Why did I do this?
One of the greatest things about graffiti is its impermanence. This trait of graffiti is, and will, I believe, only become more apparent as time moves forward, away from graffiti's golden heyday of 70'-89', which I was lucky enough to take part in on the tail end with other like-minded individuals in New York City. The fact that something that is, I believe, going to be considered one of the greatest artistic movements of the 20th century, and also one of the most unique in all recorded history of art, is for the most part completely nonexistent today in physical form is amazing. Better yet, astounding. Every piece of artwork done on a train during this period no longer exists today nor was it completed with any intention that it would continue to exist for any real extended time, but in memory and photographic form. This brings up a postmodern relationship with the photographs potentially becoming objects of art in themselves to be considered, rather than as just pure documents, if only because the energy of the movement can only be found in this physical form now and of course in memory. Therefore the potential to exploit this relationship where it is no longer necessitated becomes a profound relationship in itself. A recent project of mine has been to fill up a complete "blackbook" with only Mesh "pieces" and then to photograph them within the blackbook, only presenting them in their photographic form, along with the corresponding marker-bled blotter page as a further way to re-contextualize the reproduced format of this peer to peer traditional graffiti planning, sharing and mentoring process that once occurred through blackbooks – altering it slightly to redefine a value in the process which was once disregarded in the impressionistic bleed-through of markers to underlying pages. One further historic re-contextualization that is occurring in this process is the absence of tags on any of the pages of Mesh pieces. There was a purity, and simplicity I was trying to get at by doing this. The "autographing" of a piece with your tag (the calligraphy of graffiti), and other quotes, rants etc. is quintessentially intertwined into the fabric of graffiti's existence. To separate them is hopefully to open up new avenues in the progression of graffiti's potential aesthetics to come, and move further in a direction that enriches the progression of graffiti, if truly a dramatic, unprecedented movement in itself, and not just art inspired by it. The goal therefore being in essence to recreate that same once-removed process of viewing an object through a secondary medium, as in pictures of pieces on trains, though in this case the pieces themselves, on paper, could be physically viewed. Included in this process was also a “Beat”-similar "first thought, best thought" process, whereby no pages in the process of filling this blackbook would be torn out, regardless of whether or not I was satisfied with their outcome. All parts of this process are revealed, and hopefully a stream of thought and progression emerges if only because of the unavoidable chronology that occurs through the filling up of a single book in page by page succession. Within the aesthetic of graffiti lettering itself lies too, the more conventional goal of progressing the styles and boundaries of graffiti's invisible, but all to existent parameters, such as the closing of lines to form complete, solid shapes, and the never-yielding-it-seems need to defer to the horizontal, inherent to the process, I suppose, of reproducing Western lettering but also opening up a wide-ranging potential to defy this convention and represent the freedom that can be found in constriction in all ranges of trade and activity. This is why when I went "bombing" the other night, in February 2003. I was more than happy to complete a piece knowing that it would most likely be non-existent the day after, and cleaned. I was willing to work arduously and assiduously on a perfect
conception of a graffiti panel piece all the more to some degree because I knew it would be gone and only exist in the obstructed pictures I would take of it in that tunnel. To quickly inform those who aren't aware of what precipitated and caused graffiti's demise on New York City subway trains, the war, if it can be called that, was won strictly by psychological assault. The powers that be, namely David Gunn, who became the chairman of the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority), obviously became aware, along with his staff, that graffiti was an ego-driven phenomenon whereby the primary incentive to complete pieces was to have them pull out of their parked positions and display that "writer's" art and name across the city for all to see. At any rate, the city realized that to effectively break the back of graffiti one would have to remove this incentive. Quite a sophisticated policy actually for a civil government such as New York City to embark on. And so they did. They decided that the need to run adequate trains during rush-hour service for instance, or at any time, would defer to the need to take a newly cleaned or bought train out of service as soon as it was bombed in any way. And so when you would go and do a big piece on a train or just kill it with "throw-ups," there would be no run-time allowed for it. If you didn't bring your camera with you to the lay-up, or train yard, which we rarely did, there was no seeing it in any form again, let alone having writers across the city get to see it. The way the process used to work, was that we would return later to "bench" the pieces in order to catch unobstructed pictures of them with good lighting in order to save a record of them. Little did I know that the picture itself would be so integral to what graffiti is and was and will be recorded as. So integral in fact that I believe its once removed format becomes a described medium in itself, containing both history and contextualization, and most importantly today able to be manipulated in the creation of new art. The day after finishing this piece [in Vintage Graffiti link, slideshow], which was randomly interrupted by trains and track-workers alike, I dedicated surprisingly little time to even see if the piece would run at all. Its completion was in the capturing of its soon-to-be impermanence. Any form of permanence might in fact "spoil" the process of this re-contextualization I'm describing. So it's this impermanence I'm playing with, and the inherent value that must be attached to it by the sheer fact that it is rare, even in the photographic form as a representation of it.