It’s been almost six years since I took that picture, a few months after I first started writing about graffiti and other art for this blog. And I was really excited to write about it because it seemed so profound in its simplicity. What is art, or, for that matter, anything we make, if not a way of saying, “I was here?”
Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to write about it. I remember taking that picture and feeling overwhelmed by how much I could say, how my head was absolutely buzzing with possibilities. It’s such a pure expression, aesthetically simple yet philosophically deep. I thought about how J.R., whoever they might be, took a blank wall and turned it into a canvas, and then I thought, well, technically the wall isn’t blank, and, if you want to get really technical about it, there’s no such thing. Even an empty canvas has color and texture, and the brick wall where J.R. left their mark is far from an empty canvas.
And it made me think about walls in general, how they divide but can also connect, offering protection and a space where people can be together. Walls are usually all that remains of ancient cities, the first clue to archaeologists that a site was once inhabited, that people were there. Most versions of the epic of Gilgamesh end with the hero returning to his city Uruk and seeing the protective walls he built around it.
I’ve walked by that same spot several times over the years. J.R.’s mark has long since been removed, or maybe the weather just wore the paint away. Each time I went by there I remembered that J.R. was there, and I always assumed I’d already written about them. It’s funny that there were times I wondered what I was going to write about, trying to keep to this self-imposed schedule of posting something on the subject every Saturday, my own way of saying, I am here.
Maybe that’s why I kept thinking I’d already written about J.R., because it was so obvious. It’s what we’re all saying.