Rabbit Looks at Graffiti

Graffiti. It seems to be everywhere these days. Most of it reminds me of angry male dogs peeing on trees to mark their territory, mad dogs that are not real bright dogs either.  A lot of this stuff is not well executed or well thought out– nor is it art. Often, it intentionally destroys or defaces something: street murals executed by an entire neighborhood usually last about 24 hours before the hounds hit it with their poorly aimed spray paint urination.

Graffiti has been around a long time, seen in things like, "Kilroy was here" and random phone numbers in bathrooms saying "call Susie for a good time", or my old fave; "time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana" are all familiar to anyone who ever used a gas station bathroom or traveled on the New York subway system.

 Graffiti, the need to deface property by scratching or painting stuff onto it can be found all the way back to Pompeii. Because Pompeii was conveniently frozen in time by a volcano,( frozen or would that be fried?)  no one had a chance to tear the stuff down or write over it so we know it existed.

Graffiti hit the big time on boxcars in the USA several years back. Monster big canvases for artists who used spraycans to execute their work, usally graphics of names, or "tags". A "tag" which is the artist writing their name is known as a "handstyle." the tag is the 'artists' signature move and tags often contain messages, gang sign and affiliation and letters or initials.

A "throw up or "bombing" is painted fast with just a few colors, style is given up for speed.  A "piece" is  an artist's statement and ups the likelihood of being busted, part of the thrill? The style started with letters and has evolved to include stencils, portraiture and sophisticated stuff–especially when you consider it's usually being done in a short time, with a spray can in the dark.

There are turf wars and beefs between "artists" which can include throwing up a "block buster" or "roller". Gallons of cheap paint are rolled on in block letters to cover a wall with two contrasting colors, often just to block someone else from using the wall. And in extreme cases, one artist will hit another's piece with a "throw up" to cover it. The world of the graffiti artist is arcane and tied to the world of the street in a lot of cases. There is hidden subtext that the ordinary mortal won't ever ge, which is part of its clubby charm to the those in the genre.

So here's the thing. I have a "beef" with the twits who come along with their skinny cans of black and red paint and just spray like tomcats, because they can and all they are doing really is marking their territory with their asses.

I do however, respect the crews/artists who do the stunningly beautiful and well thought out stuff I run into occaisonally. I have found amazing graffiti in strange places: a tiny town in Montana and, a back alley in Olympia–which was executed by an astonishing artist who has gone on to fame and fortune who shall remain nameless. But let me tell you, his spray paintings of the major food groups in Olympia alleyways is the stuff of legend. Behind our apartment building we had a beautiful graffiti piece of  a stack of pancakes on a blue plate, 10 feet tall. Now that was art.

Today, I was roaming around in downtown Tacoma. An odd city that one; it has the Hilltop neighborhood full of Crips, Bloods, gangs, crime, violence, you name it–and then a couple of miles away you'll find blocks of gigantic piles of mansions and very upscale old houses, it looks like someone uprooted Pasadena's nicest neighborhood and tossed it on the hills above Commencement Bay.


Tacoma was dying on the vine until a few years ago. It had the Port, which kept it barely alive, a couple of universities and hospitals and a rapidly dying core fully of seedy bars and scary homeless people. I'm not sure what happened, but when I started taking a metal smithing class and wandering around in Tacoma I was astonished. This city is in the throes of reinventing itself and it is awesome to watch.


But I digress, what Tacoma has that is really cool and apparently keeps it in a non-stop fight with the city fathers and mothers, is the Graffiti Garages. Three big parking garages with some of the best urban taggers and artists around splattering stuff all over the walls. Beautiful, colorful, intricate and sophisticated stuff.  I did discover while trying to photograph and edit it, that all spray painted graffiti has soft edges, try sharpening that up Adobe users, ha ha! And of course the tomcats and their tiny cans have been littering the place with their idiot attempts at their names. Can they even spell? I wonder.

 The garages were empty on this Sunday and I strolled through the first two, reeking somewhat of pee towards the back. Ah the homeless winos from Saturday night, gotta love 'em Sunday morning, but even so, the work was great and I hope hope hope the city fathers and mothers back off and appreciate the fact that this brightens and adds hipitude to an other wise really drab area on antique row. 


I'm guessing graffiti has now entered terminal hipness. The third garage was full of shirtless teen boys in pants way too tight and too short, apparently for a fashion shoot based on the cameras and sycophants accompanying the hipsters.

I have put a graffiti photo album in Running Rabbit: Art and Madness for your edification. Check it out, I'm jealous of their use of color but I promise I won't come and spray paint your house while you're asleep.

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