless, and uneventful. No beginning or end.

I felt glad that I had captured the colorful spectacles years before and the work continues to exists on a photo sharing site and various other social networking sites like Google+ . I realized that I had unwittingly preserved the work of a few for many. I wish the artists knew.

I like to think of myself as a curator for the disenfranchised artists who are often seen as vandals for their often illegal, but creative work. To follow in their footsteps tracking their work by venturing inside forbidden places is both thrilling and engaging. Within the bowls of abandoned bunkers, cracks of sunlight  illuminate the art work like track lighting in a museum of modern art. In the starkness of abandonment, there is detail. In the darkness of it all, there is light. In the shallowness of the words, there is depth and color. In the desolation of it all, there is company. Graffiti is the life after death of abandoned walls.

On one wall, a graffiti artist declares, "Everything was beautiful ...And nothing hurt." I wondered what the author of those words meant? Was it a psychedelic drug experience filled with color and beauty like no other view or masterpiece? Were the author of those words making a sarcastic commentary on armed combat?

Another author warns, "Swipe your life away..." Those words resonated with me. Lives are swiped away constantly by the hand of meaningless toil, stuff, and sometimes tragedy; just like the paintbrush that swipes away the work of a graffiti artist. Lives are swiped away by not stopping and seeing the writing on the wall. The graffiti of life needs to be read. Stop and look at the color, the detail, the depth of the words, and a thought for the people behind the words. Like the words and work of a graffiti artist, a life won't be there forever. Block the hand of meaningless mundane toil that swipes your life away. Pause... See the detail that no one else dares to see, go to places others do not dare to tread, and embrace those moments. 

Everything will be beautiful and nothing will hurt.

Swipe Your Life Away - Hill 88 Marin Headlands 2013
What did the author mean?

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