Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An International Observation

"A painting in a museum probably hears more foolish remarks than
anything else in the World."
Edmun & Jules Concourt

Esteemed Readers,

I fear I am about to add to the cacophony of fools.

Graffiti, it seems, knows no international boundary. You find it all over the world. Recently, it dawned on me that there exists an eerie similarity to all graffiti. Graffiti artists seem to find themselves limited to use of the same ‘font'. The vast preponderance all tend to use big, puffy white letters outlined in black; although, often the letters themselves come from no established language’s alphabet.

As you might surmise, I noted this observation on one of my many and varied cab rides from hotels to airports and back. Rather than collapsing into the flat-lined alpha wave state I normally adopt during transport to and from work, I spent some time wondering why graffiti would show such a homogeneous structure throughout the world.

Because my default state is as a mean-spirited, bigoted, xenophobic American, my first explanation for this sameness was ‘Amerocentric’. I surmised that – like other pop culture art forms – American graffiti artists have forced their influence on the rest of the world. I apologize for any discomfiture this has place on any of my international esteemed readers. Idly, I wondered why our President missed his chance to apologize for this coercion during his recent World Apology Tour.

This thought process naturally led to a desire to improve my mental discipline and become more cosmopolitan and I realized that I might have this explanation exactly backwards. There very well could be a continental European influence on American graffiti.

This morning, however, as I was shaving and performing other preflight ablutions, I realized there is a much more likely technical explanation for this sameness.

As all artists have known since time immemorial, the results of your art are constrained by your materials and environment. The cave drawings in Lascaux look the way they do because of the ‘canvas’ and pigments available to those artists. Davinci’s sculptures are formed by the choice of marble available. The Renaissance Artists results are framed by the canvas, brush and paint options available, and so on.

Consider a generic graffiti artist. He* finds some fairly significant constraints upon his art form. Working hastily in the dead of night to avoid political and legal oppression, standing on some sort of hastily erected ladder or scaffolding next to some boxcar, bridge abutment or other wall, under poor lighting conditions, limited in palette and brush stroke by the selection of spray cans available, it is no wonder that our artist’s final results look related worldwide. It seems obvious that big puffy white letters outlined in black would naturally result from such environmental and material constraints.

Just now, esteemed readers, I realized that a google search might shed light upon this inquisition. Frankly, the consequence to my already established geekish reputation were I to make such an inquiry frightens me . If you wish, I leave the googling to you. Feel free to liberally comment below.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

* Please allow me the use of ‘he’ to mean a generic human being of non-specific gender; I detest the horrid ‘he/she’ formulation.

1 comment:

Dad/Geoff said...

You are misinformed on urban art.

My favorite is an English guy (or group of guys, since pulling off some of his tags by himself would be tough) that goes by "Banksy."

Graffiti artists are no longer limited by white paint with black outline. Note the many different kinds of spray paint and paint markers for fine line work.

If you get bored on your trip, you can also check out some of the stuff done by Augor or Revok. They go a little beyond just bombing train cars.

So, while young graffiti artists might start out with a basic white font outlined on black, it has gone way beyond that level artistically at the upper echelons. Some of the people in LA and NY get so into it that they end up trying to avoid the cops while doing graffiti AND avoiding each other since they are fighting for the same pieces of real estate. There have been shootings, stabbings, etc.

I know it's illegal, but I still think some of it is cool. Especially Banksy.