the subconscious art of graffiti removal

YIKES! Am I being stalked? Last week the tag in the above picture, reading “if this were art you’d be in a gallery right now” appeared just up the street from my place. I am not sure, but it certainly feels like it is referencing my film The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal, and it’s literally a block away from my house in place where i could not miss it.
There has always been a small, yet vocal, group of people who absolutely hate this movie. My assumption has been that these people are young graffiti dudes who have never actually seen the movie but have a very hostile, knee-jerk reaction to the title. You can find their rants in graffiti chat rooms and websites, and in the occasional nasty email that someone sends me out of the blue. They usually say something along the lines of “I’ve never heard of anything so retarded in my life” or “this sucks you’re gay” (these are direct quotes) and they clearly don’t realize that the movie is pro-art and pro-graffiti.
The funny thing is that there are some very well-known graffiti artists who love the movie, and it’s actually been featured in several ‘street-art’ group shows along side artists such as Barry McGee, including the totally awesome Beautiful Losers program that Aaron Rose curated. I think that anyone who has seen the movie and has half a brain can pretty much figure out that the movie is not anti-graffiti.
But this new message puzzles me. I can’t tell exactly if it is pro or con, and whether it is directed at me or a broader audience. It kind of seems like it has to be directed at me, because the statement clearly falls within an already established context. Unless, of coarse, the writer is being completely self-referential, and not making a statement about graffiti removal but graffiti itself. It could be that the fact that a buff serves as the backdrop is little more than artistic coincidence, and the writer is making a statement that graffiti itself is not art.
Or, it probably is just all in my head. But still, it creeps me out. If you haven’t seen the movie, or maybe you just don’t remember it, here is an excerpt:

The project initially started as collaboration with my pal Avalon Kalin. He was the first to label the buffs as an accidental art form, originally calling it subliminal art. Our conversation continued for several months, and we quickly realized that the aesthetic interpretation of graffiti removal served as an incredible metaphor for so many things; from official/social control of the visual landscape to the ‘authoritative’ anointification of what is art and what isn’t. The funny thing is that the film really isn’t about graffiti at all, but rather the need for independent thought when it comes to interpreting the environment around you.
*While on the subject of graffiti removal, I must make note that I believe there is an exciting new movement happening down in Woodburn, Oregon. I was there just a couple days ago and noticed some buffs that couldn’t quite fit into any of the stylistic form categories I list in the film (symmetrical, ghosting, and radical). This new category might be best described as “organic” and consists of traits found in both symmetrical and ghosting while also portraying a clearly natural, nearly life-like quality. Very amoeba like!

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22 Responses to the subconscious art of graffiti removal

  1. dalas says:

    The same tagger left a line at the Lloyd Center Max stop. It says something like “Call your deadbeat dad. He still loves you.”
    It’s funny, because I always felt like that one might be addressing me personally since my dad is a deadbeat. Maybe this guy is just really good at getting into your head.

  2. matt says:

    you could be right dalas. he also had one up in southeast that said ‘too many hipsters, not enough crime,’ but that one was actually a total head-scratcher for me.
    unless, he is the deadbeat dad and he knows his child frequents the mall!!

  3. JaclynJean says:

    he left one on N Williams that said “If this were art I’d be rich.” and it was next to some other graffiti…I’ve been seeing his tags all over the place, and thinking about them, so i’m stoked that you posted this.
    I honestly don’t think it’s directed at you; i think he’s speaking generally about culture-class imbalances and socio-economic differences. maybe he’s mad at Banksy. but i think it would be more accurate if it said “if this was art, i’d STILL be poor.”
    the hipster one i interpreted as “too many hipsters and no way to rob them all,” as if one has to be rich to be considered/look “hip.”
    i really can’t wait until our generation clears up this “hipster” stuff. i’m going to start tagging buildings “too many hipsters, because you can’t not be.”

  4. jdawg says:

    i saw that the other day and thought it was funny. i think the hipster one is referencing that no one is sacrificing for what they believe in. just going to the back of the line. lousy graffiti rules!

