American Graffiti.

Some people call it ugly. Some people call it art. I call it urban enhancement.

Forgive Them Their Trespasses.

Source: Google Maps

“Or does it explode?”

Langston Hughes, Harlem

There’s a stretch of Nashville’s Charlotte Avenue, near Richland Park, that’s undergone tremendous transformation in the past few years. It’s gone from empty buildings and slightly seedy businesses to more upscale restaurants and apartments. Fortunately some of the older and friendly places—like Bobby’s Dairy Dip and Headquarters Coffee Shop—have stayed around, for now at least, but that’s another story.

At the center of it, though, is the old Madison Mill industrial complex. Officially vacant since 2015 I think it was stripped bare more than a decade ago. Plans to turn it into apartments and businesses have been made then scrapped, and it’s been popular with graffiti artists. I’ve collected quite a bit there, and I wish I’d collected more.

All the graffiti, at least what’s visible from the street, and probably all that’s inside too, has been painted over. The windows have been taken out and in the last week there have been signs of activity. Madison Mill, it seems, is about to be demolished.

The graffiti that was there is gone, but what will happen to the artists that used it? Often when I look at graffiti I imagine the person who created it. I imagine someone so desperate to express something they were willing to take the risk of being arrested, or worse. For some art is a hobby. For some it’s a compulsion.

What happens to them when they have no place to go?

Before it explodes here’s some of the graffiti I collected at the Madison Mill. Some of it shows real skill.

 

 

When Art Gives You Lemons…

How do you separate the art from the artist? Should you separate the art from the artist? Should we throw away good art because the artist is or was a terrible person? Those are questions that have been going around in my head long before recent events. Heck, they’re questions that have been with me at least since I read a biography of Picasso in my early teens, and they’re questions people might have been wrestling with at least as long as there have been artists. Even though the celebrity has been magnified by technology there’s a long history of artists behaving badly. Caravaggio literally got away with murder, and if you want to go back even farther Sophocles was accused of immoral behavior. So was Socrates, leading to his famous last words, “I drank what?” but that’s another story, and anyway, he’s a philosopher, not an artist.

In spite of years of discussion, reading, thinking, cogitating, ruminating, and occasional fermenting I don’t feel any closer now to answering those questions than I did when I was a teen. I am absolutely certain that being an artist, even an exceptional one, doesn’t excuse anyone from the same ethics and morals that apply to the rest of us. Beyond that, though, things get murky.

Anonymity in art is double-edged. It spares us any judgments about what kind of person the artist was but it also removes a lot of the context that we use to think about and understand art. The little piece above, which I realize isn’t graffiti but rather a work stuck in a bookshelf at JJ’s coffee shop, is interesting to me for a lot of reasons. The explanation “I am an artist because of my natural exile from normal people,” is part of the work itself, and it raises a lot of questions. Who is this artist? How are they exiled? And is it ethical or moral to turn a public figure into a lemon?

For What It’s Worth…

If you’re not familiar with the show Adam Ruins Everything here’s the pitch: comedian Adam Conover takes big subjects–weddings, pets, prison, death–and challenges common misconceptions about those subjects in entertaining ways. I’m kind of hooked on it and I rarely feel like anything’s really been ruined for me; I just feel slightly better informed, especially after watching several episodes in a row, which is why I dread the inevitable Adam Ruins Binge Watching, but that’s another story.

In a second season episode Adam Ruins Art he breaks down the idea that experts have an objective understanding of what’s good art and what’s bad art, and he explains that the sometimes ridiculous prices on art, especially modern art, mean that wealthy collectors can buy a piece then donate it and get a tax break. So it’s not just gallery owners and artists who have the chutzpah to smack a six-figure price tag on a pile of beer bottles and cigarette butts; it can benefit the collectors too. Anyway for a palette cleanser I switched over to the first season’s Adam Ruins Restaurants in which he talks about, among other things, how wine experts will praise an expensive wine and bash a cheap one even if it’s the same wine.

And that got me thinking about how we value things and how a high price can trick us into thinking something’s inherently more valuable than something with a low price, and, graffiti is pretty cheap. Most people even think graffiti brings down the value of an area, or they think about the cost of removing it. Graffiti might be the only art that’s seen as having a negative value. So consider this piece.

