The 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"
one 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, Pressure Expansion 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 semiotics.
of 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 (and
counting). 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?)
local 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
I just 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.
added Sept. 2021- This has appeared in
various places in Italy. I don't know where this one
is. It plays on a phrase that has become current.
[See related item on street art]