Thursday, March 18, 2010

What is art......Graffiti on Trains, Part 1

From '04, to '07 I made frequent trips down to a local rail-siding and walked the strings of boxcars that are parked there as they await their turn in a nearby warehouse.  What I found was a stream of graffiti that varied from inspired and skillful, to inane and inept.  I became interested in who these 'outsider' artists might be, and began to research their culture....and, they do have a confluence of interests that constitutes same, complete with its own dialect, terminology, hierarchy, all easily accessible on the world-wild-web, of course.

My attention has been focused only on graffiti that was done on railroad boxcars.  I do, naturally, recognize that this art-form is also vandalism, but a mid-level railroad manager confided to me that putting Rust-o-leum on their rusty rolling stock doesn't really harm anything.  Their primary concern and defensiveness stems from the potential liabilities and the fact that rail-yards are extremely dangerous industrial sites, where even experienced rail workers occasionally get injured or killed.  The idea that some pubescent kids are wandering such a place in the dark of night--which is most often the case, of course--is enough to give me the willies too.

But, there is this de facto community of truculent--mostly juvenile--souls who are doing this, and I have felt that such effort and the product of it, is worth sharing with an audience other than just the people who are sitting at a grade-crossing watching a train pass-by.  By any reasonable definition, this IS ART. Make no mistake about that.  Of course, as mentioned above, it varies greatly in scope and quality. But, as you can see from the accompanying images, it has visual appeal, a definite visual language, and even some social and psychological messages embedded within each piece.

I have come across statements that reveal genuine concern, puzzlement and anger over the state of our society and the planet.  For example, one young 'bomber' (a Canadian term for graf artists stemming from 'spray bombs', their name for spray paint cans) wrote: "Does God Care?", a very poignant and reasonable question, given the ongoing strife in the world at large.  Another painted, "...I think, therefore I hate.", a pretty acute insight, for a person of any age.  And, that is just a couple of sentiments in a veritable stream of them that are riding the rails across the country for all to see.

When you stop to consider how a so-called 'outsider' artist, and a teenager at that, in many cases, can ever find an audience to witness his/her concerns and creative outpouring, putting your work on a traveling 'wall' is about as effective as anything one might think of.  

This is such a rich and extensive subject that I cannot even begin to encompass it in one posting, and it deserves more.  So, I will post more images and more in-depth information about this as time passes.

But, in the meantime, have a look at work that was done for no reward, from pure intent to communicate, even if that statement is something along the lines of, "Hey!  Here I am," which is pretty much an element in almost any art, throughout history.  The petroglyphs of the American southwest, are little different in their intent, and the vast majority of the modernist movement is essentially hitting us up-side the head with that message too.

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