I miss street tacos,
Friendly smiles, empty surf-breaks.
[ americanifesto / 場黑麥 / jpr / urbanartopia / whorphan ]
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
We left early Sunday morning, just after dawn. The drive to the station was uneventful, and we arrived with a half hour to spare before our train departed. Each of us had a few discs with him, enough to play at least 18 holes. I ate first, and so they kicked in for me first, but one of the other guys ate more and therefore felt a heavier initial surge. Thankfully, we weren’t in the quiet car, because our giggles came on strong enough to make heads turn. By the time the train reached the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection), our pupils were dinner plates greedily sucking up stray photons. We climbed up into the 30th Street station and paused briefly to marvel in wonder at its vaulted ceiling and vast marbled-clad spaces. Mere feet from the doors to the outside, the other two decided they needed to find a restroom, whereupon they went to relieve themselves. I waited for them in the hallway near the bathroom and pretended to peruse a restaurant menu while the world around me quietly exploded.
Then we were out in the wind and in the sun with our phones out trying to open applications and figure out how to get visual maps and audio guides going that would lead us to our first destination - the Sedgley Woods disc golf course. We walked, of course, following the river until we hit a police roadblock at a major intersection. At that point we turned north and left the course of the river, climbing a hill and following a shady tree-shaded trail that lead along crumbling old walls. At the top of the hill, in the middle of a field, sat a lone camping tent, which we decided not to enter. Then we almost got killed crossing a major road intersection that didn’t have a pedestrian crosswalk, climbed another hill, made a left, and arrived at our destination. We hadn’t barely figured out how to approach the first tee yet when we met a pair of local guides, two gentlemen who were smoking cabbage and knew the lay of the land. After playing 27 short holes together on the wooden urban course, we took their advice and went for fried chicken at the gas station across the road, which we ate with them, breaking bread together on a rotting park bench under a struggling tree.
With not a minute to spare we arrived at our second destination, a hip brewery in Fishtown. After touring it, I went out to photograph graffiti while my friends stayed inside and kept drinking. Once I was finished we exited into the hot afternoon sun and started for a gin distillery nearby. Along the way we ate more, of course, finishing the bag. At the gin mill we were sipping death in the afternoon when the second round kicked in, prompting us to head for the next brewery. And then the next. The day got sweaty, what with one of us hauling around two filled growlers and another of us trying to enter each abandoned building we passed along the way. We were having a bit of trouble fitting into society but finally made it back to the station with fewer than five minutes to spare, only to find that our train was delayed indefinitely. It left 45 minutes late, long enough for us to fully appreciate each contour of a gorgeous marble panel named The Spirit of Transportation (1895), by Karl Bitter, and for me to get a girl’s contact information.
She’s seeing someone else now, by the way.
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
blog updated thrice weekly
I bicycle, write, surf, and strive.