This funny, odd little fish made me smile when I saw it from the second floor of the Belcourt Theater. It was across the street, on a building that was under construction. And because of the way it was placed it could only be seen from inside the theater’s second floor, or if you were one of the construction crew. I only saw it after I’d bought a movie ticket. I wasn’t looking for graffiti but did that make a difference? And whoever put it there took a risk. They took the risk of being caught, of being injured. All that gets into my head and makes me wonder, what’s it worth?

 

Big Mouth.

A man was walking along a road at night when he found a skull. He lifted his foot to kick it when the skull spoke.

“My big mouth got me here and yours will too.”

The man bent down to examine the skull. He moved to pick it up then jumped back as it spoke again.

“My big mouth got me here and yours will too.”

The man ran to a nearby tavern to tell everyone what he’d found. A big crowd followed him out into the cold and dark. He took them to the spot where the skull lay.

“Speak!” the man cried.

The skull was silent.

“Say something!” the man cried.

The skull was still silent.

The man tapped it with his foot then kicked it.

The skull rolled over but was still silent.

The crowd began to get angry at having been come out of the warm, well-lit tavern into the cold, dark night. They started to shout at the man who insisted he’d been telling the truth. Then, in his frustration, he began lashing out at the crowd with his fists. Some of the larger men in the crowd hit back, then, as the man started to curse at them, they knocked him down and beat him severely. They kicked and punched him until he was quiet, then returned to the tavern.

As the man lay there dying he looked at the skull.

“I told you so,” said the skull.

Red In Tooth And Claw.

Edgar Allan Poe hated allegory. Most of his stories are just stories. That doesn’t mean they’re one-dimensional, but he didn’t usually have a clear moral or message or metaphor in mind, which makes The Masque Of The Red Death a weird story for him. Then again he also liked to dabble and experiment and he was kind of a joker—hey, the guy authorized his worst enemy to write his biography, but that’s another story. It’s also one of Poe’s most famous stories, one of several that Roger Corman decided to adapt from 1960 to 1965, starring—of course—Vincent Price–and which he then remade—unfortunately without Vincent Price—in 1989, although the plot needed a lot of beefing up. Another adaptation was done by Wendy Pini, famous for the Elfquest graphic novels, as a web comic (NSFW), this time set in the distant future and full of polymorphously perverse characters who run the gender spectrum.

Anyway, it’s written in third person, and set, like a fable or fairy tale, in a remote land, and its protagonist, Prince Prospero, is mostly absent from the story although he is introduced as “happy and dauntless and sagacious”—that last is a favorite word of Poe’s and almost always used ironically. He’s a party guy, not much of a leader, and hopes to cheat death with a bunch of his friends by sealing himself off from the world, a plan that won’t work out and that’s only a spoiler if you don’t know anything about Poe. It was also a common technique. In Boccaccio’s Decameron, which may be one of Poe’s sources, a group of nobles try to escape from the plague by hiding out in a remote castle and telling each other sexy stories, and Poe may also have read at least one account of masked balls held in Paris during a cholera epidemic.

What’s even more unusual for Poe than the allegorical nature of the story is its use of color symbolism. Prince Prospero has seven rooms, possibly a reference to Shakespeare’s seven ages of man. Each room devoted to a single color and in a very specific order: blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and finally black. In The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe Stephen Peithman says, “Color symbolism is a tricky business,” but based on the context it’s possible to make some informed guesses. Blue, for instance, symbolizes the dawning of life, and is also the color of morning. Purple is blue colored by red–that first rush of blood. Green is the color of growth and renewal, spring and summer. Orange is an autumn color, and the color of the setting sun, white is the color of age–of whitening hair, and also winter and snow, violet is purple mixed with white, a color mid-life crisis, and then black is oblivion, the absence of color. Each room has stained glass windows, all lit from behind by braziers–even the sun is shut out of Prospero’s world–of corresponding colors, except for the black room where the window is “a deep blood color”. Blood is the very essence of life, but also the mark of the plague Prospero and pals want to escape.

And if the symbolism isn’t heavy enough the final black room has a giant ebony clock and every time it strikes all the partying stops, briefly, until that moment in the story when the guest who crashes every party shows up.

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Doctor X Will Build A Creature.

