Ansty About Antsi Part 2



This piece is an effort to sum up feelings of ambivalence about graffiti. I’m divided on whether my reporting on something many consider delinquency means I’m supporting or even glorifying the activity. I offer a disclaimer when I’ve written about it before, a statement that has found me wallowing in wishy-washy conceits. I embrace creativity and graffiti is too pervasive to ignore. It’s on buildings, street signs, poles, highway barrier walls, jersey walls and every other wall. I’ve seen it removed, usually painted over, but it sprouts back after it’s covered. Some markings linger when they aren’t cleaned up. So, we live with those.

I’ve wondered if it’s right to bring attention to street art. A past commenter questioned responses to a previous graffiti post noting that other comments, mine included, sounded like they were written by “a bunch of people who have not had your property vandalized.” It was a mild rebuke that had me searching for where I stand. I’ve been lucky not to have had personal property tagged, but I realized that graffiti in my neighborhood is something I have to look at. I responded to another commenter with a quote from film maker Andrew H. Shirley about his movie Wastedland 2 that appeared in the Willamette Week. Referring to graffiti he said, “It’s anti-everything. It’s punk. It remains outside of the system. It alludes to dysfunction and allows a public audience to see that people without a voice still have a message, and by any means necessary will get it out to you.” The quote made clear grafitti’s unstoppable nature. It’s easier to take other’s thoughts and see how they reflect my view-point and that quote put things in perspective. Some days I complain, other days I admire. This may be my opportunity to use my blog as a way to get a dig in at all the lesser, yet omnipresent expressions of amateur-Cy Twomblys or maybe, just a chance to make a Cy Twombly reference.

Graffiti has that feeling of being something it shouldn’t be. It can be called art but it’s art foisted on an unsuspecting audience on a unordinary canvas. It’s an intrusion on people’s property or businesses. For clarity, I sought input from other sources. I had heard rumblings of a Matt McCormick film about graffiti. Matt is a film maker who keeps a tight grip on his work mostly showing it on the big screen. I was surprised to see it appear in multiple versions online. When I contacted him through messenger, he directed me to his film The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal. An earnest narrator talks about graffiti cover-ups that mimic art movements, something I’ve touched on, and I found this to be humorous reaction to municipalities dealing with graffiti. He commented on something I’m guilty of: “It does creativity a disservice to lump all graffiti into the same category,” he wrote. He touched on the conundrum of the varying skill levels of people who are taking spray paint to public places noting, “there is some beautiful, creative work out there being made by some talented artists, but there’s also a lot of crap that’s just uglifying the urban landscape.” This reflects my inability to appreciate squiggles as much as someone who makes an effort to create something viable and uses a relatable tag.

Later that day Matt posted on Facebook about a new form of cover up he’s noticed that he named “cross-hatch.” I’ve noticed this and wondered about this technique, as had many commenters. Who is doing this? Does it save paint? Does it make someone who creates graffiti upset to see their work only partially erased?

Other cover-up styles include blotting out the image with black spray paint, an homage to Robert Motherwell, perhaps, or painting over it with squares that usually don’t match the paint job. I’ll touch on these questions and more when I take on graffiti abatement and clean up in a future post.

Will Simmons, who writes the Pittsburgh Orbit, explained that in Pittsburgh, “there’s a whole lot of graffiti that just feels like dogs marking their territory—stupid tags and whizzle-jiggles that seem to cover every street sign, lamp-post, building backside and bridge support.” Will finds these “cool in a gritty, urban America way,” something he explained he didn’t experience growing up in a small town. Seeing old buildings defaced bums him out though. “(Graffiti) occupies a very interesting and entirely subjective netherworld between public menace and cultural institution,” he wrote. Will derives joy from what he calls, “graffiti in another state of mind, stencils and wheat paste and cool murals and weirdo installations–the artists *know* this stuff won’t last, won’t bring them any acclaim, nor any monetary gain, but they still give it to the world.”

While working on this piece, I witnessed a tagger in action. I always thought this happened in the dead of night with the world asleep. Around 10pm during a dog walk, I stumbled upon a tall tagger wearing a white hoody. Brazen! He was applying the last of his tag on the side our neighborhood motel that’s being renovated. The next day, my inner arm-chair quarterback had me searching for a response. I could have rushed him, attacked him, at least yelled at him a bit, or called the police. I realized what bothered me more, besides not knowing what to do, was the realization that I was going to have to look at the loopy script and strange combination of letters until the renovation was finished. I’m particular about my graffiti. Anyone blatant enough to tag before bedtime deserves flak. My doing nothing led to a plot line out of a comic book. Not scaring this tagger away, with a Batman-like vigilantism, led him to return and mark up the motel’s mural. I hated seeing it tagged.

