American Graffiti.

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

What’s In A Name?

Sometime in the mid-‘80’s I saw a short documentary about New York graffiti artists. It included an artist who called himself Crash. Crash also appeared on an episode of Livewire, a talk show for kids on Nickelodeon that you might remember if you’re old enough to have watched You Can’t Do That On Television as a kid. It intrigues me that the host of Livewire was Fred Newman who now does sound effects on A Prairie Home Companion, but that’s another story.

Crash was into computers and that’s where his name came from. A “crash”, he explained, is something that sometimes happen to computers.bluescreenThis is an incredibly roundabout way of wondering about graffiti artists’ names. Here’s one I’ve seen in a couple of different places. What, exactly, can we deduce about this artist? Maybe this is the sign of someone who’s also a professional chef.


The same artist has also chosen some less appetizing canvases:

dumpsterAnd now a flashback: the opening of Livewire.

Please Tip Your Waiter.

deathsheadThis garbage can graffiti always cracks me up because it makes the can look like a big skull, but in a weird stylized sort of way. And I laugh because I feel like it’s got a deep, serious message about how we should recycle and trash is killing the planet and we’ve developed a disposable culture and big words like heterogeneity and reification and let’s throw in phenomenology just for fun.

It’s funny, right?

It’s in front of JJ’s Market & Cafe, a neighborhood establishment, a coffee shop which still thrives in spite of being just two blocks away from three major chain places that also sell coffee as well as pastries, sandwiches, juices, and other stuff. I won’t name names but one is known for its breads, one specializes in bagels, and one is so ubiquitous there are jokes about how there are places where you’ll find two of its stores on opposite sides of the street.006JJ’s is purely local and has been in the area since dirt was clean. Part of the reason JJ’s survives is it doesn’t just sell coffee. There’s also beer, and not just any beer. There’s a row of taps next to the coffee bar and you can sit down and enjoy a fresh pint of a local brew or take home a growler of some of Yazoo’s or Jackalope’s finest. They also have an expansive selection of bottled international and U.S. beers, many of them microbrews.

005003And then there’s the sitting area. There’s the bookshelf with board games. There are the big armchairs and old fashioned tables. There’s the stage where I and some other local writers would occasionally perform poems. There’s the large screen of a Gustav Klimt and the Guinness posters. The staff are friendly too, and I love the tip jar. You should tip anyway, but doesn’t this make you feel even better about doing it?001I’m not trying to advertise JJ’s because it doesn’t need it. The property owners have slated it and Noshville, the New York style deli next door which has appeared on the TV show Nashville, for destruction. Both businesses are doing fine, but the property owners want to demolish the entire block and put in an apartment building.

In my not so humble opinion the area needs an apartment building like it needs another one of those chain coffee places. There already are apartment buildings nearby that aren’t filled to capacity.

And suddenly that death’s head garbage can doesn’t seem so funny anymore.



001There’s a taco place near where I work. Instead of going to the counter and telling the cashier what you want to order they have order forms along one wall. You take a form and a pencil, fill in what you want, and hand it over. And, as you can see, a lot of people use the pencils to add their own creative notes to the wall.

Most people just seem to write their names. It’s the old “so-and-so was here” that seems to be as old as graffiti itself. That’s no joke. There really is graffiti carved into historic monuments in ancient Greek and other old languages that basically just says, “Euclides was here”. People felt compelled to leave their mark. They still feel compelled to leave their mark. A few other messages say things like “Happy birthday Jim” or “Hi Karen!” The taco place is popular so almost every time I’ve gone there for lunch it’s been packed. I’ve had a lot of time to stand there and read the messages people have left on the wall. And most of the time I’m amazed that even though these messages are anonymous, even though people could write whatever they want, nobody seems inclined to write anything cruel or derogatory.

I feel guilty that I’ve felt so cynical, especially since recent events have made me so happy. Today is Independence Day in the United States, and I feel that recent events have moved us a little closer to the dream of universal equal rights in this country. People whose right to marry, or to have their marriage recognized, was limited by where they lived, can now marry, and enjoy the full legal protections of marriage, anywhere in the United States.

These scribbles on the wall represent people exercising their freedom of speech, which I think of as the most basic freedom. All other freedoms stem from freedom of speech because without it there’s no way to ask for or even articulate the other freedoms we crave. We may have gotten a little closer to universal equality, but to those who are still marginalized, still afraid, still fighting for full rights: speak on.


You’re All Awesome.

001This is not your typical graffiti. It’s not an artist’s tag, a gang symbol, or a large colorful mural. It does make me feel better. In fact it makes me happy just looking at this. The problem is it’s hidden by a building. And that’s probably part of why it’s been allowed to stay. It’s also on a dumpster, and only the owners of the dumpster can be responsible for removing it, which they’re probably not that interested in doing.

