Saturday, May 7, 2011
Dogs and Paint
I grew up writing graffiti, or graph. How I was introduced to it was very different to how the world was. I was a subculture kid. I skateboarded, listened to punk rock music, and went to all night dance parties in New York City. The main theme at the crux of all these things was an overwhelming sense of rebellion. I saw these older kids writing these words and pictures made up of words on everything with markers and spray paint. These names or “tags” that they wrote were their alter egos and their identity on the street. I myself am a doodler, as a kid I wrote on everything. The notes I took in classrooms were really just me pretending to take notes and drawing little designs in my trapper keeper. Once I realized that I could draw on the world I became obsessed with it, and so did my group of friends. Just like the older kids before us, we had a name for our crew; actually there were a couple of crews. Their names were S.F.V. Suburban Fresh Vandals, headed by the artist SIVE, and the our other crew, S.I. or Slightly Imperfect, headed by me, and I regret to write this based on how many janitors and town workers had to clean up our art. My tag was and still is SHAME. I once talked myself out of suspension in high school because I was caught in the bathroom writing on the walls. I somehow lead my dean to believe that I was writing a paper on the topic of graph and that I was just doing research. He found 2 books on how to write on walls in my bag, and there were marker stains on my fingers. I was always good with words. Maybe I should have been a lawyer.
Once I started writing graffiti I started to notice it more in the street. I lived in close proximity to a train station that was part of the Long Island Rail Road conglomerate. Each town on Long Island has one. It was the primary transit to and from Manhattan. Graph in New York started in the boroughs, Brooklyn, and Queens. These trains we road would pass through those places on the way into the city and all along the way you would see the most impressive graffiti in the world, literally. We would study and emulate what we saw. We wanted to be epic, to understand everything there was to understand about the art form. Back then it was still mostly considered vandalism. The sheer brilliance of it back then is that if you and your crew tagged up an entire subway, your art was a traveling canvas around the largest, most influential city in the word. Essentially it was free advertising for your revolution.
Writing on walls is something men do innately, it was used by the cavemen to tell stories, lessons. In the early twenties the homeless people on the freight trains wrote on walls to let other know they’d been there. In the late 70’s when disco was dying a new form of music was becoming prevalent, Hip Hop music. Hip-Hop was spawned on the streets of The Bronx and was based on a series of break beats sewn together played on record players and manipulated in an effort to coax a willing voice to talk over it in the form of verse. This inspired clothing, dance, slang, street art, graffiti. Hip-hop is a highly competitive and expressive art form and so are the ascetics attached to it. When a crew would show up to a party to rap and dance, upon leaving they would write their tags on the walls, just to let the other crews know that they had conquered that location. This competitive rebellious culture made it’s way out of the city and into the suburbs and that’s how I know about it. Some art, without explanation allowes you to understand it without specific justification. That’s what art is though, right? Telling a story and having someone buy into it, even if they don’t know why.
I went to the street art exhibit at the MOCA in downtown LA last weekend and my mind was blown. They had artists dating back to the early 70’s all the way through what is still considered graph today, but moreover now, street art. The originators strove to be considered as such. They were rebels, yes, but for the best reasons. Their visions and hopes bled onto the streets via paint cans and paint brushes. They traveled around New York, and now it’s everywhere. The writing is on the walls, it always has been.
As a crew you try to outdo the others, claim their territory for yours by making your art bigger and better. You try to go to the spots that are uncharted and prove how brave you are as a person by writing your name there. It’s animalistic. It’s creative. It’s brave. Just like a dog walking around to find a spot to leave something others will one day find and say, "Wow, someone’s been here already. I’m gonna do them one better."