THERE’S NOTHING, YOU’D THINK, really very interesting about graffiti tags. To outsiders, they’re thoughtless, disruptive, ugly, and illegible. At worst, they’re a sign of the slipping middle class grip on suburban morality; at best, a nuisance to clean off walls.
Personally, I’m in two minds about tags. They don’t – unlike some more painstaking pieces – have much artistic merit or objective appeal. I can’t see signs of reflection in wanton graffiti, just a quick, furtive spray of paint, forming seemingly meaningless words in a script of typographers’ nightmares. But I imagine that, to their authors and readers, tags do have meaning. I imagine that they’re liberating to apply, allowing the painter some sense of intensely personal ownership of space, ownership that is enacted over and over in strips and pockets of the city. They cannot simply be thoughtless squiggles and stripes, but rather designed, deliberate, and evolving signatures and symbols.
Most tags are, I’d venture, fairly ugly in themselves. But taken in context, grouped and sorted, random graffiti can give a feel to city space that I rather like: you know, when you enter one of those suburbs where picturesque cottages and grand homes are enclosed by tag-ridden walls, that you’ve stepped into somewhere interesting, somewhere where things happen by day and by night.