Graffiti that once was considered the bane of urban existence is now a recognized and sometimes highly sought after art form unique to the inner city. All over America, cities are electing to brighten once-blighted neighborhoods with murals and other forms of street art. The biggest challenge? Finding them.
[one_half padding=”4px 8px 0 2px”]We frequently travel across a little stretch of road that is strictly utilitarian in nature. There’s no reason for its existence other than to connect one part of town with another. The asphalt runs adjacent to a railroad track with a hospital at one end and an industrial area at the other, but there is nothing useful in between, simply overly-littered clumps of weeds and dirt the department of public works tries to clean up occasionally. Then, just last year, the city decided that the area needed some sprucing up. So, they commissioned a large mural to be painted under the stretch of Interstate 65 that dissects the area. The mural is very attractive, very bright, and appropriate in its depiction of the people who live in the area. Hooray for public art!
Yet, the rest of the area, even the right-of-way between the mural and the road, remains a blight. Trash still punctuates the aesthetics of the road, soot still gathers on the girders of the overpass, and none of the mural is visible unless one is stuck on that very short piece of otherwise forgettable road. Might this be a case of expecting art to do more than it is capable of doing on its own? Possibly.
Cities have long had a love/hate relationship with outdoor urban art. While graffiti has been around almost as long as men have been building walls, only recently have we as a society started looking at it as a legitimate art form. Artists with names such as Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, and Retna, Shepard Fairey, and David Choe have become both celebrities and millionaires spraypainting their works on the side of buildings such as Facebook’s headquarters. What once would have gotten a person arrested for vandalism is now welcomed by many urban building owners and often comes with a very hefty price tag.[/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”4px 2px 0 8px”]For all that popularity, we’re still not always sure what to do with urban wall art. Today’s picture is shot in front of a very large and attractive piece of work in Fountain Square. Yet, you won’t see it as you take a casual drive through the area. The graffiti art is on a wall tucked back in an alley next to a gravel parking lot used primarily by employees of adjacent businesses. If one doesn’t know the work is there and seek it out, it goes completely unnoticed. Sticking Diablo, at the time one of Fountain Square’s better-known residents, in front of the wall might have brought it some attention had we included a map of how to find it. We like urban wall art, but we’re not always sure we want everyone to see it.
One also has to consider the fact that a lot of street art is intentionally temporary. Traditional graffiti artists never expect their work, welcome or not, to be permanent. Even under the best of circumstances, sunlight fades the colors and changing weather eventually chips away at the paint. Many walls where graffiti is welcome get completely repainted two or three times a year. If one visits an area infrequently or is unaware of an art wall’s rotation, one might easily miss a real masterpiece of urban painting.
Wall art is an exciting part of the contemporary urban landscape and photography helps preserve this all-too-temporary art form. Perhaps one day we’ll no longer relegate such creative work to back alleys and the underside of Interstate bridges. Until then, the search-and-discovery process of finding these exciting pieces is an adventure that defines the uniqueness of the urban outdoors. Get out your camera and start looking; they could be anywhere![/one_half_last]