Seeds of Art

It is difficult to argue the value of graffiti. For one, you have to be a bit careful not to ‘out’ the vandals, because they are wanted people. Not just by us fans, but by the cops. Lister the most recent case in point.

I guess all I can safely say is this. If you think the ‘disrespectful hoodlums’ responsible for the public ‘defecation’ below are not exhibiting artists, respected artists, and paid artists, you would be sadly mistaken. I can tell you, at least twenty names below make the very same ‘art’ you adore. Many have been paid small or rather healthy sums to ‘legally’ paint murals that you have admired. They have lined gallery walls and adorned homes. You may have even said “now, this is art”.

I believe this capacity to effect and affect change is the secret value of graffiti. It has the power to turn ‘vandal’ into ‘validated’. Someone can start off tagging and wind up an artist. Or not. They can start off tagging and keep on tagging. Or both. An artist can start off studying fine art and then start tagging. They can graduate with honours, get signed by a gallery, and keep tagging. Street art is art on the street. Graffiti is expression/signature/style/statement on the street. Some graffiti is art, some art is graffiti. Some graffiti is not art.

Graffiti is the culture that feeds public ‘art’. The petri dish, if you like, where anyone and anything might bloom. It feeds on the rich decomposition of class wars, anarchy, political activism and radicalism that existed from the very beginning, and birthed it. Today it is far more. Some grow from it, some insert themselves into it, diving in to see how they can evolve, and some never thrive. Regardless, without it, we would have nothing.

If you still hate tags and love street art, at least try to reconcile this issue of what you love is also what you hate. They cannot be divided. You cannot have your cake and eat it, cannot take the good without the bad. For better or worse, as it goes. In sickness and in health, suck it up. They are we are us are them. It is their aesthetic wave that you are riding, and they have been around for longer than you have noticed. You cannot chose the origin of the art that you love, anymore than you can control the terms upon which it thrives.

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Scapegoating

I have watched the Nost Fiasco with cautious interest, cringing at what people have to say about how angry they are. Yesterday I took a breath and finally read the Age article, albeit quickly, and nearly a week later. I was as underwhelmed and frustrated as I knew I would be.

As predictable as geometric copper and pastel peach triangles on hanging plant pots, the article oozed middle class outrage. How was such a dreadful act committed on such a sacred wall?  The article also predictably misinformed us about the philosophical distinction between ‘graffiti artist’ and ‘tagger’. Thank you, anonymous authority, for your insight into the ‘graffiti culture’. I had not realised how despised this nasty NOST is.

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The inner North is a vibrant mix of cultures, but over the years, it is increasing white, gentrified, and middle class. I know I say that as a derision, but can I just raise my hand again and say I am one of you. The inner North has loads of cash, and buckets of post graduate scholars. No wonder we vote Green, we can afford to, and have the nous to. We are also prone to the odd grandstanding, because we can. This makes us perfectly ripe targets for satirical observations on walls. It is no surprise to me that there is ‘public outrage’ that this feminist work has been ‘capped’ by such a terrible, criminal, shameful vandal.

Who is NOST? Contrary to The Age article, he is not necessarily ‘notorious’for capping others. He does cap other peoples tags, in much the same way everyone does. He is not universally disliked either. The offending tag at the centre of the NOST Fiasco was up for five weeks before the Age noticed. Local street art bloggers of very high repute had already documented it. Comments from other (graffiti) writers, photographers and street art fans were overwhelmingly positive (so nice, massive roller, sick, double punch emoji etc). NOST is a prolific, interesting, and yes at times controversial writer. The best type, I reckon.

You don’t need to like his work. I do. I loved it when he got up on the mesh barricade at the garden show last year, for instance. I love that friends who are not at all street art connoisseurs know who he is when I mention him. He evokes debate, and I think sometimes he means to. Other times it is incidental to the fact that he is an enthusiastic writer who puts his name in many places.

