July 8, 2020

"From the South Bronx to East New York, a new generation of graffiti writers has emerged... [L]ike early taggers who grew up in a city beset by crime, grime and empty coffers..."

"... today’s generation is dealing with its own intense fears over the devastating effects of the coronavirus on communities and the economy. 'Does art dictate the times or do the times dictate art?' said John Matos, 58, a graffiti writer known as Crash who started out in the 1970s. 'Before now, the streets were sanitized, with pieces that were cool and nice, and done with permission. Now, we’re back to the roots.'... . By 1989, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had declared victory over graffiti.... And while graffiti never disappeared completely, in recent weeks it has become ever more visible citywide. The increase in graffiti is for many residents an unwelcome sign of the recent economic upheaval.... 'It all begins and ends with angst,' said Mr. Matos, 58, the son of an evangelical preacher who grew up in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx. 'Teenage angst is always going to be provoked. I always equate graffiti with music, like the way Stevie Wonder wrote political songs. What’s going on in the streets is a response to things.'"

From "Graffiti Is Back in Virus-Worn New York/The city’s coronavirus lockdown and subsequent rise in unemployment have created the perfect conditions for a new generation of graffiti writers" (NYT).

I lived in NYC in the 1970s and early 80s and remember the graffiti everywhere, completely covering all the subway trains, inside and out, obscuring all the windows. Here's a photograph I took back then, around 1980:

"Kill You"

I remember just taking that sort of thing in stride. That was New York City. It had to be. Teenage angst? Like the way Stevie Wonder wrote political songs? I think of a Stevie Wonder lyric: "Living just enough for the city." Amazing that it changed. Tragic to let it devolve once again into chaos.

Here's the highest-rated comment at the NYT:
It will be romanticized, imbued with deep meaning and credited as youthful expression of our troubled times. But don’t be fooled. If you lived through it during the 80s you know how it degrades the urban environment for most residents and visitors save a few who view themselves as above such bourgeois notions as respect for public spaces and those who use and enjoy them. Don’t get me wrong, some of it is pretty good; brilliant, in fact. Most of it, however, is just vandalism and void of talent or meaningful messaging. In the current superheated political environment, the “debate” about graffiti will only add to the current culture wars, and not for the benefit of Democrats. 

51 comments:

mccullough said...

I always thought that Graffiti Artists just became Tattoo Artists.

Even Soccer Moms have sleeves these days.

tim maguire said...

I agree with that top-rated comment. There is some remarkable art within the genre of graffiti, but most of it is visual pollution degrading the lives of nearly everyone.

rhhardin said...

I have somewhere a paperback book of NYC graffiti in the 60s, not tagging but ongoing conversations on bathroom stall walls, the internet of the day.

Birkel said...

Lots of broken windows.
Broken by Democratics.

rehajm said...

Here's the highest-rated comment at the NYT:

Apparently nyt leftie readers draw the line at graffiti.

Michael K said...

Lots to see on boxcars in railroad yards.

Bay Area Guy said...

We need graffiti on the NYT building. Inside the building too.

Joe Smith said...

Worked out pretty well for Keith Haring...all except the AIDS part.

cubanbob said...

New Yorkers never learn. Once again they are on an express elevator to the hell of the late 60's and the 70's. Good times. Pretty soon there will be a support for a real Paul Kersey.

bagoh20 said...

If they had the real balls to do it, they could really piss off the suits and pantsuits with giant paintings of "TRUMP" everywhere. A great set of letters for tagger style. Attack the people who just stole so much from you and your future: the bureaucrats, the long entrenched politicians, the Karens and the paid cohorts.

That time back then was ugly, dangerous, and depressing. Not to be remembered fondly, even by me when it was my youth. I knew then it dysfunctional. I never thought it would get better, but it did under Republicans, where good ones were given the chance. I watched that happen, and it's what made me stop voting Democrat. They only got worse since then.

Mark said...

Warriors, come out and pwayiway.

wild chicken said...

Lots of tagged rail cars rolling through the country too. Lovely.

Their terribly important messages are as hard to read as a 1967 Fillmore poster.

rcocean said...

I Love that NYT comment. Let me translate: "We liberals need to *publicly* disapprove of this, otherwise it will give ammunition to Trump. Once we get enough Power, we can tell the truth and wallow in shit".

MikeD said...

From the NYT; ""... today’s generation is dealing with its own intense fears over the devastating effects of the coronavirus on communities and the economy."
From VDH;
"The woke but godless, the arrogant but ignorant, the violent but physically unimpressive, the degreed but poorly educated, the broke but acquisitive, the ambitious but stalled — these are history’s ingredients of riot and revolution."

