The Graffiti in Your Soul
Why do people write graffiti? What is the genesis of the desire to deface public property with works of random art? Why do people disregard all convention and just spray their name on random walls and trains and streetlights? Why, why, why?
Well, it probably has something to do with “bucking convention.” That’s an old term. It has to do with rebellion of some form. Mostly artistic. Graffiti doesn’t hurt anyone. It sits there like a Mona Lisa on the side of a building. Or in my case, growing up in New York City in the 1970’s, it blasted out from everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It was on walls, subway trains; it was on buildings, on brick, on steel lampposts; on the inside and outside of every single train and bus in the city...anywhere someone could “tag.”
Big, small, monotone, multicolored, simple and complex. It was like a virus. An artistic virus. There was so much graffiti on the silver sides of the subway trains you thought you were seeing an art show at the local museum.
It was streetstyle Picasso and Dali blasting through the tunnels in full-blown neon technicolor.
It was cave paintings BC become silver steel train paintings 1979 AD.
Vast metal canvases of blue and red and pink and orange and yellow and purple leaping from the train sides into your eyes. A feast of visual rainbows.
I used to take two subway trains from Queens to The Bronx to go to high school in 1979-80. So I spent a lot of time in the subways. And a lot of time standing on the platform waiting.
The badass spray-painted masterpieces would shoot through the tunnel on the sides of those silver train cars and light up every neuron in my 14 year old brain.
Many times, the words and letters and symbols and forms were so damn brilliant and improvised and full of life and piss and vinegar that it trumped all the dull street signs and municipal typography present in any major city.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m older and wiser and smarter. I ain’t advocating the defacement of public property. I’m just pontificating on the reasons behind why people decide to do what they do to public property—with an artistic flair and imagination unrivaled even in our major art museums.
The damn stuff just looks awesome. ‘Nuff said.
Big bold blasts of color and form—it’s like a skateboarder did circles on the wall with paint.
It’s surfing surfaces with color and line. It’s a jazz musician blowing riffs—in real time, often improvised—spitting their soul out through their horn.
Graffiti artists are the same. Letting their soul flow out onto the earth in multicolored masterpieces that defy convention and just make your damn jaw drop.
And while some used sketches from sketchbooks for inspiration, they still had to get those suckers up on the side of the train in real time. And fast. They couldn’t sit in a studio and ponder their navel.
So no, don’t go and do graffiti on public property. You’ll get arrested. And we have to respect authority and convention.
And now, in 2022, there’s plenty of sanctioned public spaces and walls for street artists to beautify with their magical art.
No. I’m not advocating anything. This is an essay. An exercise in getting my thoughts out on paper—rather a screen.
Just doing my own verbal graffiti on this here computer.
But graffiti will always exist. It’s like weeds that grow through the cement sidewalks. You can cover up the earth with all sorts of boundaries and shackles and lids, but the earth just keeps on growin’. And people are the same.
You can’t stuff down people’s souls. You can’t say “Paint between the lines all the time.” Sometimes we need to let go and flow, and fly and spray paint our inner beauty out onto a red brick wall, or a beautiful gleaming silver subway train. Or just on paper.
We all need to get out what’s inside of us. So find your own beautiful outlet to get the graffiti in your soul out.
If you go back and look at all that wonderful subway art from the 1970’s and 80’s from New York and other major cities—there’s tons of books on it—you can see the wild soul of a people needing release.
We all need release. Life gets tough sometimes. And we come into this world with a bucket full of magic and art and music and creativity.
And we have to get it out somehow.
Dancing. Singing. Playing music. Skating. Surfing. Painting. Street art. Laughing. Screaming. Writing.
We can’t spend all our time reciting the alphabet and pledging allegiance and staying between the lines.
The ball sometimes has to go out of bounds….
Just find a way to get whatever is creative inside you out—in a non-threatening, loving wholesome way. So we can all celebrate the color and the dance in each of us…