Friday, March 14, 2014

It's go time

I can still see myself sitting in my first masters class, "Issues In Urban Studies," waaaaaaaaaaay back in the fall of 2009. What was my thesis going to be, I was asked. I had no clue, but just for the hell of it, I threw out "graffiti" as an answer. That's urban, I thought. Right?

Ok, fine, said my professor. What about it? Ah, yes, what about it indeed....

Almost five years later, here we are. New York City Graffiti Murals: Signs of Hope, Marks of Distinction is finished, and so far, it has been downloaded 106 times since it was uploaded in May. Perhaps just as encouraging, my 111-page opus is the first result when you Google "Patrick Verel." We're gaining some steam here, slowly but surely...

All this has taken place during a time of, shall we way, extreme busy-ness, as the class I'm currently taking, Politics of Global Economic Relations, demands I read roughly one full academic article a day, on subjects such as NAFTA, the IMF, and exchange rates. During my last class, we discussed the Gold Standard. Fun shit!

Ah, but this too shall pass, and come May, the fun begins anew. On Tuesday, I mailed a signed contract to Pennsylvania-based publisher Schiffer Books, which has accepted my proposal to turn the thesis into a book for popular consumption. Not too shabby for a project that was borne out of panic, eh?

So the next step is to craft a manuscript for a book that I can't quite envision at the moment. I do know that I'll make a strong case for the role that graffiti murals, when done with the right amount of coordination, can be a source for good both for the economy and community. Not only that, but I really do believe that they can stand as a bulwark against homogenization, which is just one of the many scourges of extreme gentrification.

I'll probably have to tone down some of the academic aspects of it (I'm looking at you "theoretical framework"), but there are still enough nuggets of info and anecdotes about the creative process to warrant a full book treatment. I can say without shame that my photographs aren't going to be mistaken for a coffee table book, but they'll definitely do the job. And in any case, there are LOTS of great collections of photography about graffiti out there already, so it would be foolish to try to compete with them.

So then the question becomes, who is this for? By agreeing to work with a popular publisher, and not an academic one, I worry that I may lose the kind of reader who would  gravitate toward things like David Harvey's concepts of "monopoly rent" and "marks of distinction." It may be that the case studies really draw the bulk of interest; if that's the case, that's great; those six vignettes form the scaffolding upon which the rest of structure is hung.

I mean, Nicer's musings on the place of graffiti in the greater art scene; Luv 1's commentary on the need to have more "human finger prints" spread around; Veng's comparing work with spray paint to that of paint brushes, and all the artists' rationales for embracing the ultimate sqaureness-working legally-who wouldn't want to read that?

And yet...if the case studies are the foreground; the flashy front that grabs your attention and lends the book a patina of hipness, then symbolic interactionism, the broken windows theory, and Walter Benjamin's "aura of art" are the background that give heft to the ultimate assessment of these murals. I know, I was just talking about scaffolds, and now I'm using background and foreground metaphors; I'm still searching for the right comparison. I guess the point is the two feel inseparable...

But, GOOD NEWS! I have until August to work these issues out, along with any knotty copyright issues that might arise with photography. Who knows, this might actually end up being pretty kickass and actually sell a few copies. I feel like I'm on a train with no clear destination, and all that matters is it's still moving. I have no idea where or when it may stop, but in the mean time, I'm trying to enjoy the ride.
Red Hook, Van Brundt Street