The following story was written by journalist Allen Walker and appeared in the October 2016 issue of Catchall, an alt-weekly for which he is a feature writer. It’s reprinted here with the author’s permission. His articles have also appeared in Matrix, Road Hogs, Elsewhere, and other publications.His essay Patagonia Dreamin’ is included in the anthology The Journey Of A Thousand Miles. Other stories by Allen Walker that have appeared here are A Werewolf Problem In Central Indiana, Living Or Dead Is Purely Coincidental (Part 1, Part, 2, Part 3, Part 4), That Was The Year That Was, and Submerged.

“Isn’t he magnificent?” Dr. Xavier says as she flips the carcass over on the exam table. Magnificent is not the word that comes to my mind. In fact I feel slightly ill. The glare of burnished metal brings out details that might normally only be seen under a magnifying glass, but here there’s nothing between us. His–since we’re calling it a he–legs are folded inward toward the center of its body in the classic death position of normal-sized specimens, and he gives off a musky, slightly sweet odor reminiscent of rotting hay. Dr. Xavier is gently prying the legs apart to expose the underside.

“How can you tell he’s a he?” I ask quietly, taking a step back.

She presses gloved fingers to different parts, using technical terms and explaining that if it were a female this would be longer, that would be shorter. She points to a cluster of bulbs at its rear. “The spinnerets would be much bigger, although with the original species we bred from there’s not that much difference in size between the males and females. That’s one reason we chose from the family Sparassidae.”

That’s a relief, I think. I’d read that in some species the female is ten times bigger, or more, than the male. The specimen in front of me is big enough as it is, thank you very much.

I am, of course, at the renowned and controversial Praetorius Institute in eastern Tennessee, near where the state shares borders with North Carolina and Virginia. The Institute, or PI as everyone here likes to call it, has been praised, criticized, celebrated, demonized, and even scrutinized by government officials and watchdogs, and yet its work has gone on, thanks in part to its defenders. When scientists first cloned Dolly the sheep in the late twentieth century that was controversial too, but was a great leap forward in understanding biology. And this breakthrough has great practical potential as well.

At least that’s what the PI’s researchers and its defenders argue. There are a lot of people, including me, who still have trouble with the idea of a spider three feet long roaming around.

Since no human, alive or dead, has ever seen such a thing it’s difficult to find the right words. The joints of its cylindrical legs are machine-like, and yet they’re hairy. The upper, narrower thorax is mostly bare, a dull black, with a look of molded plastic. The round abdomen is covered with smooth gray fur with bands of dark brown.

Dr. Xavier’s straight dark hair hangs down as she turns it right side up again and deftly moves it around. I ask her how much it weighs.

“Alive he was twelve, maybe thirteen kilos. About eleven now. They dry out quickly. Would you like to touch it?” She grins. “Unless you think it’ll bite.”

That’s exactly what I’m thinking. Intellectually too I know there‘s no real danger. On my arrival I am given a press packet and taken straight to Dr. Xavier‘s corner office where pictures of her partner and two children decorated her desk along with pictures of spiders. A web knitted from yarn hangs in front of the window overlooking the valley. After offering me some tea in a Spider-Man mug Dr. Xavier starts to give me her prepared speech. Spider silk is the holy grail of engineering materials. As strong as steel but extremely light it has limitless possibilities for everything from medicine to construction to space exploration. The problem has always been getting it. The Praetorius Institute, like some other organizations, started experiments with implanting spider genes in female goats which would then produce spider silk from their milk glands. It had limited success but the silk had to be extracted from goats’ milk and required a lot of processing. “We knew we could do better,” Dr. Xavier says. “And the answer was simple. Instead of cutting out genes from spiders and sticking them somewhere else we had to go straight to the source.” She then pulls a slim book from behind her desk and hands it to me. It’s a children’s book of prehistoric creatures and she’s opened it to a picture of a primeval forest with giant insects.
“The world used to have giant dragonflies and meter-long millipedes,” she says. “There may even be mega-spider fossils we just haven’t found yet. One reason bugs don’t get so big anymore is the atmosphere used to have as much as forty percent more oxygen than it does now.”
“So,” I say, “if one of your spiders were to get loose–“

”It would suffocate before it could even leave the building.” But what if there’s some reflex that causes even the dead ones to react? I wish I’d gone with the group tour instead of the solo option when I accepted the invitation. Then when there was a call for volunteers I could hang back, let someone else put their hand in harm’s way. As I think this Dr. Xavier comes around to my side of the table and grabs my arm. She puts my hand on the abdomen.

