Thursday, December 20, 2012

Surprises, wanted and not

I went for a long run through Red Hook on Sunday. It’s a meandering route that I’ve made my go-to for longer runs. I like it because it’s relatively desolate and therefore easy to navigate, and also because well, I’ve just gotten used to it. I’m familiar with it. As I’ve documented before, it’s the site of some really cool street art, so some of the familiarity stems from specific landmarks that I like to check up on from time to time. After all, this is a most fleeting, form of expression; here today, gone within  a day or a week.

Some of my journey is along the lines of ‘Cool, the Swoon is still there. Ah, another wacky wheat paste has joined collection of marks on that derelict, collapsing apartment building. Rats, the shark painting is gone, but now there’s some sort of portrait of a woman in its place. And oh, hey, how have I missed all this time this kick ass carving into the sidewalk of a shadow of a tree nearby?!? (Sorry, no pics yet)

That, my friends is the essence of living to me. I have found that I have such a short attention span, that I crave the random surprises that pop up from time to time, even in places that I think I know so well. It's like walking through an endless field of green grass blades and suddenly stumbling on a bright yellow dandelion.

[Spoiler Alert: I'm tacking into something very different now, but will return to this in time]

But not all surprises are good ones. When it comes to some situations, I'm very grateful that I already know the answers. For instance, I am 99 percent certain that on any given day, no one around me has the ability to kill me without some serious effort on their part. They may be carrying the occasional knife, but I know they’re not armed with a firearm that is capable of ending my life or anyone I love with the simple squeeze of a trigger.
And yet…

After 27 people, including 20 small children, were massacred in Newtown on Friday, I have to wonder. Maybe there really are more people out there with arsenals stored in their basements, just waiting for the moment when civilization collapses, or some synapse in their head snaps. After all, Newtown is less than two hours away from here, and much closer to my home town, where a great number of people I treasure reside.

So what’s to be done then? The answer, it has been suggested in some quarters, is for folks like myself to be armed. After all, if I am armed, then it goes to reason that no one else who is armed will peg me as a target. Might makes right, an eye for an eye, and all that, right? And just five years ago, the Supreme Court cleared the way for me to own my very own gun, should I really want one.

Now, I could prattle on forever about gun control, mental health, the second amendment and the unique way that violence is enshrined in American culture. Indeed, all the above subjects have been rattling around in my head to the point of distraction ever since those poor people were mowed down in a hail of bullets. Save for a few token posts, I’ve even refrained from social media since then, as I felt no response could possibly due justice to the grief, confusion, rage and helplessness I’ve felt since then. Were it possible to translate all those thoughts into words on a screen, it might be….let’s just say it would not be pretty.

In any case, many others have already spoken so eloquently on the issue. I think of Nicholas Kristof, Gary Wills, Fordham's Saul Cornell, and of course my cousin Mary Beth.

But hey, just for shits and giggles, let's go in the opposite direction of the gun control crowd. Instead of limiting the purchase of AR-15’s and the kinds of high capacity clips that make slaughtering babies as simple as turning on a light switch, let’s suppose we even the score. Let's assume that the proper way to protect  children in schools is to give everyone in the vicinity permission to carry lethal weapons, preferably fully loaded, and holstered for quick access. No one ever will talk back to Ms. Jones again, right?

Fast forward to 2017. We’re there now. Every teacher has a pistol and knows how to use it. Presumably they’ve been given a break on the cost of buying it and ammunition, as well as the training they would need, because we all know what teacher’s salaries are like, right? Then what? I suppose the logic is supposed to work like this: The Newtown fuckwad-shithead-asshat-douchenozzle, having decided he’s going to kill someone, realizes that since he can’t kill many people at the school, he should kill elsewhere. Victory! Or not, since there’s still the town library. And the park. And the mall. And the town hall. And any public space, really!

'Ah, but Patrick,' I hear myself saying, 'You missed the point here. Once the teachers are armed, then it stands to reason that everyone would be armed. You, me, your sister, that guy who lives down the block, the gas station attendant, you name it. The way this sort of system would work would be if it were some sort of cold war—You don’t shoot me, because someone around me might shoot you.

