The Pink Lady, and Dead Heroes
publicity lauding a "graffiti artist" named "Zoombie"
in Fresno has prompted me to do a lot of soul-searching on the subject
of graffiti. Having put in some 2,000 hours of my life working as
a Sheriff's Volunteer in Southern Tulare County wiping out some
200,000 tags, I can be expected to have strong opinions about visual
public images (graffiti) of all types.
99.9% of graffiti
is illegal, ugly, and used for individual glorification or to mark
off gang territory, much in the way a dog does. You see local gang
names and members' "monikers", as well as deliberately
provocative things like "Kill Scrapas" (X-3's), and racist
28 yr. old "graffiti artist" sounds to me more like a
real artist than a vandal. I have not seen his work, and so cannot
comment on it, other than to say that the attached term "graffiti"
gives it a questionable connection to art, and triggers immediate
negative vibes . Much is made of the fact that his work is done
with permission of property owners, which makes it "good."
That immediately sets him off from the ranks of mentally-retarded,
disturbed, and sometimes vicious young evil-doers who give visual
offense to thousands of passers-by. Graffiti is definitely not all
the same. My definition of it includes anything in the face of the
public which gives offense.
On the morning
of October 29, 1966, commuters in Malibu Canyon near L.A. were shocked
by a visage that had appeared-seemingly overnight-on a sheer rock
face above the mouth of the canyon tunnel. Cavorting on the cliff
was a 60-foot-high, brilliant-pink figure of a joyfully nude maiden,
clutching flowers. She became an overnight sensation! Who painted
her? Was she art or graffiti? Would she be a traffic hazard as people
gawked as they drove by? The Pink Lady of Malibu Canyon , as she
came to be known, had been painted by a 31 year-old artist named
Lynne Seemayer who objected to all the illegal graffiti tags around
the tunnel and decided to do something about it. Hanging from ropes
under the cover of darkness, she spent several nights laying out
the outlines, unnoticed by the passing cars. Then, in one night,
she painted it all in and went down in history. Of course, the County
painted over it as soon as they could, using 14 gallons of brown
paint, and billed Miss Seemayer, who finally admitted to having
done it, for their expenses. The Pink Lady got obliterated faster
than any gang graffiti that I can recall!
enough people approved of the illegal graffiti-cum-art to make it
"controversial". There were several issues involved with
the Pink Lady which need consideration: first, permission; second,
safety; third, aesthetics and content; fourth, the possibility that
it might encourage copy cats. Finally comes the question of permanence.
We are generally
in agreement that permission is usually good, but if given the choice
between a legal 70-foot-long war mural such as is presently underway
in Visalia (which already has war memorials) or an illegal 60-foot
high pink naked lady of which Visalia has none, I think I'd vote
for the latter.
"distraction" issue is real, but compared to the, legal,
glaring, flashing and moving signs along the freeway distracting
motorists, roadside nudity is probably small potatoes. People in
Florence, Italy drive past nude statues all the time without running
off the road.
of aesthetics and content in public art are always important. Ask
any lover of natural beauty in the wilderness what they think of
the "legal" desecration sculpture on Mount Rushmore, replacing
forever the natural beauty of the area with the faces of two slaveowners
(Washington and Jefferson) and an unabashed imperialist (Teddy Roosevelt).
As far as encouraging
"copycat" artists, it probably would. Copycats of New
York style "artistic" graffiti are everywhere desecrating
boxcars and bridge abutments. Stone Mountain, the largest environment-destroying"Rushmore
wanna-be" sculpture in the world, features Confederate leaders
like Robert E.Lee (who took up arms against the legally-constituted
government of United States of America.) Just as Lincoln, the fourth
President on Mt.Rushmore is hated by many in the South, Robert E.Lee
is hated by many in the North. Should we have hated people done
up in perpetuity as legal graffiti?
can be easily removed by whoever is in power. An airport named after
a President can be changed quickly. Graffiti carved into stone is
We will always
have controversy wherever things are in the public view. Even the
celebrated Eiffel Tower was once a hated eyesore in Paris. Perhaps
controversy is what makes life and art interesting! Too bad "controversial"
art cannot be kept inside museums...
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