“Just stroke it. See? It’s like petting a cat.”

I wonder if this will affect my feelings for my real cat, Emily, whose fur is also gray. In fact it’s nothing like petting a cat. The fur is soft, but the body underneath is hard. It’s like petting a mannikin wearing a mink stole.

“We thought they’d be prickly,” Dr. Xavier goes on, “but they’re surprisingly soft. That’s just one thing. Look at the feet.” She bends a hairy leg backwards. The underside is covered with deep grooves that form circles, like a fingerprint. “It’s almost like a gecko,” she says. “Fortunately they can’t climb. Then she turns the spider’s face to me. I step back, but she doesn‘t notice. “And look at how the palps and mandibles are different from what you’d find in a regular spider. Even after three decades we can’t always predict what will happen when we tinker with DNA to this degree.” Above the broad beak six greenish orbs seem to glower at me.

We go to lunch in the PI’s cafeteria. On a lower floor than Dr. Xavier’s office it overlooks a small artificial pond and the surrounding forest. It’s crowded and I’m reminded that the spiders are just one of a dozen or so projects that sound like science fiction going on at the PI, and yet no one here looks like a mad scientist. Least of all Dr. Xavier. Over our lunch of Caesar salads topped with seared steak I bring up the controversial nature of the mega-spiders. She sighs.

“I’ve had this debate with practically everyone I know, including most of my family. I don’t want to be glib about anyone’s feelings but humans have been manipulating genes for as long as we’ve had agriculture. The mega-spiders are as natural as a hybrid tomato. You want an abomination? Look at a Labradoodle.”

To try and relieve some of the tension I change the subject.

“What made you want to study genetics? Your parents weren‘t scientists.”

“No. My father wanted to be but he went into hardware instead to support my grandparents after they came over from Vietnam. He encouraged me, though, and I’ve always had an interest in bugs. I got a Barbie Dream House one Christmas and used it to raise palmetto bugs.”

“Giant palmetto bugs?”

She laughs. “As big as they get. I was more interested in their life cycle and behavior, though. It was reading about fruit flies that got me into genomics. The idea that everything we are is determined by a single long molecule just fascinated me.” She puts her hand over her mouth as she thoughtfully chews a larger piece of steak. “The problem with mega-spiders, of course, was where to start.”

“Which came first: the spider or the egg?” I start to laugh but she pounces on this.

“Exactly! We couldn’t just flip a switch and make spiders grow big. That’s why it took more than three decades of research before we could get them to this size. It took several generations and more than two dozen changes to their DNA.”

She continues as she cuts a piece of blackened steak into smaller pieces. “There were some terrible mistakes too, horrible things. You wouldn’t believe some of the challenges we faced. But we learned a lot too. Like, what do you feed a three-foot spider? Normal spiders liquefy their prey’s guts and suck it out, but they’re feeding on insects, other arachnids, things with exoskeletons. The genes we changed triggered other changes too. Like beaks. We feed the mega-spiders rats. They paralyze them and swallow them whole.” She takes another bite of steak. “A lot of fur comes out in their scat.”

I push my salad away and make a mental note to suggest that on future tours she save this information for after lunch.

She pushes her salad away too. “Come on. It’s time for you to meet the kids.”

At first “the kids” are no-shows, but their enclosures are fascinating. Through clear plastic walls I can see ferns and what look like small palm trees shrouded in mist.

“Cycads,” Dr. Xavier tells me. “Also horsetail, moss, liverworts. They’re what even some scientists call ‘primitive plants’ because they’ve been around so long. They seem to tolerate the high oxygen better than other plants, and we hope it makes the spiders more comfortable. We have to keep it humid too, for the spiders. Some of their wild cousins live in the desert, but these, well, just to maintain their body mass they need more of everything.”

The plants in the enclosures look more futuristic than prehistoric. Also surprising is the absence of any sign of webs. This is a source of frustration for Dr. Xavier and her entire team.

“Tarantulas don’t build webs but they can spin silk, and their size made them an obvious choice. We just assumed we’d be able to extract silk from them. So far that’s been harder than we thought it would be. Maybe with what we’ve learned we can try with another family, maybe Aranea or Nephila, but that would be like starting all over.”