I also contacted Jeff Bagato, my go-to authority on all things underground. He offered educational tidbits, perspective and slang terminology. He has an appreciation for the “rich and diverse” street culture of Portland adding “there’s a general blackout in mainstream media regarding graffiti, most likely because they fear that publicizing it will only encourage the artists; nonetheless, these same outlets have no problem publicizing the work of serial killers, mass shooters, and monomaniacal presidents, with the same result.” This had me thinking that I have only seen one local news story about graffiti since moving to Portland ten years ago It was a story about the City’s abatement office that seemed understaffed and overwhelmed.

Like the others I’ve polled quality is an issue. “You get beginners and toys slopping cutty tags around, or you might get fully developed pieces or really interesting stickers or posters,” Jeff wrote. “Good with the bad. I believe graffiti is one of the major art and counterculture movements of our time, perhaps the only one that has remained on the edge over its life cycle since the 70s. While other movements have been commodified to some degree, graff and street art remain dangerous and unacceptable to many people. Even to photograph it, or to write about it, can be seen as an accessory to the vandalism.” Jeff pointed out that taggers get respect for the work they do, not necessarily for attention from bloggers. He schooled me on the “real hierarchy between “real” graff writers and street artists, between petty tagging and full pieces, and between those who do a couple of things when they’re bored or drunk and those who bomb the hell out of a town. There is a code among writers and serious street artists about respecting the work of others and the spots where it appears.”

Jeff included in his email a plea that people see beyond the “perception that writers and street artists are thugs or vandals or just playing around” adding that no stereotype applies because “many (street artists) are serious, educated and accomplished artists of all ages and walks of life.” He directed me to the story of Ultra, a DC street artist, who theses days teaches art and creates airbrush paintings. I may still be confused and in the middle of an unrelenting battle but the fight to stop graffiti seems unwinnable. Sure there is bad graffiti. Most would consider all graffiti bad, but those who heed the call to tag have to start somewhere. We can only hope they improve. Meanwhile people can find ways to deal with it. These other viewpoints have helped me accept graffiti. Jeff advised me to write about subjects I enjoy. Compared to ugly billboards selling me things, graffiti isn’t half bad. There’s plenty of clutter out there, blaring and blasting away at our senses. We live with it.

So what’s good graffiti?


Mook writing his name on the back of this I-5 highway sign took daring, planning and a need to  figure out how to get four letters on the back of three signs. Combining the two O’s in one panel did the trick.

This rabbit motif in pink takes the sting out of the visual clutter. Sure it’s a nuisance but a pink rabbit-like thing seems harmless.

Fast food can be equated with graffiti if you’re going for a fast food vs real food, graffiti vs art kind of debate. I’ve always appreciated these fast food meal creations. This one is operating on a scale larger than usual. The numbers are a mystery but this might be a work of biting satire.

 

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(Don’t) Stop! Blogging about Stop Signs

Stop. Abandon your car.

Is it too easy? Think of your foremost pet peeve and write that word or phrase under the word stop on a stop sign. Or, better yet, get a sticker of the word or phrase so you can mass-produce your message. Even a politician’s sticker can be used against him. This protest is convenient, the opportunities are plentiful with stop signs being everywhere. These modifications do make the signs more interesting for those who pay attention to them.

My stop sign fixation started a few years back when I noticed a stop sign modified to create a plea for people to stop laughing at Danzig. Sure it was an obscure message created for a select audience, but it opened my eyes to stop sign communiques. Stop signs now serve double duty. They command brake application and inspire protest possibilities.

Stop and Smell The Roses

There’s a nice stenciled graphic here and while the message is trite, it adds humor to an otherwise bland sign. Back when Bob Mould was with Husker Du he wrote this line:

 If you don’t stop to smell the roses now, they might end up on you.

The sign decor makes an attempt to remind us of this sentiment. There’s one problem. No one planted any roses. The next task, if your pass this way on Capitol Highway in SW, is to find some roses to smell.

Stop Racism

Yes, for sure, there are many things to stop and many isms to conquer with the exception of my personal favorite, Bagism. Leave it alone! What struck me was how someone got their hands on a giant vat of white out which must have had an extra-large brush to screw off the container. If the artist hadn’t been in such a hurry to mark up this stop sign in the Sabin neighborhood, the white paint could have spruced up the stop sign lettering as well.

Stop Ableism

This sign spotted in the King neighborhood made me feel dumb. I had to ask what ableism is. I received a great answer but it’s been forgotten already. It’s important to note that if we all work together we should be able to stop it.

Stop For Love

Another sign in the King neighborhood seems to be inspired by a song title. The closest one I found was “Stop To Love” by Luther Vandross, so perhaps the message is more metaphorical than literal. I was unable to find love around this stop sign anyway. My reason for stopping then had to do with the regulations I read about in the driver’s manual at the DMV which instructed me to obey all street signs.

Stop Frowning?

In the Kerns neighborhood this stop sign had been put through the ringer. The offense of mistreatment include being scribbled on, stickered, tagged, autographed, initialed and scratched but it manages to keep delivering its message. I understand its duty in controlling the flow of automobile traffic but I had to loosely interpret what concept this stop sign asking us to cease.  After spying a hieroglyphic I surmised that we’re being asked to stop frowning. When the medium is the message it’s best muddle it.

