De-Faced.

face1Most graffiti is a person’s name or nickname–what’s commonly known as a tag. And when you think about it a name, especially when elaborately drawn, is more than just a word. It’s a picture. It says as much about how the artist sees him or herself as a self-portrait would. And it’s the most personal expression an artist can make and have a history that spans artists as different as Rembrandt and Kahlo. So it was really interesting to me that someone tagged a couple of different places with what I think it a self-portrait. It’s a caricature and not realistic, but it’s meant to be a self-portrait. At least I think it is since as usual I don’t know the artist and I can’t ask them about it. So I’m just speculating, but bear with me here.

face2

What made me think of the connection between signatures and self-portraits wasn’t just the fact that this graffiti is a face rather than the usual name. I also thought of Salvador Dali’s massive painting The Ecumenical Council, from his religious period, finished in 1960 when he was fifty-six. In his youth Dali had been an ardent atheist but later would meet Pope Pius XII and converted to Catholicism.

Source: Wikipedia

Or did he? Scholars interpret this painting at representing the union of Heaven and Earth. The figure in the upper center is believed to be God whose hand is up because no one can look on the face of God. The interesting thing, though, is Dali’s self-portrait in the lower left. He’s painted himself as a painter. This has been interpreted as his substitute for a signature. And yet Dali signed most of his paintings with just his name. Self-portraits are extremely rare in his work. He occasionally painted himself as a child but almost always facing away from the viewer. In a few of his early surrealist works he painted himself or figures that represented him but with a hand over the face.

Maybe this is really Dali’s not so subtle jab at religion–suggesting that the real creator is the artist. Isn’t that blasphemy? Well it might have been a blast for Dali anyway. Yes, he went though the motions of converting to Catholicism but at a time when being an atheist among artists was common, even expected. He claimed to support Franco then the Spanish monarchy when most artists were joining the Communist party or at least claiming to be apolitical. I think he did these things solely to shock people, and throwing a little blasphemy into his work was his way of playing both sides. He didn’t take anything too seriously.

I know I’m not saying much about graffiti here, especially not the graffiti pictures above, but I am trying to tie graffiti into the more respectable world of serious art criticism and art history. Why? Because I think it’s funny that it shocks some people who take art way too seriously.

10 Comments

  1. Gilly Maddison

    Well that has started my Saturday with a smile! I LOVE Eddie Izzard and your graffiti post has prompted me to at least start LOOKING for some of my Brit graffiti pics that are somewhere on the large collection of unlabelled hard drives I have in my safe. Yes I know – a safe? Well y’know fire… can’t replace all those memories. I am beginning to wonder if it’s really you that does the graffiti you write about. ?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The safe is completely understandable, although I do wonder what will eventually replace hard drives as storage media. Anyway I’ve been asked by others if I’ve ever done any graffiti or thought about doing graffiti and while I have I’m also afraid it would be a conflict of interest, like a movie critic writing a screenplay then reviewing the movie. It might provide some insight if I tried my hand at graffiti but I wouldn’t feel right writing about it as a critic.

      Reply
  2. Ann Koplow

    Always glad to see your face on WordPress, Chris. Thanks for yet another great portrait of yourself and others (including the innovative artists Salvador Dali and Eddie Izzard).

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And it’s always glad to see your face here. Your comments too make up a self-portrait I really appreciate.

      Reply
  3. mydangblog

    Have you ever read George Orwell’s “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali”? It’s a fascinating indictment of Dali from Orwell’s perspective, as well as an exploration of the difficulty of separating the art from the artist, and whether or not we should.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yes, it’s been centuries but I did read Orwell’s essay. I think I should read it again but from what I remember I thought Orwell both got Dali exactly right and also completely wrong–if that makes any sense. If Dali had been a serious supporter of fascism and a Catholic like he claimed Orwell would have been right, but I think Orwell failed to see Dali as a joker who was only interested in shock.
      Separating the art from the artist, though, is a thorny question and one that makes me think I really need to reread Orwell’s essay.

      Reply
  4. Michelle

    Love the title! The double meaning is perfect for this post. And there’s Eddie as well – he’s the dog’s bollocks. I love how in your posts you can find connections between seemingly unconnectable things. Maybe EVERYTHING is connected after all! Just have to figure out how.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s the very nature of surrealism to find connections between seemingly unconnected things–“as beautiful as the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating room table”, you know. It does all come down to just finding the connections–or perhaps inventing the connections.

      Reply
  5. Chuck Baudelaire

    More answers, please. It is late Saturday night, and I am not for thinking independently. Cannot render a verdict on Dali.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Here’s the answer: at a dinner party Dali told the woman next to him he didn’t believe in astrology. He then proceeded to rattle off the star signs of every other person at the table and what their signs meant about their personality.
      From that I hope you’ll be able to render a verdict.

      Reply

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