I think the Cold War analogy is a great one, because we basically bankrupted the Soviet Union by forcing them to devote more and more resources toward weapons, until they could deploy no more. And so too, would we be sucked into a black hole of ever increasing expenditures to protect ourselves. After all, there are guns, and then there are GUNS, like the aforementioned AR-15. I don’t pretend to be an expert in fire arms, but I do know that some of them shoot faster, some of them shoot more accurately, and some of them shoot bullets that are much more efficient at ripping flesh to shreds. Newtown fuckface exterminated 27 out of the 29 people he shot, so if nothing else, he was a great example of efficiency. If you were a teacher determined to protect yourself and your students, you’d have to take time out of your day mapping your lesson plan for the ABC’s to figure out how you’d counter that.

But then again, maybe not, because as we know from the shit stain who pulled a similar stunt during a movie in Colorado, when you embark on a killing spree in the U.S., the hot new accessory is body armor. You too can be a one man Swat team now. The best offense is a good defense, amIright?

But back to the element of surprise. Of all the things you can do to maximize an all American slaughter, making the first move is key. That’s why even the stories you read about armed citizens thwarting mass shootings usually feature the slaughter of five or six poor slobs. If you’ve got the initiative, the NRA will make sure you can get the tools you need to make the first strike. I thought of this the other day when I guy was executed in broad daylight a block from my office with just one well-placed bullet to the back of his head, but thanks to Newtown, we now know just how much killing you can do if you put your mind to it. Given the kind of fire power he had at his disposal, who CARES if the teachers had been armed? They probably wouldn’t have A. Expected to be ambushed by a lunatic. B. Had time to react to his fussillade. Or C. Been able to go toe to toe with his firepower. Who knows, maybe one of them might have missed and shot a 6 year old instead…

The best offense is ALL defense, which to me means making it as hard as possible for anyone to mount an attack in the first place. If we can’t be sure deep down that we're safe, we will be forced to either turn this country into a literal police state, with armed guards stationed at every single public space in the land, or we'll will have to take up arms ourselves, and assume everyone else around has too.

So forget marveling at the newest graffiti production, wheat paste or sticker that has sprung up in a forgotten corner of my borough; I will be too damn busy worrying if the asshole I just bumped into on the subway is a mortal threat. Or worse yet, some other asshole is going to get the hairy eyeball from another jerk, exchange words, and let the bullets fly while I’m standing in the middle.

It already happens in places like the South Bronx, despite heroic efforts by the NYPD to stop it. And now it’s happened in Newtown, and five days later, I still feel waves of sadness role over me when I think of those poor women and children, ripped out of this life in as viciously a manner possible. I can do nothing to grant them a reprieve from the evil that befell them, but I hope to god I can help stop this escalation of death that is gripping us, and pummel this notion that violence can defeat violence back into whatever wretched place it came from.

I want my surprises to be good ones.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A word about context

A couple of days ago, the weirdest thing happened. I more of less finished the theis. Well, sort of. Although I still had to write a table of contents, a title page, and some acknowledgements I'd like thank um, Jesus, etc....), when I finished the chapter about the owner of a building in Gowanus, the heavy lifting was done. Kick ass!

Now, it's sort of a slog. First up, combine the different chapters into one document. One chapter, about Five Pointz, has pictures already, but the rest of the thesis does not. Still, it weighs in at 138 pages. Basically, I feel like I've run a third marathon with this puppy. Maybe this is mile 22 or so?

Next, re-reading the entire thing AGAIN. For some of the earlier chapters, this is probably the tenth time I've read them, since many started life as papers for classes I took as part of my masters' program. That's one of the nice things about this Urban Studies program—professors try to help you work your thesis into their classes whenever possible.

Anyway, I've now re-read and rejiggered the first nine chapters, or 43 pages, and I hope to be done with that, and picture selection, by December 12, so I can turn in the whole shebang by the 19th. Oh yes, this motherfucker will happen.

Now, about the "context" that I mention in the title. Perusing Wooster Collective a couple days ago, I ran into this. Wooster Collective is updated pretty infrequently, but every once in awhile, they really clear the air. This is a post about Banksy, who is arguably the most famous street artist around, and while I am writing about authorized graffiti murals, and not (mostly often) unauthorized street art, both phenomenon are weakened considerably when they are taken out of the contex in which they were created. The chap over at Vandalog likens it to telling a joke with just the punch line, and nothing else.

As chance would have it, I make a similar argument in my paper, by quoting from Walter Benjamin's  The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, which he wrote in 1939. To wit:

"The uniqueness of the work of art is identical to its embedded-ness in the context of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. What was equally evident to both was its uniqueness, its aura."

