Losing the Faith
The game's changed. Modern day graffiti is a near political machine. Sure, there are some artists out there doing it for art's sake. I dig. But it used to be more personal -- flashback 35 years.
In 1974, Norman Mailer and photographer Jon Naar collaborated to produce perhaps the finest representation of NYC subway graffiti art this side of the river. "The Faith of Graffiti" is an intimate account of some the artists of the time and an illumination to the true form of the art -- this idea of graffiti as 'art' is still fairly rejected by much of mainstream coverage. Granted, artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey have been making a steady impression to further the acceptance of street art as 'art,' but subway graffiti is a different animal. It's about the name. (Or perhaps it was about the name, as subway graffiti is pretty much obsolete.) What the name holds, especially when that name is an alias, a creation of identity. I'm gonna leave it to the man himself to better explain the brilliance he emanates upon all us non-knowers with a string of quotes I found more than hitting. And don't stray from checking out more of Jon Naar's gnarly photos from a time embossed in paint-covered steel and fear-trembling commuters.
And so says Norman Mailer, "Aesthetic Investigator":
"Authority imprinted upon emptiness is money. And the ego is capital convertible to currency by the use of the name."
"Others laid one cool flowering of paint upon another, and this was only after having passed through all the existential stations of the criminal act, even to first inventing the paint, which was of course the word for stealing the stuff from the stores. But then, an invention is the creation of something that did not exist before -- like a working spray can in your hand. (Indeed, if Plato's Ideal exists, and the universe is first a set of forms, then what is any invention but a theft from the given universal Ideal?)"
"At night, the walls of cars sit there possessed of soul -- you are not just writing your name but trafficking with the iron spirit of the vehicle now resting. What a presence."
"That was [Mayor John Linsday's] attempt to soothe the terror in the heart of every subway citizen who looked at the graffiti and put his head down so his eye would not meet any eye that might be connected to the hand which held a knife, yes, that was one side of the fear, and the other was the fear of the insane graffiti writer in one's own self."
"Money, held in one's hand, is free of time. Cash has no past; its future is assignable. It is powerful and empty. So, too, is the ego."
"Art is not peace but war, and form is the record of that war."
"For graffiti lingers on our subway door as a memento of all the lives ever lived, sounding now like the bugles of gathering armies across the unseen ridge."