Glories of Graffiti (part the first)

This summer has been an intense one for me, filled with changes and with new prospects as well as unrelenting streams of (often bad) news, spiced by a record-smashing, barrier-breaking Olympics (with some unbelievably sexist coverage of female athletes, because of course). It’s been, perhaps, a little much sometimes–and so I’ve delved back into my treasure trove of graffiti , and done a shoddy job of curating some of my favorites.

Mostly they’re bright. Or funny. Or vulgar. Or all of the above. And, occasionally, it’s actually rather sweet.

Words, Words, Words

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EGAD! in Pittsburgh.

This is a pretty terrible photo, and, alas, I don’t have PhotoShop, so it will remain lousy for a bit. Nonetheless, it is EGAD!, from a mailbox on a hill in a lovely Pittsburgh neighborhood. It is about as simple as one can possibly get, and I love it so much. There’s something really hilarious about writing EGAD! as one’s tag, I think–especially with such a marvelous typeface. You do you, tagger of EGAD!s.

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A dumpster, Urbana. 2015.

I have no idea if the “GO…LIKE NOW” dumpster still lives behind the Foreign Language Building and the Smith Memorial Auditorium in Urbana, on the University of Illinois campus; it did, however, live there pretty much the entire time that I did. (I last saw it when last I was in town, in August of 2015.) It’s a giant, rusty, and generally full dumpster: nothing special there. But the graffiti, much of which appears to have been stenciled (“zen” is definitely freehand, “rest” might be as well), took time and care and makes it unique. It’s very much a part of my grad school memories: and here is the dumpster I walked past every day, y’all!

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Outside Illini Union, Champaign, Illinois. 2015.

It’s chalk, man. Except it definitely wasn’t written with chalk, which makes it even funnier. (I guess I don’t ask for much, but I always found it hilarious.)

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Women’s bathroom, Foreign Language Building, Urbana, Illinois.

This is pretty much quintessential women’s bathroom graffiti. Maybe it says something good about us, that our graffiti is so often, uh, positive? (I mean, this is super hackneyed and corny, but still.) Several stalls also bear long communal love letters to unknown girls who’ve written about the tragedies of their lives, ranging from desperate loneliness to academic issues. (It’s incredible, what folks write, usually in sharpie, on the walls of a toilet stall.) The responses are almost always sweet, and kind; some are religious, most are not, but almost all are attempting to buck up that unknown girl, and give her a reason to stick around a while. I guess I’ll choose to see that as something good about us.

 

Colors and Flowers and Faces

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Above. On Mathews in Urbana, near the old Natural History building.
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Below. On Mathews in Urbana, near the old Natural History building.

I don’t even know what this is, but these faces! How can anyone not be delighted to see them? I am ever so grateful to whatever anonymous street artist decided to make Mathews a whole lot happier with their art.

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On the “dead mall,” Urbana, Illinois. July 2015.

I have no idea what the above is. A piece of toast with a face? A contemporary Lascaux? Whatever it is, it’s a pretty great splash of color on the back of a mall whose future is, now, uncertain.

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Lighthouse in Waukegan Harbor. Waukegan, Illinois.

The blast of aqua and turquoise here–seen on Christmas Day, 2015, because obviously this is the time to walk out into Lake Michigan to see a lighthouse–is only a tiny piece of the graffiti lining the walkway and limning the lighthouse itself. The graffiti is, as befits Waukegan (where, according to the U.S. Census, 54.2 per cent of people speak a language other than English at home), bi- or tri-lingual, largely Spanish, English, and Spanglish. This piece probably says something, but I haven’t a clue; I just like the colors.

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Near Illini Union, Urbana, Illinois. Summer 2015.

I guess the flowers above are graffiti. I don’t really know. In an oasis of concrete and construction they stand out, delicate and beautiful and believable: a small splash of beauty in the midst of chaos.

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Urbana, Illinois (I think).

I think this guy hangs at Krannert Center, although I don’t remember for sure. I still wonder if “WF” is someone’s initials or if it’s a semi-polite version of the semi-polite WTF acronym. It’s on a campus, so I figure it could be pretty much anything.

Carved into Café Tables (in Urbana)

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Café, Urbana, Illinois

think the above platitude lives–or maybe lived–carved into a table at the Espresso Royale at Goodwin and Oregon, just across the street from the magnificent Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. It’s

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Café. Urbana, Illinois

Likely also at Espresso

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Espresso Royale, Goodwin and Oregon, Urbana

This one is definitely a matter of opinion (me, I loved them all)–but it’s also definitely hilarious.

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Café, Urbana, Illinois

Terribly sad robot here is terribly sad, alas. 😦 I think it’s also from ’12…although that may have been put there to throw us all for a loop. This one is also likely from the same table as ESPRESSO TRUMPS PARADISO, above…but, since I’m not positive, I’ll leave it sans location.

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Café, Urbana

Same table, same location. This coffee shop is right across the street from the performing arts center, and right in the midst of a large science sector. The graffiti reflects, as it were, both cultures. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I felt so at home there.

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Café, Urbana, Illinois

I love this one so much. I wonder who carved the first bit into the table: did they mean it? (I mean, I assume they weren’t being sarcastic?) Did they hope to spread the good word by way of graffiti on a café table in a science quad? And who was the second person? I fancy they were a scientist, or an engineer, but they may have been an actor, or a musician, or a computer scientist, or a mathematician. (It is also pretty reminiscent of the good old vulgar graffiti of Pompeii, discussed by PompeianaOrbilatthe Telegraph,  Mental Floss, and The Heavy, among other places.) We’ve always been gleefully vulgar in our illicit writing (and etching and drawing), apparently.

Freight Trains: Or, Coming Eventually

My area is heavily frequented by freight trains, hauling their cargo to and from and through Chicago, itself dotted with depots and piers: husky, broad-shouldered brawler of a city that it is, heavy freight trains fit right in. The neighborhood in which I grew up, as well as the suburb in which I currently live, are both fortunate enough to have overpasses, so any train-watching we do is entirely voluntary. However, most of the ‘hoods around us, from South Shore to Thornton, South Holland to Chatham, aren’t as fortunate. And, since I frequent those neighborhoods (and towns) as well, I do a lot of involuntary train-watching, too. Literally the only high point of involuntary freight train watching? It’s the graffiti, helpfully added by unknown street artists to brighten our gray freight-train filled days.

And so, one of these days, when I’ve collected enough, there will be a post of transit-related graffiti, and it will likely center on trains.

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