Stop Police Brutality & Hate

I sometimes get to the point where I feel like too much is being asked of me. This is the case with this Sabin neighborhood sign. It’s a tall order even to take on police brutality. I would have been willing to stop, read the sign and perhaps have taken the first steps towards taking action, but the additional request is too much. Really, I’m going to stop police brutality and in what time I have left over I’m going to squeeze in some hate stoppage. It’s overwhelming. Let’s prioritize. Once police brutality is stopped there may be a bit less hate in the world.

Stop Eating Animals

If I saw this sign in the Mississippi neighborhood on an empty stomach I might lose my appetite or head to the nearest vegetarian restaurant. I appreciate the request. Not eating animals would be good for the planet, people’s health and animals too, but I have to imagine that it would be necessary to try much harder to get people to stop eating animals. People are going to have to go down to the food cart pod and slap BBQ sandwiches out of people’s hands. It could get ugly. The sticker affixed to the sign does makes me realized how efficient this method is to bringing people’s attention to this cause.

Stop/Support Trump

One message became two when one person’s attempt to stop Trump was crossed out. This isn’t  exactly visible while driving but I encountered this sign on a bike. Someone must have become offended and tried to get their message across while obscuring the intent of the original. Now it’s becoming a jumbled mess that would have made more sense if the word stop had been crossed out. Another solution might have been to write support above Trump’s name. The arrow is the kicker, plain and simple, if you’re not sure who you’re being asked to support.

Stop That!

It’s makes sense that I should end with something that, well, is kind of cute because after all we’ve all been asked to take on many different serious issues that need stopping. This sign in North Portland demonstrates that on rare occasions, stop signs, with a bit of help, can demonstrate a sense of humor.

 

 

Special Flag Edition 2018: You Can Critique the Flag

I begin this holiday realizing that I’m trying to keep up with the Pittsburgh Orbit and their stupendous, annual flag tribute. They’re already well ahead of me having posted so they can get to the cook outs, hot dogs, and fireworks. Ah, well keeping up with the Pittsburgh Orbit is something I’ll strive for all year.

An additional thought occurred to me this Independence Day. Maybe it’s not all thought out but here in America we have freedom. That freedom allows me to be critical of the flag design, which I’ll get into later. Other nations might be less tolerant of such expressions. Of course I’ll see what kind of social media backlash occurs, mind you I am not a trained flag critic so my guess is it will not ruffle many feathers. Few media outlets and social critics pore over my words.

While seeking to bring unusual forms of creative expression to the masses, I find it challenging to highlight flag displays. There’s not much creativity in running a flag up a pole. Each year the Special Flag Edition of the Portland Orbit seeks flags displayed in unique ways.

Flags in the Looking Glass

What better way to display a flag than behind glass in a window. It may fade in time but it’s less likely to become frayed from the elements. It’s subtle, alluring even and allows for display any time of day or night.

Lone Star Nation

Spotted in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood, this flag decoration may be store-bought but it brings out a sentiment straight out of the Pledge of Allegiance. We are one nation indivisible and all that. This lone star represents this ideal of singular unity and it does it well.

A Better Door Than a Window

Sure you can make a door out of a flag like this one spotted in the Kerns neighborhood at a business located off of East Burnside Street, but you will lose some stars and stripes along the way. The flag does add bold colors to some drab, brown surroundings.

Crafty Flag

I went searching for yet another flag in a window in the Kenton neighborhood. That proved too challenging to photograph. Then I stumbled on the flag next door. It’s a gem. This flag puts the glory in Old Glory with what I want to believe is a homemade design made from fuzzy pipe cleaners. The stars are a jumbled mess shooting into the night sky background, but have you considered the state of our nation lately? It’s almost perfect and celebratory in all it’s flag waving energy. It’s one well done seasonal decoration.

Since learning about Vexillology, the study of flag design among other things and a word I still can’t pronounce, it seems like a good time to consider the layout of the American flag. I’ve realized that the rectangle within a rectangle no longer works for me. Why do the stars have to be contained in the upper left hand corner? It cuts off stripes and limits the blue to one section of the flag. I’d prefer the 50 stars spread over the entire flag. Time for an upgrade. While we’re redesigning, we could add a couple of new states. The resistance to new states seems to be that so many flags would become obsolete. My flag design would result in 13 rows of 4 stars. That’s two states added. I’d create an example but my Photoshop skills are lacking. I can’t demonstrate exactly what it would look like but don’t you have to admit it’s a concept worth considering. In the meantime have a happy Fourth Of July.

More Flags: https://portlandorbit.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/fourth-of-july-flags-unfurled/

and: https://portlandorbit.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/go-fourth/

Post Script:  A friend posted this on Facebook a while back. I didn’t get far watching it, but I found it interesting to hear Williams riff on coming up with the original design of the flag. Besides I owe him one for comparing his Mrs. Doubtfire look to the look of Evelyn Collins.