Enough dwelling on that. I wish I could find the artist and say, Hey, you’re awesome too. And I don’t mean that ironically even though it does seem like your work could be taken that way.

Kinda looks like it’s done by The Oatmeal, doesn’t it?

Don’t Nip It In The Bud.

Can you see it? Maybe you’re distracted by doughnuts, or the big neon OPEN sign in the window. Chances are good you’re also driving by so you’re unlikely to see something so small. You may not even notice where it is. It’s hidden in plain sight.

inthebudGetting closer. Walking down the sidewalk you’re more likely to spot it unless you’re distracted by the big neon HOT sign in the side window, or the cars getting doughnuts at the drive-through. Maybe you’re thinking about cutting through the grass to get a doughnut.

003Wait a minute. What is that? Is that…?

004Yes. That’s exactly what it is.

006It’s been there for at least ten years, maybe longer. Who put it there? And why? Those are the questions I’d like to ask any graffiti artist, but this one stands out because whoever did it has my kind of sense of humor. Maybe it’s stayed there so long because so few people notice it, but I like to think it stays because it makes people laugh. The box is for electrical wiring or some crap like that so I assume some technician has to check it regularly. I hope they call the box itself Barney.

Don’t Come Around Here No More.

Source: Wikipedia

If you’ve ever studied art history you probably know that in 1917 Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal “R. Mutt” and put it in a gallery. He called it “Fountain”. It was a serious statement about how the most utilitarian items really are works of art. Or maybe since Duchamp had a weird sense of humor it was a funny statement about how you can put anything in a gallery and it automatically becomes art. It’s a joke some artists have been repeating for nearly a century now.

I thought about that when I saw this painted over graffiti. Notice that it’s in a gallery parking lot. It’s like the gallery owners were saying, “Don’t bring your art around here!”

galleryWhy did Duchamp choose a urinal? Well, like I said, he had a weird sense of humor. Or maybe he was just preparing for the critics.

What Do You Want?

wallorchidWhat’s the difference between graffiti and a wall mural? One’s wanted, the other isn’t. Yes, graffiti is wanted by the artist, but a wall mural is wanted by someone else. I wonder, though, how often someone commissions a mural or other work of art and then thinks, “Well, that’s not exactly what I had in mind” when they get it. That’s one advantage of graffiti: the artists never have to worry about letting anyone down but themselves.



Here are a few other works I’m pretty sure were commissioned or requested. I hope the artist didn’t let anyone down.

006 (more…)

A Tree Grows In Nashville.

001I’m pretty sure this is graffiti. It’s on a wall near Nashville’s Centennial Park. If you’re familiar with the area it’s next to the entrance to Rotier’s restaurant, a little hole in the wall diner that’s been there since dirt was clean. People who went to the original centennial exposition in 1897 dined at Rotier’s afterwards. Businesses have come and gone but Rotier’s is eternal. Man fears time, but time fears Rotier’s.

This is not really an advertisement for the restaurant I won’t name again, especially since I’ve never eaten there. What really interests me is this graffiti. Someone put some thought and effort into creating this mini-mural. Many people see graffiti as ugly and I guess a lot of it is, but this, subtle, almost unnoticeable as it is, makes me stop and think about how the area has changed and grown. Maybe that was the artist’s intent. Maybe the artist was just somebody who felt compelled to paint a nice picture of a tree going up a wall.

Here’s a picture or Rotier’s to give you some idea of its antebellum charm. It really has survived decades of changes to the area.


Why Don’t You Ask Him Who’s The Latest On His Throne?

I suspect this is the name of a local graffiti artist, or the tag for a gang whose members are really big Fleetwood Mac fans.

Also I always used to mishear the line “Why don’t you ask him who’s the latest on his throne?” as “Why don’t you ask him when it’s gonna storm? Hey, it makes about as much sense as the rest of the lyrics.

tusk1 tusk

It’s Nice. I Think.

Bathroom graffiti is always the most vile, deranged, racist, bigoted, homophobic stuff you’ll find. At least that’s the case most of the time. Once I saw a phone number with the obligatory “call for a good time”, but under that someone had written, “No! Don’t! Gives terrible blow jobs!” That still makes me laugh.

And then there was this that I captured in an Alabama rest stop.


It’s etched into the mirror which took someone a lot of time and effort. It can be a little hard to read even if you click the picture to embiggen it, so I’ve done my best to recreate it:

Saxon!I would assume this was some kind of white supremacy statement if not for the peace symbol. Maybe the halo and the triangle that gives the N an upward pointing arrow is a memorial to someone named Saxon. If that’s the case I think it’s a nice tribute, and one that will last longer than most graffiti. You can’t paint over the mirror or scrub that off.

Completely unrelated: The Bloggess spotted some much more hilarious graffiti. That’s one more reason it’s such a shame office supply stores all over the place are closing. For a little comfort here’s another bit of graffiti from a restaurant bathroom: