Streets in Paris crawl with art on wheels. A blank, plain white delivery truck is an art work waiting to happen, a potential support for the city’s corps of graffiti artists, whose works are found most densely in the northeastern neighborhoods whence they move about town spreading the fame of their often eponymous creators. The example in “Text & Context” is parked at the point where rue du Temple changes its name to rue de Belleville and begins its climb to Metro Pyrennes at the top of the hill. The building in the background houses a Chinese restaurant as well as a hotel which serves the various Asian and African populations inhabiting these quartiers. Perhaps it is this cultural variety which led the owners to hedge their political bets, invoking a range of dispensations from monarchy to republicanism. As an aesthetic object in 3-dimensional reality, the building has little to recommend it; my two-dimensional version required many layers of paint before it began to acquire interest which might hold up to the surface of the truck, a vehicle which has frequented the neighborhood for at least three years without enduring any modifications by subsequent graffiti practitioners, a likely metamorphosis in an environment with more painters with more energy than space.
|The Very Truck
That vehicle has frequented the neighborhood for at least three years without enduring any modifications by subsequent painters, as usually happens among street artists short on space to develop.Comparison of “my” painted truck with its model (above), shows that I introduced a number of over-paintings gleaned from elsewhere and fitted to the truck’s surface, making it a kind of sampler of various scripts—including a bit of Arabic (lower left) which contains devices very much at home among 21stcentury street traditions but is quoted from an Arabic script found in a Paris museum. Upper right is a graffiti by “HORFE,” an artist whose work appears below in another painting of my own. Such icons, often embodiments of the artist’s identity, achieve dynamic expressivity using distortions of the alphabet suggesting feeling states. (Note the variation in Horfe’s “sign” as it appears in Text & Context and below on the smaller white truck.) In the process they become a sort of ideogram sharing some of the qualities of the Chinese characters over the entrance to Le Royal Bellevue.
Truck Rue Sedaine, oil on canvas, 23x32 inches, copyright 2010
Of course a painter would vary his own work from one work to the next, but what about the practice of obliterating the work of others in order to impose a new work? This aspect of grafitti culture astounds: why do these painters tolerate erasure? Is it a sort of dialogue between rival artists? Or is there a kind of laissez-faire environment which has created an ego-free art culture among turf conscious young males? Literary criticism is heavy with questions about the “anxiety of influence,” generational rivalry among poets. Should fast evolving grafitti art be viewed as a constant over-writing, sometimes complete obliteration, other times a kind of reframing or incorporation where previous art is annhilated or caught up in fresh paint, a new development in anarchy (or would it be democracy?)—or should it be seen as an astounding evolution of libertarian tolerance? In any case, wall writings seem to reveal the pulse of street life as ideas are expressed, exchanged and developed.
|Artist At Work 1
|Unka Scrooge Gripsous
For many years the site for the painting below, one of the locks on the Canal St. Martin, displayed street art respected by the spray can brigades, apparently held back by the authority of the stencil artist who posted it, or perhaps in awe of its predecessor in the Louvre. It re-presented Gericault’s huge painting, “the Raft of the Medusa,” a ship wreck resulting eventually in desperate cannibalism while potential rescuers sailed past unawares. “Louvre on the Canal” makes use of the original state of this “reproduction” of a much loved original (now itself deteriorating at a rapid state as its bitumen based paint sinks into illegibility before the eyes of museum goers):
Canal Shipwreck, oil on canvas, 32x40 inches, copyright 2010
Some time later, however, the state of art on the canal progressed to a stage seen here in 2011:
Below a few lines from Wallace Stevens commenting (1950, Ordinary Evening in New Haven) on the expressive possibilities of “characters” to be found in letters of the alphabet.
It is the infant A standing on infant legs,
Not twisted, stooping, polymathic Z,
He that kneels always on the edge of space …
These characters are around us in the scene
both alike appoint themselves the choice
Custodians of the glory of the scene,
The immaculate interpreters of life …
Au Revoir, Gripsous