As I sit here on the train home from Paddington station, I see all the graffiti lining the buildings, call boxes, and fences surrounding the rails. It looks awful. Then, when I actually do take time to watch the whole trip and ignore my laptop for a while, I can see the urban landscape turn into a rural one. Graffiti turns into farmland. The green that has been admired for hundreds of years replaces the urban landscape which we haven’t yet acquired a taste for.
In the neighbourhood I grew up in, in South San Diego, graffiti was very common. We had a lot near our street at Palm avenue, but going a half-mile south to Del Sol Boulevard was the worst. It’s cleaned up now, but in the eighties gang activity was really bad and gang names sprawled every brick wall, green electricity box, telephone pole–you name it. When I go back now, it’s all cleaned up very well. Either the gangsters have grown up and become responsible or the city is investing a lot of money on cleaning up.
Have you ever judged graffiti? I rarely see beautiful images like in the movie “Beat Street”. Instead, it is a scribbled name (or more likely, a gang name). The one I see most when leaving London is the name Relik. I’m not sure what that means but this guy must have writers cramp by now.
I don’t particularly care for people who write on walls. It’s juvenile and defaces things people try to make beautiful. But sometimes, you just have to marvel at how kids (or twenty-somethings) can reach some of these hard-to-reach places. You see their names on train overpasses, signals, between the tracks–everywhere.
I admire those who go where the tamer vandals wouldn’t dare. I can imagine it is late at night so the trains don’t run so often. A groups of guys (I imagine them to be young men) go out and look for something to do. They decide (most likely spontaneously) to write on walls. They giggle because of the fear of getting caught. While most will stay at the edges, a few brave vandals will risk their lives running out between the tracks, or climbing over the fence on an overpass and hanging over the wall to write-their name.
There is nothing deep about what is written. Nothing profound. It serves no purpose. It doesn’t beautify the neighbourhoods (it does the opposite). All it is is a form of adventurous self expression.
There is a big difference between someone spray-painting a larger-than life signature on a wall and some misguided comedian writing a few rude words on a bathroom stall with a cheap pen.
The names will be painted over, but the adventure will be remembered.
Just a thought. I know I would feel differently if it was done on my house, or fence, or whatever. But when it doesn’t affect you, can you bring yourself to admire the expression?