I delve into this quote a lot in my thesis, but the basic premise is that graffiti murals can't be anywhere BUT the street, because of their connection to the gritty reality that the street embodies. Likewise, if you only look at a piece like this: 


You will not understand that it is embedded in a scene like this:

Or this:


Or that another part of this scene is this:


Mmmmm, rotten produce....

These are a from my visit to Hunt's Point in the Bronx, the home of the TATs Cru, and they'll be a part of chapter ten of what will come to be known as either "New York City Graffiti Murals: Signs of Hope," "New York City Graffiti Murals: Marks of Distinction," or something else if inspiration strikes me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Outliers

Coming down to the wire. Finished the chapter on the "Graffiti Free New York" program, and begun the final chapter, which is a bit about a building owner in Gowanus who's chosen to have his building buffed by the city, and isn't quite keen on getting a mural done. Instead, he's quite happy with this:
Sexy, right?  You just have to love the way they've barely even bothered to use matching paint to buff the graffiti that was there. Why, it's kind of an abstract block piece, don't you think?

Now, contrast this with another picture, which I also took in Gowanus a few years back:

100_0348 Now that's what I'm talking about!

Now, the funny thing about graffiti that I've discovered as I've worked on this thesis is that although this last image is kind of what I always envisioned it to be, and what I've always thought would be awesome to have more of, there are lots of variations to the form.

Some of which go beyond mere color, shade and form (or lack thereof) and enter the realm of droll, on the one hand, and um, let's just say, "provocative" on the other. I've never seen in person the work of two artists in particular who represent these two poles, but I've learned a lot about them, from reading sites like Vandalog, Animal, Streetsy, Wooster Collective, The Street Spot and Brookyn Street Art.  Think of them as the outliers, commenting in a sort of meta way on graffiti and street art as a whole

First up is Mobstr

<Urban Genius And Urban Genius

The second image is a cheeky critique of street art in general, but it's the first one that I really like. It's the kind of pithy attitude that I wish I saw more of when it comes to buildings like my friend's up in Gowanus there, with his cornucopia of gray. Plan and simple: A building may look like shit with messy tags all over the place, but it looks just as crappy with a bunch of just as sloppy splotches of paint.

How big a deal can a guy be who seems to be known mostly for pithy sayings written in block letters? Well, as it turns out, big enough to be invited to participate in an art festival in England. The piece he did is very insider-y, to be sure, but just you gotta love that second one, the rain cloud piece, for its site specificity.

Then there's, Lush. Pretty much everything this guy does is NSFW. We're talking Hustler level pornography. Some of what he (I assume it's a he; he's always behind a mask) does is commentary that's obviously only meant for online consumption, like this. (I'm linking instead of embedding, so you can't blame me if you click on it at work and get in trouble).

And there's stuff like this. That's actually some of his tamer stuff; if you have a lot of time to waste, flip through his Flickr stream for some seriously weird, mostly misogynistic crap. The folks at Vandalog, where I first discovered him, seem to be mostly bemused by his shtick, and it's pretty clear that he sees himself as something of a provocateur. For some reason, I imagine he digs the Insane Clown Posse and Human Centipede movies.

So there ya go. Two thoroughly different takes on this whole "I'm gonna write some crap on a wall" concept. You can probably guess which one I prefer.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

a blink of an eye later

Yeesh. Was it only two weeks ago I was kvetching about Red Hook? Forget the schedule, the schedule's all been shot to hell. Part of the reason is I used up a lot of time to work on what ended up being an 11-page paper on Five Pointz, and part of the reason was, well, life has been getting in the way.

At least on the former aspect, I've got a bonus chapter for my thesis that I never thought I'd be able to add. And today I finished a chapter on the Department of Transportations' Urban Arts Program and Groundswell Mural Arts Program, which is similar to the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Neither facilitates the creation of graffiti murals per se, but they do some really neat stuff on both public and private land around New York City, and Groundswell, I feel, could be a great clearinghouse for artists available for mural work.

I'll get into this a little more soon, but right now I'm about to pass out. So in the meantime, here's one of their most recent murals, a few blocks away from my house, on the side of a jail:

More soon. I promise. Sleep, now.....

