Monday, January 30, 2012

Reflections on Graffiti by Philip Willey

1580 Art Gallery

The Fifty Fifty Arts Collective

Vancouver Island School of Art

Hey! Says a voice as I’m leaving a gallery. Are you a writer? Writer? Me? Well I do a bit of writing yes why? You should write about graffiti. Fuck galleries the real stuff is outside on the walls.

OK. Thanks for the heads-up. I’ll check it out. A good place to start is 50/50 on Douglas. Every available surface has been plastered with graf. Nobody can say it isn’t colorful. Over on Cook Street 1580 Gallery has some good examples of what can be achieved with a spray-can. There too Maggy Cole and Richard Pawley have gone the graffiti route. Outside at least. The building was getting tagged anyway so they made a deal. They’re happy with it. There were some fears that it might encourage random acts of art in the neighborhood but that didn’t happen. Instead says Richard ‘street artists were thrilled to get the opportunity and they seem to respect us for it’. It’s eye-catching and everybody gets some street cred. Better than bare cinder block walls.

Monday Magazine did a thing about it recently (1). They garnered opinions from local residents which ranged, predictably, from enjoyment to vandalism. Most seem comfortable with it. Some people resent the confrontational tone. Others just don’t care. They have enough information to deal with already. Which made me wonder.  Grafitti is still vibrant and assertive but has it lost some of its impact? In other words I’m not sure it’s even particularly exciting or radical anymore. It’s become part of the urban landscape. We’ve got used to it.

Vancouver Island College of Art has a big back wall that just begs to be painted. ‘They show up periodically,’ says Wendy Welch, ‘….paint over everything and start again. They are expressing themselves. It’s great to see.’ And it makes an interesting context for Tyler Hodgin’s ‘Watch This Space’.

And of course it’s art. Thanks to curators like Charlotta Kotik (2) we know that now. Look at artists like Crash and Lady Pink, Haring and Basquiat. They started out doing it on the street, gained followings, got into galleries and found a place in art history. Some of it is very good indeed. Some artists, like Banksy, have taken the form to new levels. Banksy has something to say beyond just colorful tags. 

Simon Natrass of Monday Mag also talked to some actual graffiti artists, Pesto, Onion and Arok, in an effort to pin down their motivation. Defiance according to Arok. He doesn’t think the police should be protecting buildings. Sure it’s illegal but it’s the capitalist system that makes us feel guilty. Pesto admits to feeling guilty but it’s something he just has to do. And then there’s the adrenalin rush you get from actually doing it. Especially doing it in the downtown core which is where it gets really challenging. Violating bylaws. Outwitting the man. What Monday didn’t mention is the anger.

"When I was young I was angry. I still am. I was anti-social. I needed subculture and vandalism. I needed to steal and take drugs and paint walls. Cause it was bad-ass and I wanted to show the world I hated it. Nothing has changed." From Visual Orgasm (3).

I know what he means. I’m not so young anymore and I still get mightily pissed off. I understand the need to do a Munch scream. Human greed and hypocrisy can be overwhelming. The unfairness of life. And what we’re doing to the planet! It all gets too much occasionally. There are times when I want to insult everybody in print. Bukowski got away with it. He was an obnoxious arsehole most of the time and people loved him for it. That guy could really do rude. Alas I’m no Bukowski. I’m too polite I suppose. Some might say repressed. I have a different family background. Different bunch of demons.

Conclusions? Graffiti is acceptable in certain locations. If you feel the urge, go for it, but not everybody likes it. It’s a young man’s game. You need to be agile. Spray paint isn’t cheap and the best spots go fast.

Victoria,BC -  January 2012

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