the Death of Graffiti

This week will celebrate the end of street art as a viable form of visual expression. The Tate Modern in London is having a show of ‘graffiti’ on the walls outside of it’s building. But there is something else happening here that needs a closer look.

Graffiti is a form of visual expression employed by those who would not normally have any impact on their environment. These artists do not have access to the media, to the corporate infrastructures that dictate the whims and fancies of the contemporary art world. Instead, by taking a can in your hand you can say whatever you want to anyone with eyes. Place your paint in the right location and a million people might walk by and have a look. More viewers in a single day than any Picasso.

But what is happening at the Tate and being called graffiti is nothing more than ‘mural art’, something that is not new in anyway but goes back hundreds if not thousands of years. The key to the difference between mural art and graffiti is permission.

Graffiti is the act of unlicensed street art. It is a form of terrorism, an act of defiance, an individual insurrection of creative expression. When an artist is asked to do this (regardless of by who), to paint on a wall with permission there is no longer the threat of being caught, of getting in trouble, thus the soul of the work is reduced to mere advertising.

The seemingly open arms of the contemporary art world to graffiti is just a commercial speculation on its long term value. Many visual artists who have been embraced by the contemporary fine art establishment started as graffiti artists.

Jean Michel Basquiat, Max Schreck, Keith Haring, they all started as graffiti artists but were slowly eaten by the art world. This next bunch is no different. What may separate Banksy from his peers is his (at least vocal) opposition to the sale of his street pieces and his resistance to the art establishments typical forms of artist/gallery relationship.

There is still, and will always be, this form of terroristic artistic expression. But when you are saying what they want you to say, painting what they asked you to paint, you are no longer making graffiti but painting commercial murals. You have lost the meaning of the work, the risk being gone it has taken the soul of the act with it in exchange for money.

Returning to London

So once more I cross the water and return to my home in London. Having spent the last 6 weeks in Chicago makes me miss London all the more.

As I sit in the airport writing this I wonder about the next couple of months, about my state in the world and how things have changed so much in the past year. I took Isobel to school this morning and gave her a kiss goodbye, knowing I will miss her terribly while I am gone.

So much has gone through my mind in these past weeks. My birthday, my grandmothers death, traveling, film making, music, all have washed over me in a cascade of emotions and experience. I have been rethinking my work, even as I have returned to painting this last month. Producing over a dozen works in just a handful of weeks.

I feel like all of my various endeavors are finally coming together. The films and paintings, words, images and sounds are all coalescing into something defined and whole. A thing greater than the sum of its parts. But its shape still eludes me, a shadow just around the next corner. Perhaps that corner is waiting for me in London.

The Transmigration of Albert Hofmann

Several days ago a man passed from this world into the next whose influence on the evolution of humankind is so expansive it will take centuries before his role in our future is fully told. This man, a simple chemist living and working in Switzerland, created the 1960s generation, defined an era of human conscious exploration, and may have given man access to the Philosophers Stone. He was Albert Hofmann, modern discoverer of LSD, synthesizer of psilocybin, and documenter of salvia divinorum. He was 102 years old.

Hofmann’s discovery of LSDs power is probably not its first use in the hands of humankind. It is probable that the ancient Greek mysteries (the Cult of Dionysius) utilized the ergot fungus growing on their rye bread preparations as a ceremonial key to altering an initiates mental perceptions. Yet Hofmann’s synthesis of LSD-25 stands as a key point in awakening mankind to it potential, and to the nature of existence beyond the perceptual.

The story of Hofmann’s accidental discovery of LSDs power, his legendary psychedelic bicycle ride, and his role in placing this drug in the hands of men like Timothy Leary (who would usher it into popular consumption) are already mythological. Though based in fact these events have taken on the chimera of myth by the fact of their fantastic unfolding. In time these stories will have been elevated to the status of the Greek and Roman myths. An ancient fable told to children of how men were “before.”

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