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thinking of Red Hook

Today is one of those days where the entire day has been one giant distraction. How is Sandy affecting Connecticut? Long Island? Lower Manhattan? Coney Island? The ENTIRE FREAKIN East Coast? Oh, and the election that will decide the leader of the free world in all of eight stinkin days.

When faced with the kind of utter madness that is a hurricane like Sandy, when it's possible to spend the entire day cooped up in an apartment, alternating between caring for an infant and gawking at images of cranes dangling precariously from buildings....

Ah yes, in case you couldn't tell, this was written on Tuesday, when we were just waking up to discover that New York City and most of the coast along the Northeast had been turned upside down and shaken vigorously, like one of those cheesy snow globes you see in gift shops. And befitting that day, I got two paragraphs finished before getting utterly and hopelessly distracted.

Superstorm Sandy caught my attention for many reasons, and I'm still grieving for all that was lost in her vicious maw. But the neighborhood of Red Hook was of particular interest to me, partly because of its rich maritime history, (See here for a fascinating description of Fort Defiance, which was based there), but also because, in spite of its secluded geography, it has an impressive collection of street art. It also has, or rather had, an eclectic mix of bars and restaurants, many of which are now in peril.

A few years ago, Red Hook was actually being marketed as some sort of second coming of Williamsburg, the "NEXT BIG THING," but of course, with no subway to speak of and only one bus to ferry you across the Brooklyn Queens Expressway into the rest of Brooklyn, it was never going to happen. And now that Sandy has exposed how vulnerable the place is to wholesale inundation by the Atlantic Ocean, it's future is definitely up in the air.

I still love it though, and am hoping it recovers. Here are just a few street art-related reasons why:

DSCN8896 UFO,  on Otsego Street right by Ikea

SAM_0774 Great White Shark on ">Van Brunt Street 

IMG_7132 Over/Under on Coffey Street You'll notice it doesn't show up on Google Street View yet; it's fairly new.

 IMG_7129 Swoon on Pioneer Street This one is so new, the entire lot looks different on street view.

Tons more pics are living over at Flickr, along with, I'm sorry to report, several pictures of the damage inflicted on the neighborhood. Hang in there Red Hook. I'm pulling for you.


Friday, October 26, 2012

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program

Is there anything less interesting than catching a common cold? Well, I suppose yakking about it via social media....

Yeah, so I missed three solid days of writing, thanks to coughing, fatigue, runny nose, sore throat, yadda yadda yadda. Thankfully, Dayquil, Niquil, OJ, leftover prescription strength cough medicine and sleep seem to have done the trick, and I'm back in business today.

I'm not writing about Groundswell or the D.O.T. though; rather I've shifted gears toward something else, and will return in a day or two. Because in addition to finishing this thesis, I'm also taking a class, New York Arts and Urban Expression. I don't have time here to explain exactly what that class is, but what's important is the final paper for the class is due on November 13. Yes, there are three more classes after that—don't ask....

Like most classes in the Urban Studies masters program, this one has a professor who's eager to help us complete our thesis, so I've taken this opportunity to add a chapter to mine that I thought I might have to leave out: The world famous Five Pointz, located all of 15 minutes from Midtown Manhattan, in Long Island City. Here's a shot I got yesterday:

There's a shit ton of other pictures over at my Flickr set, including few pictures that aren't really focused on graffiti, per se. Like, for instance, this shot. That's because I'm going to focus a good deal on the relationship between this building's community, which will be scattered to the the four winds next fall when it's scheduled to be demolished, to the one affiliated with the Citigroup Building three blocks away. Basically, I have to somehow marry reporting and research on the "Institute of Higher Burnin'" as 5 Pointz known, to theory from the likes of Foucault, Derrida and Koolhaas.

From the latter, here's a quote from his tome, Delirious New York, which I highly recommend:

“Ferriss’ most important contribution to the theory of Manhattan is exactly the creation of an illuminated night inside a cosmic container, the murky Ferrissian Void: A pitch black architectural womb that gives birth to the consecutive stages of the Skyscraper in a sequence of sometimes over lapping pregnancies, and that promises ever new ones.” —P. 117

Should make for an interesting chapter.


P.S. I apologize for the blandness of the photos; I took them with my trashy little point-and-shoot instead of my SLR. Won't happen again!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bad v. Good

Just poking around the old hard drive, looking for a picture I'm sure I took of a mural that Groundswell did on the side of a jail in Boerum Hill, and I stumble across two images, circa August, 2011. When I take pictures that don't fit into any particular folder (say, Greenpoint, or Thanksgiving), I dump them into folders called "Everything Else." It's not perfect for locating things, but I do know in advance that when I look inside one, I'll find a smorgasbord.