Unknown said...

There are also graffiti's in Nigeria where I live

Two-eyed Jack said...

In the words of Mr. Stevie Wonder (and the Jackson 5):

Doo doo wop - go go go
Doo doo wop - oh
Doo doo wop - mmm bum bum
Doo doo wop - mmm
Doo doo wop - brr eh deh deh
Doo doo wop - dum dum dum dum
Doo doo wop - eh deh deh
Doo doo wop - mmm
Doo doo wop - oh yeah

n.n said...

Boys will be boys, and girls will be girls. One step forward, two steps backward. Progress.

Danno said...

The worst part about it is we no longer have Charles Bronson to act in any future Death Wish movies about the new NYC shitshow.

Laslo Spatula said...

"Amazing that it changed. Tragic to let it devolve once again into chaos."

This is what can happen when we prefer to be bored.

I am Laslo.

n.n said...

"Amazing that it changed. Tragic to let it devolve once again into chaos."

Chaos (e.g. evolution). Evolved. An incompletely or insufficiently characterized and computationally unwieldy, hidden order. #FitnessFunctionsMatter

Bay Area Guy said...

Is Bernhard Goetz still alive? Maybe he could run for mayor of NYC.

mezzrow said...

C-I-L-L My Landlord.

BUMBLE BEE said...

God made the earth round so the New Yorkers couldn't piss in the corners

BUMBLE BEE said...

From the 50's... Fools names and fools traces, often seen in public places. Art, like the dog sculpture pissing on the museum? Elevating!

Ganderson said...

People graffiti up their own bodies- why wouldn’t they tag everything in sight? We are on the expressway to hell, with no rest stop in sight.

William said...

When I saw graffiti, particularly on the subway, I always assumed I was in their territory and my visa had expired....Give Ed Koch credit for this. He was the one who put finis to subway graffiti.....The very best graffiti does not match the aesthetics of a clean and unmarked subway car. Sterility is especially pleasing during a pandemic.....I used to travel on the late night subway. When a cop walked through the car, the faces on people relaxed and they exhaled. These were minority people. They didn't look on the cops as their oppressors. They probably still don't, but it's best to keep that on the q.t.

stevew said...

It's easy to deface something you don't value.

It's not devolving, this behavior and action are a choice.

Howard said...

It keeps rubes from falling off the turnip trucks.

SDaly said...

Is it too late for another "Summer of Sam" in NYC this year?

Sebastian said...

"a city beset by crime, grime and empty coffers..."

The way progs liked it.

"... today’s generation is dealing with its own intense fears over the devastating effects of the coronavirus on communities and the economy."

Yeah, sure. The obvious response is to make things just a little worse.

"Amazing that it changed. Tragic to let it devolve once again into chaos."

Depends on what you mean by tragic. This is deliberate. Progs want it. Your feeling of the tragic is part of what they like about it, sticking it to bourgeois white ladies good and hard.
"If you lived through it during the 80s you know how it degrades the urban environment for most residents and visitors save a few who view themselves as above such bourgeois notions as respect for public spaces and those who use and enjoy them."

Get it through your sensitive heads, liberals: the degradation is the point.

Joe Smith said...

"People graffiti up their own bodies- why wouldn’t they tag everything in sight?"

I am going to sound like the 'get off my lawn' guy, but I was on a site the other day that had a section where readers could send in photos of themselves. It seemed that more than half of the women age 20-60 had very large, and in some case huge, tattoos.

I'm not judging their character because the person I know with the most tattoos is the sweetest, kindest person I know. But I do question their judgment.

Gk1 said...

I've always hated how shitty graffiti makes things look. BART has steadily become crappier in the inside because of it. It looks fine as it pulls up to the platform until you step in and see how trashed it is on the inside.

I've been all around the world using public transportation from Tokyo to Berlin and it's so nice to travel in uncluttered subways and trains without the visual pollution of taggers,slashed seats, crudely drawn penises etched into the sides of the seating and other garbage. Decline is a choice.

Shouting Thomas said...

Kind of amazing, prof, to consider that we were working for the same law firm in NYC at the same time, although I was an infrequent contractor. Your firm was one of a half dozen of my occasional clients.

We might have even met or passed by one another. My days as a contractor were a blizzard of faces and brief meetings.

Bob Smith said...

