Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Faith of Graffiti

Scenes from the epic 2-mile bike ride around the smaller of the LSU lakes this morning. I like this new breed of printmaker/graphic design student that has taken the age old practice of graffiti and given it an upgrade. It's a matter of taking something that bothers to get my attention and does something with it. I'm not saying these particular examples speak to my soul, but there is a least a hint of poetry to them. The best graffitti I've ever seen was the word "curse" scrawled in a small informal hand on a boarded-up storefront in Cincinatti. It was a caption on the place, the city, the history everything, it was as if the word appeared out of a cosmic longing for definition.

Or it might be that I was really drunk and looking for spiritual connection at that moment. I was visiting my friend Joseph Winterhalter who had relocated back to Cincinnati after his meteoric personality left impact craters all over me and a number of people in this city in 1993. He is currently dominating the Cincinnati art scene and, if there is any hope for the future of painted expression, soon the world's art stage.

Should you be in the Cincinnati area and reading this, get thee hence to the Weston Gallery to see his recent show Leaving the 21st Century. He re-created a former workspace, mixing mid-century institutional detail and his own brand of memory collapsed and strained onto the canvas. I haven't seen any of this work in person, but the installation photos I've seen in this glowing review from point to an immersion in a field of process. The space was crafted to look like the places where lives are stamped, permits are issued, and his surfaces wrought with near molecular attention to detail emerge as organic results of that process.

Joe is one of those guys that can leave your brain quivering after a conversation, with his beartrap-quick (and tight) understanding of personal dynamics and philosophical investigation. He and I would have quote-offs as we downed ice coffees, preparing ourselves spiritually and kinetically for the ensuing night on the tiles. Those were great heady times, overflowing with pronouncements and existential crises , where I was challenged to focus and seek meaning out of things, and the challenge still dangles over my head like a sword, and the awareness of that sword is but one of the many things for which I am indebted to Joe.

Among the things Joe gave me was a copy of Norman Mailer's The Faith of Grafitti, a delicious oversized tome on graffiti in the 70s, demonstrating tagging as a projection into a world that doesn't want t hear from you in that amazing way that 70s art books have about them. This spoke to me in deafening tones about the need for self-expression and left seeds of self-determination that took a decade to flower through the thick soil of my own personal fears. Joe's persona and his art are catalysts for that kind of self-flowering, inspiring that kind of projection that exists, not necessarily for an audience, but for the sake of things needing to be said with direct precision.

And since Joe and I were, and are, very fond of the full circle, I'll stop right here.


  1. I am a huge fan of grafitti, and was actually disappointed to find some of my favorites have recently been sanded away from the walls in the bathroom at Chelseas. woe is me. I really miss the grafitti from The Bayou.

  2. I just misspelled graffiti twice. Brain not functioning properly.