Back in the day, when graffiti was just getting started in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was a criminal act. A minor crime, to be sure, but still criminal. And it still is, for the most part, vandalism.
But things have changed as well. By the 1990s graffiti had been picked up by hip-hop, extreme sports, and had gone international. It was a crime all over the world.
And now, what happened in downtown Jersey City this past Saturday, April 25, 2015? The Green Villain, aka Greg Edgell, organized a graffiti jam at the Newport Pep Boys store.
In the Spring of 2014 Greg Edgell started his plan to take over walls in Jersey City, where he lives, and New York City, across the river. Find a good wall, contact the owner, get permission to put graff or street art on it. The Newport Pep Boys in Jersey City was the fourth hit: #GVM004.
Why this building? Because the rear wall is big and visible. It faces the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, where it is seen by 1000s of commuters a day. All systems were Go. By November 2014 the AIDS crew had that huge rear wall covered. Five months later word came down that the building had been sold and would be demolished to make way for new construction.
Edgell did the only sensible thing, got permission to do the whole building. On Saturday April 25, 2015 20-30 writers from three states converged on the Pep Boys building, all systems GO on all four walls, North, South, East and West. Edgell & friends DJ’d at the southeast corner as onlookers toured around the building on foot and in cars and SUVs.
Jersey City had never before seen anything like this. Sure, there’s been out-of-the-way spots where writers would gather and get up on the walls. But this is not an out-of-the-way spot. It’s very visible. People brought their kids and the kids loved it. Naturally.
What happened to the art crimes? They’re not gone, of course. Some of the artists who got up on those walls also have criminal records for vandalism. Heck, I once got a summons for “aggravated trespassing” because I was photographing graffiti on posted property.
The social conditions that propelled the original writers to protest and proclaim their names on walls and subway cars, they haven’t disappeared. Just a couple days after the Pep Boys walls were painted Baltimore broke out in riots over police treatment of a black man. Back in April of 1968, almost fifty years ago, and about the time graffiti was itching to be born in Philadelphia and New York City, Baltimore broke out in (much worse) riots over the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King.
Injustice and inequality stalk the land. Graffiti is still a crime. But it’s also family day.
You make sense of it. I can’t.