Handwriting on the Wall
Just a cursory stroll through the titles of articles about graffiti is enough to make you go breathe paint fumes:
—"The Handwriting on the
Wall: Toward a Sociology and Psychology of Graffiti"
—"Aesthetics of Graffiti"
—"Art Attack: The Midnight Politics of a Guerrilla Artist"
—"Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping in the Empire of Signs"
—"Research on Mural Sprayscripts Graffiti"
—"The Semiotics of Aerosol Expression"
—"Folk Criticism of Religiosity in the Graffiti of New York City"
—"Anonymous Expression: A Structural View of Graffiti"
—"Graffiti as a Function of Building Utilization"
—"The Scrawl of the Wild: What People Write on Walls and Why"
—"Style Writing From The Underground, (R)evolutions of Aerosol Linguistics"
—"An Insubstantial Pageant Faded: A Psychoanalytic Epitaph for New York City Subway Car Graffiti"
of those titles is a fake. I dare you to find it. If
you answer correctly and your entry is received first,
I will spray your name—and address—on the front of the
police station in downtown Naples! There are also
hundreds of magazines with names such as Aerosol Kingdom,
Foe Toe Graff,
Valve, and Vandal
Maggotzine (those are all real). In other
words, this is not just some ephemeral, lightweight
phenomenon. This is Art. Even worse, this is
sociology. Naples, from that point of view, is one
very large open-air laboratory of anonymous
expression, insubstantial pageants, and spray
it isn't bad actually. I'm not talking about the
brain-dead magic markings of teen-age lust that you
find defacing public buildings and classical treasures
at Pompeii, or even the poorly understood and
imperfectly rendered versions of American rap lyrics
scrawled on the magnificent columns of the Church of
San Francesco di Paola at Piazza
Plebiscito, the largest square in Naples. Or
even the insults directed at poor "Gloria's mother" on
the great statue of Dante in Naples. That is the work
of idiots, whose bodies should all be steamed back
into their component molecules, forced into one large
aerosol can and then sprayed onto an outhouse in Hell.
Welcome to Barra!
No, I am talking
about real art: the complicated portraits and stylized
script, the stuff that takes all night to do—the kind
that decorates—dare I say alleviates?—the concrete
Führer-bunker sameness of all 30 train stations of the
Circumvesuviana train line that runs from Naples to
Sorrento. If I have to choose between waiting for a
train in some drab & slab dump and waiting amid
bright psychedelic shapes and letters, I'll always
choose the latter. (It's like having a 1960's
flashback!—and that's 40 years ago. It works out just
right because I'm likely to wait 40 years for the next
train. Who says there is no balance in the universe?)
Louvre of graffiti seems to be the station of Barra
(photo, above). The original long one-dimensional
nothingness of grey concrete wall along the track has
been morphed into a bright kaleidoscope of Rastafarian
"reefer art"—a happy change. They even "tag" the
trains with elaborate murals. (Hold on. I'm getting a
message. Yes, I can feel it being sprayed onto my
brain from the "other side," some very hip —or at
least hip-hop—parallel universe. It's an idea for an
article—"Train Graffiti in Naples: the Semiotics of
Mobile Protest") Or something like that. (Wait. I
think "Or Something Like That" is supposed to be part
of the title. Oh, no. They've put me on hold.)
wish they wouldn't spray the windows; after all, that
gets in the way of my admiration for the graffiti on
the station walls as we whiz through. I have thought
about spraying the "taggers" a message about that.
[Also see street art]