Friday, October 06, 2006

CHILDISH TRIVIA: Whatever Happened To 70s Graffiti?

I passed a lamppost this morning and there, in carmine felt-tip, was the legend 'JESS IS A DOG'. Now, this isn't to impugn the character of Jess, but it made my day. Almost as much as the unexpected and welcome media backlash against that talentless waste of space, "Banksy". Cos (as I believe the demotic has it) let's face it, 80% of graffiti is shit. And 100% of tagging isn't just shit, it's a crime against humanity. Shoot them all. I mean it.On a scale of who I'd like to see liquidated, taggers come as high as war criminals..

If anything better exemplifies the dumbing of pop culture, let alone culture, in our day and age, I defy anyone to better the indulgence shown to these non-brains."I can't draw, I can't write, some pillock whose tutor read too much Derrida might give me a grant one day, and I'm even stupid enough to have wasted money on a spray can, so..." And something else- people who apologise for them should be next up for bang-bang.

I hesitate to sanctify the 70s - the only thing I can really say for it is the music. But graffiti was better then, and (sorry Jess) things seem to be coming full circle. I do not condone desecration of aesthetically pleasing structures, eg Canterbury Cathedral, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, any coach bearing Harrington Cavalier or Grenadier bodywork - but if you have to do it, make it funny or just reflective of graffiti's past. I do not deny graffiti is an art, or a discourse - but at least leave room for the past, the classics.

The timeless sex links are still on bog walls everywhere, ditto the paranoid anti-IRA rants; but where's the everyday, throwaway piece of expression? M KHAN IS BENT. It says it all. I'm not going all Nigel Rees here - I love clever graffiti, but I also loved the rather ashamed and low-key adumbrations of vulgarity in tradesmens' entrances, on pillarboxes etc. 'HOG'N'MOLE' (Lewisham, 1979). Or just 'HOG WOZ ERE' or 'MOLE SHAGGED GRAHAM'. People used to leave interesting nicknames; TRACTOR WANTS SEX' (Somerset, 1979), who also featured in 'TRACTOR+PHIL+BOYO=HARD'; a graffiti-writer would take his or her time. 'SHARON F IS AN OLD, FAT, UGLY, DOG' (Bexley, 1982- love that last comma). Even outside the smartypants environs of uni bogs, there could be invention. In one pub in Tyttenhanger, near Luton, in 1976, was scrawled above the mens' urinals: 'YOU'VE NOT COME HERE TO PISS ABOUT, SO HAVE YOUR PISS AND PISS OFF OUT', as well as the tantalising fragment: 'THERE WAS A YOUNG MAN FROM SPROCKET, WHO HAD A LITTLE LAMB IN HIS POCKET', but as this took up most of the wall, humanity has been denied the remainder of his limerick. I hope the mint sauce was up to standard, is all.

In an odd Queen-related outbreak of graffiti during the redevelopment of Bexleyheath Broadway in 1978, we had 'BRIAN MAY'S CREAM BUN RULES'. Can Anita Dobson help here? God, I even saw GENESIS RULE OK on Shortlands station in 1977.

Local lexical variations are nice: in south Wales, 'WOZ ERE' became "WOZ YER'. Top stuff.

Not exactly Pico della Mirandola or Leonardo; in an ideal world there would be no graffiti, but while there is, it's better to see words or pix that make you laugh, or think, or that defuse anger.

Where did it all go? Now all we've got is a bunch of wankers who creep along railway lines at night, disfigure everything in sight - even good graffiti art, some of the best and most dazzling can be seen in Switzerland, of all places - for no good reason and expect us to call it art. The swinish little children of relativism. Let the 23.56 mow 'em down. Let's reclaim graffiti for people with brains.

BTW Jess, I'm sure you're not. You can always write 'no I fuckin aint'.

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