  5. While I loved the movie and, to be quite honest, can’t look at such whitewashed rectangles without giving subtle props to you, this message has nothing to do with you or your film. Whoever the author is, they deserve credit for injecting power in mere spray painted sentences while others laboriously meddle with books, paintings, and films.

  6. JaclynJean says:

    “…deserve credit for injecting power in mere spray painted sentences while others laboriously meddle with books, paintings, and films.”
    at the risk of being contrary, this is quite the melodramatic statement. it overly romanticizes what we’re seeing at the same time it oversimplifies other art forms. i mean, “meddle” with books and film? please! while i agree that, sure, graffiti can make you stop and think, this particular work hardly causes me to give as much pause as a good film or book would. not even close. i can’t recall a single sarcastic statement scrawled on a wall ever giving me as much pause as a “laborious” book or film. sometimes, it is the labor involved in art that supports the strength of the statement. anyone can tag a bathroom wall with some psuedo-intellectual half-baked comment, but if you really believe in what you’re saying it’s worth the extra effort to make something greater.
    i don’t think it’s necessarily true that “more time=better art”, but let’s not be flip.

  7. That last part was meant to be a bit tongue-in- cheek, as I am a person who “laboriously meddles” with all such mediums. Still, while I agree most of these “psuedo-intellectual half-baked comments” are a dime a dozen, these two stuck in my mind for some reason. The author deserves a little credit, even for a laugh or bit of pause in a sea of bullshit.

  8. matt says:

    i agree robert and it’s not my intention to discredit the writer. i’d be happy to see more ‘thought provoking’ graffiti like this pop up around town. and perhaps it is just my imagination concocting the possibility that it is aimed at me. but there certainly are strange coincidences, though. (subconscious???)
    but, if it you are right and it has nothing to do with my film, what do you think the message is?

  9. Caroline says:

    Very odd, I was just thinking about your movie while driving yesterday, because I saw some subtly artsy graffiti removal – well, it almost all seems that way now. I saw your film on the big screen at the Hollywood Theatre when it was new and never forgot it. It IS good! No, great!
    Also odd is the semblance of your new blog layout to my old blog layout. And, considering I’m working on a blog redesign, maybe I’ll use “graffiti removal” as a theme. That would tie these loose ends together nicely.

  10. matt says:

    i do need to redesign my blog, but this is the old (and only) design this blog has ever had (but i think movable type pretty much makes all these things look the same). but you are still welcome to use graffiti removal as your design concept, but sadly Urban Outfitters already beat you to it (in 2002, Urban Outfitters painted fake buffs in the men’s department of several of their stores. their employees even watched the video as part of their ‘what’s hot this season’ session. of coarse i received zero compensation for this and wasn’t even told about it (except for one of the employees who excitedly reported to me “we watched your movie at work today”) they probably even distributed bootlegged videos to the stores, cause they definitely didn’t buy them from me!)

  11. adam Forkner says:

    yeah just seems like graf dude is trying hard to pull a neo-basquiat style of mildly absurd, art world vs street world, underground arts vs the man/gallery world of money vs world of spray, or maybe web designer dressed like a graf artist vs graf artist dressed as a web designer kind of thing. its good in that none of his sentences make perfect sense, they are open ended and our mind tries to make sense of them, searching for a hard edged meaning to very blurry, vague statements.

  12. erin says:

    where it the link to situationist theory and the subconscious art of graffiti removal in this entry – i thought you told me that it was also inspired through situationist literature – i assign you to write a blog on situationist theory sir!

  13. John T says:

    I’m reminded of graffiti I saw in a filthy alleyway that said “If you lived here you’d be home by now”. Which I couldn’t decide was a half-clever attempt at provoking awareness of the homeless, or just a cruel joke.
    I love how SAGR struck a perfect balance between pedantry, irony, and genuine beauty. Nice to see the clip online.