It’s vandalism. It was vandalism in the 60’s, it’s vandalism now. Decent people don’t do it. Ride public transit in any big French city. When you ride through a neighborhood rife with graffiti. Look at the people who live there. When you get to an area that is graffiti free look at the people who live there.

The prosecution rests.

elkh1 said...

Coronavirus and the economy. Hmm, nothing to do with the riots.

rhhardin said...

The worst part about it is we no longer have Charles Bronson to act in any future Death Wish movies about the new NYC shitshow.

Robert Kovacs Bronzi replaces Bronson in Death Kiss (2018) and is a dead ringer for Bronson, as the reviews put it. Unfortunately he's Hungarian and speaks no English so the entire film is dubbed over, and weirdly bad.

Nichevo said...

We might have even met or passed by one another. My days as a contractor were a blizzard of faces and brief meetings.


Hell, you might have banged her in a coat closet at a Christmas party.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

rap music for the eyes?

...remember 'Sane Smith' and 'Zephyr' ?

and the PSA "Make your mark IN society, not ON it"

robother said...

The graffiti and the smell of urine in the subways and summer streets is my main memories from the 70s in NYC. And assessing which side of each block looked safest when I got back to Boerum Hill from long hours at the Wall Street law firm. I literally walked through a mugging by walking fast and swinging my briefcase when one guy got too close. These days, they'd have shot me in the back.

Bilwick said...

Taki 183 lives! Suck it, Giuliani.

Ken B said...

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And they say
If you live in a blue city, move.

Rt41Rebel said...

I've always been fascinated by graffiti, I saw alot of it on railcars in my previous life. Actually had to answer a customer complaint about graffiti on a railcar. Anyhoo, the most compelling pop cult graffiti slogan I can remember is from a Walking Dead montage: Away with you.

Hey Skipper said...

@Bay Area Guy

“ We need graffiti on the NYT building. Inside the building too.”

Thread winner.

Earnest Prole said...

I think we can all agree the most important question is whether it's good for the Democrats.

tim maguire said...

Blogger Bay Area Guy said...Is Bernhard Goetz still alive? M

Yes, he is. I thought of him too seeing people on the thread lamenting the loss of Charles Bronson. Why pine for a character when we still have the real thing?

BUMBLE BEE said...

Graffiti is durable littering.

MD Greene said...

Tagging is an assertion of oppression. "I'm the boss of this place, I do whatever I want, and if you want a clean garage door or train seat or dumpster, you're going to have to spend 24 hours a day watching it to try and stop me."

A "58-year-old graffit artist" who doesn't have a contract with Larry Gagosian is just another loser.

Nichevo said...


Crazy Jane said...
Tagging is an assertion of oppression. "I'm the boss of this place, I do whatever I want, and if you want a clean garage door or train seat or dumpster, you're going to have to spend 24 hours a day watching it to try and stop me."



But if you can shoot him in the head when you catch him you only need to catch him once.

wildswan said...

Grafitti in the cities in 2020 are like campaign signs in yards in the suburbs. They remind everybody as the election comes closer who the Dems now are. "The words of the prophets are written on subway walls" meaning that the mess in NYC is the conscious choice of the Dem NYC Mayor and City Council for their own lefty reasons. After all, Giuliani showed in 1990's that mess and crime are a policy choice by city leaders. Why are they doing it in 2020? The American left is using a dated 20C playbook - seeking to create chaos at the center to foment revolution and a chance to seize power as in 20C Europe. But America is truly different - not only armed but also very quick to act. In NYC so many of the wealthy have left, so many of middle class want to continue telecommuting and continue home-schooling, so many police are resigning, and so many restaurants and attractions have closed forever that NYC will be substantially changed by November 2020, no, by September 2020, in an unpredicted way. It won't be the center. And the plans of the left will seem like sandcastles below the tide line.

mikee said...

Here in Austin, the police used shotgun bean bags against protesters blocking the interstate. Eight protesters went the hospital, one critical, from headshots, which are verboten when using these less-lethal weapons. Bad police! Bad!

A street sign was tagged, on its backside, "Police shot us here." The protesters thought it would be a site memorializing their noble struggle against capitalism, racial oppression, and police misconduct. Instead it has become a joke, altered to "Shoot them here, too!" in several other locations around downtown.

Now that's fine art, and damn funny.

Bilwick said...

When it comes to statues my main question is "Who owns that statue you want to pull down?" With graffiti my main question is, "Who owns that wall you want to deface?" If you own it--or have the owner's permission--go ahead and "tag" it. Show the world what a barbarian you are.