McClurg goes all-city, for a few blocks anyway

One of my favorites. I've seen wheat posters, stickers, and stencils of Lon Chaney's iconic image around town. Good stuff!
Around Birmingham I’ve noticed more street art than I’ve ever seen. I’m not referring to the hard-to-read “tags” or graffiti that have been common in most cities since at least the ‘80s. Tags are basically someone’s name or nickname reproduced, sometimes as incomprehensible as some metal band logos. (Having some HTML issues: You can click on “‘tags'” and “logos” for examples.)

It might have something to do with the recent movie Exit Through the Gift Shop playing our local festival and becoming readily available on Netflix. The film documents some of the important artists in this relatively young style.

I say young because it feels new, even though for me it harkens back to performance art, happenings, dada, and surrealism that have been with us for almost 100 years. Also, I find them linked to the aleatoric or chance music of John Cage or the non-idiomatic improv of Derek Bailey. It appears, happens, speaks, and is gone. Like performance art or live improvisation, the art has a short lifespan unless captured in some way on another medium (funny—I want to say “tape or film” but I don’t think most people use either of these but it sounds weird saying “ones and zeros”—oh well).

Conceptual dumpster art. Kanye vs. Taylor. Street Artist vs. Graffitist. Like fight scenes in Beat Street or Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. Wow.

Anyway, I’ve seen some great stuff walking my dog. Thought I would share some of it. Also, Cy Twombly, often called a “high art graffitist” died recently. He hated that label and I don’t blame him. (Technology hates me: Click on his name for obit.)


  1. What is strange though is that the artists and community that surround graffiti have set up a progression system for the artists where they must “move up the ranks.” First, you have to tag your name all over the city and let people know exactly who you are, after that, you can start putting up “bombs” or the pieces that incorporate the name into a picture or image, then you can proceed to post murals and pieces (short for masterpieces) that take up entire walls. Also, each of these levels can be posted over the lower levels, pieces over bomb, bombs over tags, and the only way that a piece can be painted over is if another artist paints another, larger and more grandiose piece. So you see, the world of graffiti and street art is structured, even if you don’t notice it. The street artists usually start off with small stickers and work their way up to huge posters. Some other good documentaries an the subject are “Bomb It,” “Next,” and “Infamy.” these are really lower level documentaries, but they have a lot of good information and really showcase the graffiti culture.

    1. I know a little bit about this. I like that aspect of it. A code. An ethics or morals. I think for me what’s interesting besides that (more because of my lack of knowledge) is how similar the tags are to death metal logos. Is this urban culture? Youth rebellion (“you don’t understand me”)? I think there is some interesting places to go with it. And, yeah, it’s one of the few areas of “art” that may have an ethics if I had to judge by the stories I’ve heard.

      I’m still in a kind of “Look at the cool stuff” phase. I really don’t have much to add here, really.

      1. Incomprehensibility is interesting to me, especially because it gets expressed in “white” and “black” culture in similar ways to me. I think of people who say they can’t understand the words to rap (I’m I showing my age–Should I say “hip-hop”?–I haven’t read music criticism in a long time.) songs or metal/death metal songs. There is an interesting way that “You can’t understand me” can be taken literally and figuratively. I just haven’t worked on it very much.

  2. Yeah, the incomprehensibility of the tags really was a progression. If you take a look at the documentary “Bomb It” on Netflix, there is an explanation that basically it all began because it looked cool and the kids in New York had nothing else to do at home, so they were out in the streets most of the time and they decided to mark where ever they had been, starting with the trains, which then bled into the streets. I just finished watching “NEXT” and they explain that the Sao Paulo style and the german styles were inspired by metal groups logos. I really have come to like the Sao Paulo style because the use of characters is so unique and the colors are so vivid that they really catch your eye. Of course they’re style has moved at a more rapid pace since the police don’t really do much to stop graffiti since the city’s crime rate is so high. Actually, the overwhelming majority of European countries are very tolerant of graffiti, especially street art or pieces.

  3. Also, Sao Paulo’s style has come out of the fact that the people don’t travel to other cities, let alone to other countries to find inspiration, so they began to magnify the city’s inner cultures and began to create the distinctive style that they have today.

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