  14. John T says:

    I’m reminded of graffiti I saw in a filthy alleyway that said “If you lived here you’d be home by now”. Which I couldn’t decide was a half-clever attempt at provoking awareness of the homeless, or just a cruel joke.
    I love how SAGR struck a perfect balance between pedantry, irony, and genuine beauty. Nice to see the clip online.
    [apologies if this is a double-post… my computer is acting funny so I resubmitted]

  15. Dad says:

    If you were in a gallery right now, this would be art. A different perspective.
    Recently, I sat at a railroad crossing with nothing but a red and white striped barrier, a clanging bell and a flashing light separating me from tons of rolling steel and a moving picture show of box-car graffiti. It was a right-to-left blur of sprayed on words and shapes that made just a visual impression – as I couldn’t focus on any one box car long enough to understand the language.
    Anyway, it was an exciting moving picture show – better than some I have paid money to watch.

  16. gerry says:

    I really loved this film.
    But I think you have to stop thinking that everyone who writes about graffiti removal – or throws up a tag over some – is somehow ripping you off. I’ve seen it around (and people commenting on it) since the seventies. It’s great that you were able to draw attention to the phenomenon, but it’s a very public thing. People think in similar ways and come to the same conclusions all over the world. Nobody can document it all.
    You aren’t “the grafitti removal guy” – unless you want to be. But that would be a little sad, wouldn’t it?

  17. matt says:

    Gerry i agree with you. one of my favorite things about this movie is that so many people have approached me after seeing it and said something along the lines of “that was the movie i wanted to make, but you beat me to it!” photographers have been taking pictures of buffs, graffiti artists have been incorporating them into their pieces, and there certainly has been plenty of discussion about buffs that all predates my film. i am sure that much of the success of the film has to do with the fact that it taps into an already established collective conscious, and just helps to bring the ideas out into a discussion.
    but please understand, this “if this were art…” tag is literally visible from my bedroom window! it certainly is possible that the tag and message have absolutely nothing to do with me, but seeing that i already have a history of receiving hate mail because of the film, i hope you can understand why i at least find it curious.
    as for the other things i reference, i am excited if the movie inspires other artists, but i do think it’s odd when someone starts a project, uses the exact same title and subject matter, but never references the original. i agree that many people have come up with an appreciation for the artistic qualities of buffs completely on their own, but i find it hard to believe that they also ‘subconsciously’ came up with the exact same title. and as far as big corporations like urban outfitters, they rip off artists all the time. i just found this instance interesting because i essentially had a spy on the inside telling me what was going on.

  18. The Vandals says:

    No, you idiots don’t seem to understand. There is no winning, the battle for you is already lost, fuck the buff, fuck the pigs, fuck anyone who feels the need to show censorship towards our silly means of expressing ourselves, we are not gangs, we are just a very very large group of individuals who really enjoy fucking with your minds, by displaying meanings that convey your thoughts and throw you mind into an abyss of anger, greif or a deep state of thought. But it does not matter, non of it is for you.
    The Opposeing force to our malfunctioning socieity.
    PS, buff it and we’ll just come back with more elaborate peices, and bombs. A clean wall will not exsist for loner than a week so enjoy it…

  19. narb says:

    graffiti removal is art? youd have to be retarted to think that and the only reason some buffs look cool or stylish is because theyre cheap ass motherfuckers that just trace over the graffiti and dont paint a block over it and why paint over graffit in the first place? if your going to buff graffiti on the streets then you might as well go to an art musuem with a big ass chisel marker the size of your head and write an x over every painting in there, now does that sound right? and think about it: graffiti writers think of it as decorating: they think theyre graffiti will look good on the wall? they’ll paint it on the wall…simple as that theyre not breaking your windows or writing “fuck you” all over your building (if they do then they are not graffiti writers they are pure vandals)
    Graffiti will never die,
    fuck u all motherfuckers tryin to change that

  20. matt mc says:

    to the dudes who wrote the two previous posts:
    have you seen the film? did you read the entire post? DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT THE FILM IS PRO GRAFFITI?????
    the movie is in no way anti-graffiti. either you haven’t seen it or the joke flew right over your head. please get a grip.

  21. kj says:

    Concur; Matt MC.

  22. Anonymous says:

    In most cases I love Graffities… Only if they are on housewalls i think it

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