There are three types of graffiti:
1) Artistic graffiti
2) Ego graffiti
3) Oh my God, how did he ever get up there to do that?
I lived for 24 years in the East Village before moving to Rugby Rd., and it was always a part of the streetscape there. At the start, graffiti was a vital sign of the artistic energy which was breathing new life into a derelict neighborhood. No one cared about the defacement of the buildings, many of which were burned-out shells, anyway. It was a sign to me of the transformative power of the artistic image. (Hey, I was an Art History major in my 20’s; its roots are in sgraffito, wall art dating to the 16th century)
Time passed, though, and I found myself a homeowner and the president of my block association. At 5 a.m. one morning, I looked out my window to see two kids setting up can after can of Krylon and start work on the gate of the hardware store. (Kind of like robbing the gun shop you bought the gun from, eh?) Duly representing the interests of the block, I called the 9th Precinct, which, much to my surprise, actually sent a car, and the kids were summarily busted. Arrest is a blunt social instrument, though, and white liberal guilt gnawed at me.
Flash forward to Brooklyn.
Victorian Flatbush is the last place you would expect or want to see graffiti.
When one morning I found a white line dripped all the way down the sidewalk on my block, I flashed back to something similar which a street artist named Momo had painted on the sidewalks back in the East Village. Paranoid that I’d been followed from Manhattan, I checked with the neighbors to learn what they knew of it.
It is still a mystery to this day, but if it is the work of a street artist, he or she should own up to it and then remove it. To an extent, such a penitent act preserves its artistic integrity. If it is not the work of a frustrated artist, it is just defacement. I guess that that is where I have found myself drawing the line, (no pun intended).
Some of the graffiti on Church Ave. and in the subway it is not half bad. It looks though, to be relics of the 80’s or 90’s, when the movement took off. (Who were Pilot and Snoeman?) What you see now, mostly on store gates, is just tagging for ego’s sake. Bored kids venting their anger at The Establishment, marring some store owner’s American Dream. (Hey, I’m now a frustrated writer in my 50’s.)
1) I applaud groups like CAMBA which work to prevent such acts in the first place through youth development programs. Ego taggers become enfranchised; artistic taggers become artists.
2) I would guess that 98 percent of the cans of spray paint and oversized permanent markers which are sold end up facilitating nefarious acts. I know that some sale restrictions are already in place; additional restrictions would be welcome.
3) The city needs to offer more assistance. Community Board 14 was very sympathetic to my own little Rugby Road plight, but I think that the mayor’s office needs to be less finicky about the graffiti it will remove from city infrastructure. Graffiti over the first floor? No. Graffiti on the street? No. Graffiti on the sidewalk? No. (To its credit, though, it will go obliterate “hate” language wherever it may appear.)
The city should at least provide civic groups, such as my own Prospect Park South Association, with the equipment and cleansers necessary to eradicate it.
OK. So why do I care? Well, I have learned that so many residents have worked so hard here to make the neighborhood flourish, that they deserve all the help they can get. Oh, also, when I was in ninth grade, I went back to my previous middle school and graffiti’d on a poster. Shortly thereafter, I was dragged in by my old principal, Mr. Cardellichio, and put me through the wringer. So, I am now finally doing penance—though I can think of no nicer place to do it.
Barden Prisant is on the board of directors of the Prospect Park South Association.