Among the most dangerous places I’ve ever visited while searching for street art have been in Baltimore, Maryland. There are few other cities in the world compared to Baltimore where things go from fancy to fucked-up as quickly, first super safe then scared shitless from one block to the next. For anyone whose hobby includes combing city streets on a bicycle in search of stickers glued to and posters pasted up in dirty and dangerous places, here are three simple tips on how to stay alive and well whilst gathering graff.
1. Make eye contact with people, and greet them. Do this always, especially in dark and lonely places. Many gangsters operate on the basis of honor, and looking them in the eye and saying hello to them is an honorable act that rarely fails to calm situations. (Don’t expect them to say hello back, however; not getting shanked or shot at should be validation enough.) Greeting people lets them know that you know they’re there; it shows them that you respect their presence and are not afraid of them or anyone they may be with. If you bicycle around a corner and surprise a group of people, raising a hand in greeting (with two fingers making a V, for victory) and saying a kind word should ease tensions and allay fears.
2. KMA - Keep moving, always. Don’t linger, loiter, stay on one block without moving for too long, or appear lost. If this means backtracking a block or two until you can shoot across a road or bicycling up on the sidewalk to avoid a traffic snarl, do it (just go slowly around pedestrians). If you see some graffiti and want to stop to take a picture of it, check that the picture is well centered and not blurry, then keep moving. The entire process should take fewer than 30 seconds, rarely enough time for someone to approach or harass you.
3. Make a fool of yourself. Bicycle no-handed, pull wheelies, whistle or shout loudly, and generally look like you’re having a grand olde time. White dudes on bicycles wearing helmets and burning lights fore and aft are usually the police. But the police usually don’t pull tricks, and they’re definitely not out to have a good time. Nearly every potentially sticky encounter I’ve had of late was defused by me letting go of the handlebars and lazily cruising by whoever looked like they wanted to hurt me (while giving them a last-minute nod and V, of course).
There are few better ways to hunt street art than on a bicycle. By following the three simple rules mentioned above, you’ll hopefully stay safe and gather graff for many years to come. Mahaloalowa!
americanifesto / JPR / whorphan / 場黑麥
on the use of eyes in street art
Stroll through downtown Los Angeles, up New York's Broadway, or along the avenues of Philadelphia's Center City, and look in the forgotten, in the grimy, and in the underused places. With a keen glance and a bit of luck, you will witness the riotous beauty known as street art. Oh, what a profusion of style and color, of shape and size, of message and image, all blending into a whole that, if viewed from afar, resembles little more than visual clutter; but get in good and close, and follow the guidance of your peripheral vision, and your most tender of sphincters will drink invariably of the intoxicating power of street art.
But why do we look? Why are we powerless against the urge to sweep our gazes into worn and sticky places and up onto soot-covered utility poles? Eyes, my friends, we look at graffiti because it is full of eyes (and not just any type of eyes, but human eyes). Perhaps they stumbled upon the technique accidentally, perhaps they copied it from advertisers, or maybe they just plain Knew to tap into one of mankind's most primal and deep-seated fears, but, however it occurred, street artists employ one of the most basic methods for getting people to look at something – to give it eyes.
Since our time as forest-creeping, prairie-running, skull-bashing troglodytes, the species homo sapiens has developed the uncanny ability to recognize the shape of the eye even if it should be obscured by layers of seemingly random patterns. While experts may argue whether this ability is restricted merely to recognizing the human eye, or if it applies to the eyes of all of our former predators (think bear, cougar, coyote), few persons dispute the fact that our brains are really good at figuring out if someone, or something, is looking at us. Advertisers exploit this evolutionary adaptation to our status as Top Predator Of One Another by blanketing the phaltscape with pictures of pretty people who nearly all happened to have been staring directly at the camera's shutter when it opened. (Now, however, instead of our powers giving us the upper hand in a fight-or-flight situation, they allow us to be convinced that we need that new and re-formulated cucumber body scrub; woe be unto mankind.)
