So it is two hours before I have to line up for HSU’s graduation. I’ve got the rented gown in the trunk of my car, I’m ready to go. But instead of calmly reading the paper or grading, I’m flat on my back between railroad ties waiting for two suspicious looking cars to leave. The problem, of course, was graffiti.
I had found this old abandoned rail line and had gotten a few shots before my digital film ran out. I could see pieces just a little bit further – lots of them – but I gave up that day. So I figured a quiet Saturday morning would be perfect – no one will notice a guy wandering around taking pictures.
But graffiti is illegal. It is against the law to paint on public surfaces. Not allowed.
And I’m photographing something forbidden – which of course is half of the appeal. But now I’m concerned about having to explain to my department chair that I missed graduation because I’m in jail.
Fortunately, a few minutes of calm sky watching gave the time for everyone to leave and after a few minutes I met a crew of surveyors who were wandering next to the graffiti, so I figured it was pretty safe.
To make public art illegal seems insane to me. Being a cursory fan of the art form, I think it is fantastic how creative and innovative graffiti artists are, especially in their ability to get up with their work. Thinking about getting caught, thinking about where people are going to see the marks (who is your audience?), format, color, line-style, time it takes – all running through your mind – and after all that is done you still have to make ART that is meaningful, powerful and/or beautiful.
Here is a quick example. Someone paints this funky ghost fish (my name for it).
Here it is in another spot. Clean ghostfish comin’ at ya!
At a third spot, I found this scrawl of paint on the ground. Barely discernable – this same artist had painted the outline of the ghost fish on the ground using some patches of moss for the eyes. If you didn’t know about this form you’d never even see this art on the ground. Beautiful.
The fact that artists create such beautiful and powerful work under such conditions is pretty astounding. But then again, maybe these folks are just dangerous criminals whose scratchings mean nothing. Like this ugly throwup – obviously some mothers day “gang” message. I’m sure “thanks mom” is some gang code meaning something violent. I’m afraid and I think you should be too.
Or this person “felt” – I don’t know about you, but these beautiful letters make me uncomfortable.
Enough of the sarcasm – here is another felt piece. Check the color and line work on some abandoned cement. Just radical.
Check out this beautiful Ace2 piece. This was a protruding piece of metal way out in the middle of a field. A few artists had started to paint using this color & style and then a few other artists filled in the rest of the cement chunk with the same style. It was pretty cool.
Here is a nice piece by Anzer – I love the color and explosion on this work. I could only imagine it on a train riding past at 40 mph, colors just floating past you like some phantom.
Jass with this bird – just maddening – how do you juxtapose that crazy exploding throwup scribbly style with the fine line work of the bird?
One of the interesting dialogues within graffiti is the authenticity. Beginning artists are dismissed with the label of “toy”. Some artist(s) has been creating humorous insults using the term toy as a kind of visual tag. I thought at first that the person had just taken the label of toy for themselves, but now I think it is their statement of the art beneath them. But the intricate involvement of the tag in this piece seems pretty innovative.
Here is another toy piece with a cute gorilla in a hat. How dangerous.
And this slightly scary blue face guy who got a diamond grill with Toy in it – not my fashion choice by any means but on this fellow, it works.
Love it. Love it all, from the ugliest tag to the seven-color mothers day piece.
So I made it to graduation, wearing some fake colors (they didn’t have my correct doctoral robes so I rocked in a math smock – funny given that I can’t balance my checkbook). Graduation at HSU was kind of cool. I’m not a big ritual/ceremony person – I only attended one of my graduations for instance. But graduating in the redwood bowl could certainly be worse – surrounded by trees and pretty fast. One of my students gave a nice rousing political speech about the loss of freedoms and violence under the Bush administration. I sat next to my friends and got to high-five all the graduating students I had worked with.
I sat there, feeling like I usually do, that I had somehow gotten away with something.
But graffiti and graduation were only distractions from my real job last week which was grading. I’m a friendly flexible teacher, so I tend to get a lot of makeup work. By the end of finals week I had a solid 18 inch pile of papers to work through. It was like reading 3 poorly edited, but fascinating anthologies. With two classes on gender, I read almost forty papers on sexist gaze objectifying women’s breasts – many which included pictures.
I was just rocked by the general quality of work from these students. I’ve been teaching university level work for a few years now, and I’ve read a lot of final papers. These were interesting, curious explorations of the world around us. Critical essays on music, television and movies, and myriad discussions of politics in all the formats. Social movements, art, food, and an undergraduate paper on bodybuilding that was as good as anything I’d ever read on the subject.
Props to everyone who kept me honest and motivated last week. Big ups to all the street artists. Thanks to everyone who poured out writings for me to read. And thanks to you for reading this rant.