Here are two images that were in this particular folder. Can you guess which one qualifies as "good" graffiti, and which one was obviously done by an amateur?

The first one is at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, and comes courtesy of How and Nosm of the Tats Cru, and rrobots. The latter? Can't remember where it was, though that's probably just as well, as I'm sure it's long since been buffed.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Philly Finito

Finished the Philadelphia chapter. Thanks to my rejiggered schedule, I'm only a day late, instead of eight days. Who says I'm not creative? Came together pretty well; ended it by citing some work from the good folks at Econsult Corporation, who gave a thumbs up to murals as a way to help jazz up commercial districts. The murals that the Philadelphia Mural Arts do are generally more traditional than what say, the TatsCru does in the South Bronx, but really, when you start trying to separate different styles of art into "good" and "bad," I feel like it's trying to pick your favorite blade of grass from the lawn—it's a pointless exercise.

Next up, I plan to highlight the work of the New York Department of Transportation's Urban Arts Program and Groundswell, whose work in New York is similar to the Philly Mural Arts. It's crazy, I can almost see the end in sight.

Oh, and just because Blogger tells you see these things in the admin panel, hello to whoever is reading this blog from Russia! Thanks for checking in!

Finally, remember Espo, the guy who did the Love Train in Philadelphia? You can also find his work in New York City, right in downtown Brooklyn.

Untitled Neat, right?


Thursday, October 11, 2012

On to the city of Brotherly Love

My chapter on Philadelphia was, according to the schedule I'd mapped out for myself at the beginning of the month, due yesterday. Just started writing it today. I'm not really worried about being a week behind though, because I originally scheduled time for putting together a bone fide web site to show off all the purdy pictures I done collected for this project. Let's just say that's going to be a 2013 project now.

The bulk of this chapter will deal with the work that the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program does, not because they put up graffiti murals per se, but because they're a terrific example of a city that wholeheartedly embraces public art as a way to just plain old make it a better place. It's also a piddly 90 miles away from NYC; thus it's not too hard to relate to if you live in these parts.

And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't note that Cornbread, the accepted "godfather of graffiti" is from there. NYC might have had Taki 183 in July, 1971, but Cornbread beat him to the publicity punch four months earlier. Specifically, he was featured in the Philadelphia Tribune in March, 1971.

With that little tidbit in mind, here's a picture from one of our visits to Philly, taken while we were aboard the Mural Arts' Love Letter Train Tour, courtesy of Steve Powers, aka ESPO.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Call me....Patrick

I should have done this about two years ago. But here it its, the Better late than never graffiti project blog! Woo! Can you tell I spent a lot of time trying to come up with a title?

I put a no effort into the title, nor the URL, because my thinking behind this blog is such: While I spend an inordinate amount of time parsing the words and phrases of what will be my thesis about graffiti murals, and will be thrilled to share it when it is done at the end of the year (after two years!), I also need an outlet to just share things on a whim when the thesis is complete, and I'm still snapping pictures of random fire hydrants, stickers, shadows, etc. etc. etc. etc.

Thus, the title. The URL? That's just for this guy, who is the embodiment of what would happen if a live person actually encountered the Simpsons, which it should be noted is the best show EVER.
Frank Grimes, a/k/a "Grimey"
"Grimy" (Yes, I know it's a different spelling) is also a great catch-all for things I'm interested in, be they graffiti, urban spaces, architecture, crumbling infrastructure, and it was available. Remember the part about this being thrown together on the fly? Righto.

Anyway, here's where I'm at right now. I had ten chapters of my thesis done when I started this semester, and I had five more to go. This semester, I've already rewritten the first ten chapters, incorporating ideas from David Harvey's Rebel Cities (I'll get to that some time in the future) and just last night, I finished the case study for Trenton, only 10 days late. Woo!

With that time frame in mind, I'll leave you with an image from my visit there that may not make it into the final thesis, even though it really kicks ass. A big shout out to Leon "Rain" Rainbow of the S.A.G.E. Collective for showing me around that fair burg last year. This was on North Clinton Ave., about a block south of Olden Ave.
There's a lot more where this came from. Please do stop by again; I'll be sure to make it worth your time.