So, my thoughts on the article. I will respond to a couple of specific quotes that made my eyes roll:

“City of Yarra mayor Roberto Colanzi said the mural was so badly damaged that it probably could not be saved”.

Well, no, not really. The NOST tag actually covered a heap of tags that had been there for months. These tags, along the bottom of the wall, covered what had for many years been a faded, neglected and in my humble opinion, outdated public mural. It was not lauded. You drove, walked, or trammed past it with a cursory glance and went about your day. I personally thought the images were poorly painted, average likenesses of the people represented. The type of depictions that almost nail it, but the perspective is wrong, shadows not true to where they should fall, and the eyes look dead. I don’t like that type of naive realism. To me, if you cannot draw real faces (NB: if in doubt check out Adnate or Kaffeine as a bench mark), you should maybe stick to abstractions. That’s just a matter of taste, I know, but it is a polite way of saying I personally think the mural is a bit uggs.

“Ms Evans, said …” …it was very badly damaged anyway across the bottom because of many years of graffiti, it was never really looked after,” 

One of the artists even agrees the mural was neglected.

“The extent of the criminal damage is extraordinary”

Is it though? extraordinary? I seem to recall Pell having the same difficulty with that word on the stand over the past few days. It is useful to consider this: Extraordinary is something far more than ordinary. Is the NOST tag ‘extraordinary’ on a mural covered in tags, in an area pitted with walls of tags?

Anyone who knows the area where this mural is posited, knows there are some pretty fugly old buildings and empty land, and that graffiti is everywhere. The council do jack shit to clean this area up. The streetscape is a shocker compared to it’s  surrounds.

I wish I could find an old image of the wall, with it’s pre NOST tags. I would like to illustrate how well placed he has been,  to cover such shyte. So well done, in fact, that I question what ‘damage’ he has done at all? My point is, that wall needed to be buffed in any case. Now, thank you NOST, it looks good and the buffing isn’t so desperately needed.

“But the thing that I didn’t like …was the symbolic writing over the women. I felt angry on behalf of the women. here was the woman who was the Lebanese milk bar owner and her two boys …there were a whole lot of women that he obliterated.”

Oh please …. this is reflective of what is commonly referred to as the old “storm in a tea cup” fist thumping “public outcry”. It is infuriatingly misinformed. It is a long bow to say that a tagger, who was probably at primary school with the Lebanese milk bar owner’s kids, was so affronted by the strong feminist message of this faded, neglected and capped wall, that he felt compelled to dominate and break that power down.

I find it ironic that the intention of the artists of the original mural was to comment on negative images of women in the media. NOST is being vilified as though his sole intention was to slap women in the face. I suggest he had no ambition of any sort. My message to my fellow middle class feminists who are angry right now, is that graffiti writers are not your oppressors. Might I suggest, however, that you might be theirs?

 

give me a title

I have taken a lot of photos around Fitzroy, since I began this blogging caper. Before Flash I was just someone walking the dog, discovering my phone camera (Nokia N73) and getting into this thing called Facebook.  It was the birth of my awareness of audience, as separate to my ‘connection with people’.

           

Audience is not the same as connection. The audience is the ‘masses’ that we fantasize are watching and reading us. Audience is sometimes the voice in my head that reacts to thoughts that I have before I even write them down. Audience can feel like a cheering crowd or an empty room – a party with the cool people or a party where no-one shows up. I wonder about the implications of giving the entire western world the same neuroses previously bestowed only on writers.

Before all this self-consciousness, like so many as vulnerable as I to the reward of public approval, I started to share. I  jumped eagerly from the bandwagon into the ‘social media’ river and floated with it as it got bigger, faster and more difficult to navigate safely. I could talk forever now about the ocean of technology and the tides of privacy and ownership that ebb but rarely flow onto the shore of the individual’s ego. I probably will, but not today, because it is midday and I am still in bed and, well, it is time to get up.  I will leave you with some snaps from 2011.