All quasi-scientific, pseudo-evolutionary nonsense aside (I am not a scientist, nor am I particularly intelligent or well-versed) – why do graffiti-writers use so many eyes in their designs? Why in the name of Beelzebub do they wish for people to look at their works of art, and to what purpose do they make use of our aforementioned ability to pick eyes out of the ether? As the SDUBS (self directed urban beautification specialist) is wily and suspicious by nature, and since she maintains a level of honor, decorum, and discipline so profound as to make inquiry into her personal matters a life-threatening endeavor, these questions shall likely go unanswered for many generations to come. For now, however, please enjoy the street-side galleries of free-to-the-consumer art wherever you may be, and rest easily in the knowledge that, by looking back at eyes that look at you, you are merely executing a deeply-ingrained survival reflex that is as natural to humans as is laughter. Never forget, however, to keep an eye out for your fellow man, he who has been hunting you for longer than you shall likely ever know.
americanifesto / JPR / whorphan / 場黑麥
In the wake of apparently deliberate acts of art desecration, the city of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, lies stripped of much of its artistic and cultural heritage. Irreparably damaged are thousands of unique works posted at significant personal risk by scores of talented individuals; gone are untold treasures, wiped from the face of the Earth by the censor’s brush and scraper. Once a place which people visited to marvel at the ingenuity of the human imagination, Boston has joined the ranks of many other American cities that view street art as entirely devoid of intrinsic worth, something to be rooted out, painted over, and destroyed. As someone who travels to cities around the world in order to curate their graffiti, I weep at the destruction wrought by the city of Boston upon its open-air art galleries. Light poles once adorned with riots of colorful stickers now stand bare; walls once covered by compellingly crafted murals now display nothing more than a coating of drab paint.
Does Boston at least photograph these works of art before forcibly removing them from view? Would it allow an art-loving citizen such as me to precede its roving Art Desecration Squads so that I can at least photograph each piece before it is scraped off or painted over? Likely, it would not, as such a concession might lend credibility to the artistic endeavors of rogue but creative individuals who spend their time and money on trying to make the world a more colorful and exciting place. In our American police state, it appears, the only works of art that have the right to exist in public are politically correct advertisements selling us drugs and clothes, snacks and cellphones.
To be fair, there are some street artists whose primary aim appears to be the destruction of property. The majority of these elusive and cunning individuals, however, seem to be acting out of a desire to challenge the sterilization of our communal spaces, to bring color and design to areas devoid of both. Mankind’s oldest form of artistic expression, the application of graffiti spans millennia, continents, and cultures. From the Egyptian pyramids to the caves at Lascaux, from America’s oldest structures to ancient Southeast Asian cities, graffiti - more than perhaps any other form of artistic expression - unites mankind. To the graffiti lovers of the world: avoid Boston! Little remains here of our unique and exuberant cultural heritage.
© JPR / whorphan / americanifesto / 場黑麥
With a light rain falling and thunderheads building in the east, miles-high clouds blowing in off the Gulf, he collected the pieces for a new sculpture. Walking through streets bathed in a greenish, all-pervading light, he gathered them one by one from gutters and traintracks, from torn asphalt and cracked cement, bits of metal flung out of work vans as they bumped along over the tracks, rusted relics forgotten and abandoned, neither missed nor pined for. Sliver, nail, and washer found new homes his rear pocket, jangling softly with each step, each one informing him of the greater configuration of the overall piece, of its outline, shape, and composition. After much searching and with dark clouds grumbling loudly overhead, he found the stick he had been looking for, but only after he truly stopped looking for it and finally just let it find him. Now the piece lies waiting, potent and brooding, a raw little thing but something he can be proud of, a manifestation of common progress, trash recycled, recombined, and remade anew.
mentiri factorem fecit – 場黑麥
blog updated Fridays, usually
I bicycle, write, surf, and strive.