By Joseph Ross
What kind of person gets up in the middle of the night, gathers cans of spray paint, and searches out public places to paint his name? This question is at the center of my fascination with graffiti art. It’s so interesting to me, this idea that we must write our names large, literally, so that people see us.
I wonder if this desire to assert one’s identity is also part of why we write poetry? Or why one writes or creates art at all? Is art always an act of self-assertion? Is graffiti art an act of hope? Is it a reach into the future? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this if you’re inclined to comment.
As part of my interest in graffiti art, I was pointed in the direction of a book on D.C. graffiti titled Free Agents: A History of Washington, D.C. Graffiti by Roger Gastman. It’s an interesting work, built around various D.C. artists. He shows an interesting connection between D.C. graffiti artists and different musical styles. In the 90s, there were Hip-Hop graffiti artists, Go-Go graffiti artists, and hardcore (punk) graffiti artists. These groups were mixed by both age and race. Apparently, D.C. is the only place where these groups were so closely linked to various musical scenes. He also chronicles the relationship between various D.C. artists and the police. It’s intriguing.
The book’s strengths are its many photographs. It contains many typographical errors which I find disappointing, but if you’re interested in the topic, it’s still an engaging read.
But the questions remain.