Here Yesterday, Gone Today
A few weeks ago I snapped a photo of a stunning wall mural along the Market Street corridor. The image of a man dressed in flannel and jeans walking a menacing, snarling pit bull. The artwork was well crafted – rich in color and dimension – and viewed through the chainlink fence of the open parking lot that the
graffiti mural faced, was appropos commentary on the artworks immediate setting.
I passed that same lot this morning, and looked up to find that the
graffiti MURAL had been painted over – erased via housepaint, and the newly ‘blanked’ surface had already been tagged.
It stopped me in my tracks. As an advocate for public art, I rejoice at seeing artistic works across the otherwise blank canvases of our city. As an advocate for public ART, I am disheartened by the prolification of graffiti tags – the repeatative signature scrawl that serves the purpose of dog ‘marking’ urination – simply to mark a spot, to document one’s passing through.
Graffiti IS a problem – a $22 million problem, according to a Civil Grand Jury’s findings. Combined with litter and vandelism, graffiti is a contributor to the danger and degradation of many neighborhoods.
But some graffiti IS art. Undeniably. Who defines it as such, and what can be done to identify
graffiti MURAL sites that add aesthetic VALUE to a streetscape are all political issues that have yet to be determined, but as a public citizen whose tax dollars go in part to the city’s mitigation measures to eradicate ALL graffiti, I see value in setting those parameters. The graffiti mural of the man and his pit bull had a positive impact on that stretch of Market Street it once graced – whereas the “clean” wall that it purportedly is now is MORE of a magnet to the type of graffiti that does NOT address it’s setting, does NOT provide a visual focal point, does NOT prompt a dialogue of what it depicts.
I stopped to ask two men who were sitting at the edge of the chainlink fence if they remembered the
graffiti mural, and what they thought of the change. They told me that the SF police had given the property owner a notice and that the owner would be fined (the rumor was $50 per day) for the lenght of time that the graffiti mural remained. The owner had no choice but to paint over it.
The irony to ME is: Mayor Newsom is pushing hard to curb graffiti in the city. At the same time, he is also promoting “temporary public art” throughout the city.
My question is, what can be done to “officially” classify certain works of
graffiti artwork as “art” and allow them to remain in situ for designated periods of time – 3 months? 6 months? – and to be documented for posterity as contributors to the rich artistic fabric of our city? Wouldn’t this possibly be an enticing incentive for street vandals artists to produce works that ARE art, and evolve into pseudo-sanctioned zones of the city where blank walls are transformed (at very little relative cost to the city, I’d like to point out) into PROPONENTS of the Mayor’s Temporary Public Art program, and become a ‘middle-ground’ between the low- and high-arts?
This is what I want to see. Less of the “clean” blank walls filled with tagger’s scrawl, and more celebrated, ‘organically grown’
graffiti mural art.
If this is something YOU want to see too, the Graffiti Advisory Board meets the second thursday of each month – tonight! – and is open for public commentary. I feel strongly enough about this issue to want to garner some support for this concept – granting temporary permits for graffiti determined to be of artistic value to the communities they reside in – so I want to prepare a developed point of discussion before I attend one of these meetings. If anyone else is interested in joining me and working to outline a proposal for such a plan, please contact me directly: nmcclure[at]gmail.com