As she speaks one of the spiders creeps out of the mist. As it moves across the mossy floor its slow plodding is fascinating to watch. I wonder if it’s stirring up genetic memories, perhaps passed down from some of my mammalian ancestors. Its movements are deliberate, reaching out gently with its forelegs.

Dr. Xavier tells me they have nine in all, kept in separate enclosures. Originally they were kept together until one of the females turned aggressive and killed her sisters.

“And when the males started hunting in packs, circling around the rats we put in there for them, we thought maybe we should keep them separate.”

This spider is brighter in color than the one we examined earlier in the lab, with coppery fur. As it turns to face me a each of its dark green eyes is bisected by a single beam of light, like a precious stone.

I hear Dr. Xavier talking to someone behind me, but I’m too entranced by the spider to pay attention. Then she steps up next to me and says , “This is Carl.”

“Hello Carl,” I say, looking down at the spider. Then I jump as a bass baritone voice says, “Hello to you too.”

I turn around. A stocky man in a dark blue coat is standing next to Dr. Xavier. He puts out his hand.

Dr. Xavier apologizes. “I’ve got to go make a call, but Carl can keep showing you around.” As she hurries away Carl and I turn back to the spider.

“Creepy, ain’t they?” says Carl. He chuckles.

“I’m not sure that’s the right word,” I say. “In fact I’m having trouble finding the right words.”

“Come with me.”

In the elevator Carl swipes his ID card and a few moments later we step out onto the roof of the Praetorius Institute.

“I like to come up here once in a while for a little fresh air and a think,” he says.

“What do you think about?”

He chuckles again. “Anything. Nothing. Just take it all in.”

I step to the edge and look out at the forest below. In the distance I can see a low cloud settled over a hill. It looks like a web.

 

こんにちは, Mr. Roboto.

Dawn showed faintly in the east. Among the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a last voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam:
“Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is…”

-Ray Bradbury, There Will Come Soft Rains

A few years ago I volunteered for a psychology experiment. I was shown a clear plastic case filled with gears and levers arranged to form what looked kind of like a face, although that just might have been pareidolia (check out Ann Koplow’s definition of that word). The young woman administering the experiment told me the case was a robot named Marvin and I thought, hey, the paranoid android, does he have diodes causing pain in his left side? But I wasn’t the one asking questions. Instead the young woman asked me a series of questions about Marvin. Does Marvin have feelings? Does Marvin think like we do? Does Marvin have rights? As she went down the list I ticked off “no”, feeling a little bad about it, but, hey, it was a machine, not a person.

When the experiment was done the young woman explained to me that she was studying how people respond to machines. She had a different “robot” without a face and with a more technical name. She told me most people responded negatively to the other robot but more positively to Marvin, and I’d just completely blown the results. Maybe I would have felt differently if that uncanny valley had been narrower, but I doubt it.

The odd thing is I’ve really been into science fiction, and especially robots, my whole life. The first Halloween after Star Wars came out I went as C-3PO and the first time I saw Forbidden Planet on a Saturday afternoon I thought Robbie The Robot was the hero. I still kind of think that and sometimes when I offer someone a drink I’ll add, “Would sixty gallons be sufficient?” and no one ever gets it, but that’s another story. And the ethics of artificial life, and especially artificial intelligence, is something science fiction has grappled with since, well, about as long as there’s been science fiction. “Robot” comes from a Czech word meaning “slave” and entered science fiction in a 1921 play by Karel Čapek. The term android is a compound of ancient Greek words that mean “man-like” and has been used to mean something resembling a person since at least the early 18th century.

It’s still a big question. The series Humans and the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica are both built on the question of what happens when machines become self-aware, Star Trek: The Next Generation used Commander Data and Star Trek: Voyager used the holographic doctor to grapple with the rights and responsibilities of self-aware machines, and, back in the Star Wars universe, even though Obi Wan says, “If droids could think there would be no need for humans at all,” it seems pretty clear that the droids can think. They’re even programmed with personalities–or is that something that just happens when their ability to process information reaches a certain level? And while the replicants in Blade Runner look biological–almost completely indistinguishable from humans–they’re still machines, but what happens when you program a machine with an instinct for self-preservation?

And let’s not forget one of film’s most famous thinking machines: HAL 9000. As Dave says, “He acts like he has genuine emotions. Of course he’s programmed that way to make it easier for us to talk to him. Whether or not he has real feelings is something I don’t think anyone can truthfully answer.”

