Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Graffiti on the Red Line

Lily deSassure

The red line goes above ground between Union Station and New York Avenue in Northeast Washington, D.C. Admist the train tracks, garbage and chainlink fences, homeless camps are the facades of brick buildings with colorful writing for the passengers to enjoy- or not. The writing changes every month or sometimes as often as every week, depending on when the building owners decide to buff the walls. Sometimes there are indecipherable scribbles, multi-colored angular letters, full murals containing text and image or simply mint green paint that concelas any or all of the above. Such is the scene in almost all urban (and now sometimes suburban) areas since the rise of grafitti in New York City in the 1970's.

Having grown up in New York City and New Jersey, I am particularly fond of words or "names" written on buildings, highway overpasses, or over anything that is otherwise bleak and gray. I do, however, maintain certain criteria for what is there. When the red line emerges from underground and daylight pours into the cars, I immediately notice black and dark blue spray paint on the first building that come into view. Two weeks ago the building had been bombarded with ridiculous, sloppy babble, but yesterday the surface had been replenished with well-balanced, neat and creative penmenship. Like any successful painting, piece of art or graphic design, a "tag" must be executed with diligent precision. The same goes for larger pieces and murals alike.

Further down the line, there is a large brick building with pieces painted on the side. This is the building with mint green paint covering old graffiti... in one spot someone who wrote 'ease' has drawn large bubble letters outlined in black and white that gently fade out into the green background.

In another place, "Mint" and "Best" have their names wiritten high on the rooftop of a building. Sections of the roof jut out just enough to provide accurate framework for their block letters that happen to fit in perfectly with the architecture.

When traveling through any city, I always enjoy a piece of graffiti that is strategically placed in temrs of composition with the surroundings. It has to be executed with the utmost consideration concerning draftsmanship, balance and color. Pieces that are witty in their statement to the viewer also make my train ride more interesting, especially considering the risk involved in getting a piece where and how the artist wants it.

Now, grafitti has made its way from the streets to galleries, shirts and company logos. As far as careers are concerned, for these artists, there are plenty of options but little compare to the risk, thrill and originality of creating something aesthetically satisying on the fly.

1 comment:

Ben Schumin said...

You forgot to mention the big "Bush Hates Borf" tag near Takoma station...