This is a wall in Brattleboro that someone built and it has stood, stable and porous, through many seasons. Someone else wrote something on it, which spoke out for a time until it was painted over by yet another somebody.
Now imagine that the building of the wall, the offending graffiti, and the paint-out were done by the same person over time.
The Italians have the word pentimenti which applies to the adjustment or correction of an image where, afterward, some evidence of the original remains. The word is rooted in the Latin “to repent”, “to return and feel sorry for”, “to think differently after”.
When my son was born I was reading alot of Carl Jung and knowing, somehow, that he was right.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
I chose to let painting be a place where anything within me had a chance to speak, where anything that was true could show itself to itself. I was painting a blue sky in oil paint, layered, atmospheric, it was really beautiful. In this openness, something in me urged to write a racist word across the sky. When I first suppressed the impulse, I watched the blue sky become less real, no longer content. It knew something else was there that was not being included. There had to be a place for these things to come to light while doing the least harm. What is really at the heart of what we call bad? I allowed the letters to march across the sky and the surface crackled with life and unanticipated shapes of blue were created among the wide, dark lines of the unloved word.
Graffiti is at least as old as Pompeii. Some amazing examples have been translated from the still upright walls of the bath-houses, restaurants and residences of the ancient city.
“Health to you Victoria, and wherever you are, may you sneeze sweetly.”
“Severus, you are so jealous you are bursting. Do not tear down someone more handsome- a guy who could beat you up and who is good looking.”
And the straight up “Epaphra is not good at ball games.” and “ Epaphra, you are bald.”
What I love about these community artifacts is that they hold conflicting dispositions in creative relationship. There is effort toward stability (the wall), the acting out of those who may feel left out (graffiti) and the response of the restorer (he or she who paints over it). All three actors, and the third occupies the most subtle role, are subject to a spectrum of conscientiousness, ambivalence and neglect.
It takes time and skill to precisely match new paint to an existing wall color. Often a “close enough is good enough” approach is chosen; an off shade of grey, a light blue to cover the word. Typically, the new color is a near enough relation the the original wall that it quells the “offense” of the graffiti while leaving evidence that something happened here.
Notably, the text is always removed, but shape and color remain. This semi-conscious shift toward abstraction is critical. Words are received by our left brain which orients toward linear thinking, objects and distinctions. Shape and color are taken in by our right brain, which perceives rhythms, relationships and the unified field of activity.
I always feel good when I see these walls. Nobody fully wins, nobody fully loses and the Builder, the Tagger and the most-of-the-way Restorer produce variations that begin to move toward and include Nature.
Jason Alden at The Drawing Studio in Brattleboro VT www.vermontdrawingstudio.com
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