2001 does try to answer that question, though. In the end HAL’s voice runs down like a record player losing power, a mere machine. In 2010, though, we learn that HAL goes on a killing spree because it–or he–was told to lie, causing an internal conflict. The machine has a mental breakdown.

For all that science fiction has wrestled with the question there still seem to be no answers, but one thing is clear: the more like us machines become the more they’ll tell us about who–or what–we are.

Don’t Feed The Plants.

There must have been plenty of them about, growing up quietly and inoffensively, with nobody taking any particular notice of them–at least it seemed so, for if the biological or botanical experts were excited over them, no news of their interest percolated to the general public. And so the one in our garden continued its growth, as did thousands like it in neglected spots all over the world.

It was some little time later that the first one picked up its roots and walked.

-John Wyndham, Day Of The Triffids

 

Doctor Smith: Let him change me into an orchid, a papaya tree, a fragrant bougainvillea!

Lost In Space, The Great Vegetable Rebellion

 

Less than a month ago, Santa Mira was like any other town. People with nothing but problems. Then, out of the sky, came a solution. Seeds drifting through space for years took root in a farmer’s field. From the seeds came pods which had the power to reproduce themselves in the exact likeness of any form of life.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)

 

Jess: Look at the giant tomato, Martha.

Martha: I didn’t know they grow’d them so big, Jess.

Jess: I wonder where he’s going. He got little Timmy.

Martha: Poor Timmy.

Jess: He ate him all up.

Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes

 

The desert cabbage is not often found near the canals; it is a weed and not tolerated in the green sea bottoms of the lower latitudes, though it may be found in the deserts miles from any surface water. The western half of this specimen was still spread out in a semicircular fan, flat to the ground, but the eastern half was tilted up almost vertically, its flat leaves still reaching greedily for the Sun’s rays to fuel the photosynthesis by which plants live. A hardy plant, it would not curl up until the Sun was gone completely, and it would not withdraw into the ground at all. Instead it would curl into a tight ball, thus protecting itself from the cold and incidentally simulating, on giant scale, the Earth plant for which it was named.

Robert Heinlein, Red Planet

 

As I did stand my watch upon the hill,

I looked toward Birnam, and anon methought

The wood began to move.

The Scottish play, Act V, Sc.5

 

Hermione had managed to free herself before the plant got a firm grip on her. Now she watched in horror as the two boys fought to pull the plant off them, but the more they strained against it the tighter and faster the plant wound around them.

“Stop moving!” Hermione ordered them. “I know what this is–it’s Devil’s Snare!”

Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone

 

DOCTOR: Revolution’s going on down there.

THACKERAY: Revolution. Come now, Doctor. Are you choosing your words with care?

DOCTOR: Somehow the Krynoid can channel its power to other plants. All the vegetation on this planet is about to turn hostile.

THACKERAY: You mean like aggressive rhubarb?

DOCTOR: Yes, aggressive rhubarb.

Doctor Who, The Seeds of Doom

 

I am Groot.

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Halo, Goodbye.

In December 1988 I was in a record store, back when those were still legal. I remember it so clearly because there was a poster for The Traveling Wilburys, the supergroup made up of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison, who’d just passed away. Someone in the record store had cut out a paper halo and pasted is over Orbison’s head, a small and a little funny but still kind tribute, I thought.
The halo has a long history in Eastern and Western art, appearing as early as Sumer, around gods, heroes, and kings. Whether the crown, or gold circlet, as a marker of royalty was meant to represent the halo or came first is one of those mysteries that will probably never be solved. Its form has changed somewhat, going from usually solid disks to an open circle. And yet throughout time the halo’s meaning has remained pretty consistent, although “halo” derives from a Greek word that meant “threshing floor”. Maybe it’s fitting that the halo has moved from the very highest in the pantheon to everyone who passes through the pearly gates, although the standard has become a simple gold circle while those at the apex get brighter, grander encirclings.

I see halos a lot in graffiti, hovering over various tags. What do they mean? That’s another mystery that may never be solved; graffiti is very personal and individual, and the reason for adding a halo may vary from person to person. Sometimes it may simply be an accent, or it may be someone copying the tag of an artist who’s since passed on. Some artists do copy the tags of others who are gone but not forgotten. I don’t know if that’s always the meaning but if it is I think it’s a small and a little funny but kind tribute.

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