Writer’s block

You can’t help but notice it when driving across the Smokey Park Bridge into Asheville: A bright wall of color in the middle of the River District’s industrial landscape.

It started when local guerrilla outfit Eyesore Studios asked about filming a graffiti-writing scene on one of the property’s old silos. Modernist developer Whit Rylee gave them permission. When they finished, he liked it.

“I said, ‘It looks pretty cool, you can do more,’” Rylee says. “And this network of people have stepped up and have been out there painting it.”

The wall is only open to a small, self-regulated group of graffiti writers. Don’t stop by and expect to start painting. While the writers have permission to create their art on the property, the spot isn’t technically a legal wall where anyone can paint.

Still, the group does bring in out-of-town guests.

“They’ve had people down there who were painting graffiti in New York on subway cars in the ‘80s,” Rylee says. He notes that 100,000 cars a day cross the bridge, a fact that seems to please him.

At ground level, the walls are even more surprising—there’s humor, admonitions (a talking Mr. Peanut warns the kid-writers about scrawling on other people’s pieces: “Stay off the nuts”), memorials (an elaborate stencil of Hunter S. Thompson) and politics (President Obama). And there are rules and ethics, both stated and unstated.

A handful of writers worked in the cold on a recent February afternoon. A couple of them wanted the article to say: The wall isn’t about gangs.

What’s happening at this wall is different from those where the kids scrawl their names on the sides of buildings, says one of the writers. What’s happening at this wall is expressive, and it’s a tradition that’s passed along.

Soon the wall area won’t be open for new graffiti anymore, because there are plans for an urban garden there. (Although in some cities, there are public walls for graffiti.) Though Rylee says people can still paint on the silos.

“We really like the energy they’ve brought,” he says.

Photos by Jonathan Welch

JAWA

CAV

APATHY

SICR /ISHMAEL

CAV/DES

CREED/MELT

FOWL
SHARE

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

21 thoughts on “Writer’s block

  1. AshevilleObserver

    In what way is developer Whit Rylee a “modernist?” The reporter and her editor may want to check this site for a definition of “modernism”: http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/Mi.html#anchor5714639. Perhaps she means “New Urbanist,” which is how Rylee’s development, Chicken Hill, is described on its Web site. Rylee describes himself as a “Historic Preservationist,” which may be the opposite of “modernist.”

  2. September Girl

    Some of the work shown is beautiful, but I’m not sure about celebrating the criminals who tagged subway cars in the 80’s, costing NYC millions in clean-up and enforcement (forget about the loss in tourism dollars and subway revenue). Here’s another thought: if some of these graffiti-ists also tag illegally around town, I wonder how they’d feel if someone took a few buckets of paint and covered up this sanctioned work?

  3. doughnut gangster

    I believe terrorists is a better term than criminals^^^^^^

  4. Piffy!

    >>”but I’m not sure about celebrating the criminals who tagged subway cars in the 80’s, costing NYC millions in clean-up and enforcement”< < What a bizzare statement. If the writer knew the actual history of those times, they would know that NYC spent 10 times the amount of money on ineffective "enforcement" as they could have spent on a program that actually encouraged and nurtured creative participation in the community. Painting an ugly, blank train with beautiful colors, all for free, is criminal? Wow. There are a lot of ugly things about NYC, and the vibrant graffiti culture is nowhere on that list. >>”Here’s another thought: if some of these graffiti-ists also tag illegally around town, I wonder how they’d feel if someone took a few buckets of paint and covered up this sanctioned work? “<< Here's a thought. You do realize that would also be illegal, right? Just google "New Orleans Graffiti Grey Ghost"

  5. AshevilleObserver

    Could someone explain briefly the artistic theory of graffiti art? How do we tell “good” graffiti from “bad” graffiti? When is graffiti art and when is it vandalism? Are all “writers” of graffiti (is that what they’re called?) considered artists? Do graffiti artists have to be anonymous, is that part of the aesthetic? Does graffiti art have to be done in stealth on unapproved targets or can it be done openly on approved targets? Do graffiti artists have training or must they be self-taught? Can graffiti artists sell their work or benefit from it commercially? Is there a “style” to graffiti art? (Much of it seems very similar) Could replicas of famous paintings, Van Gogh’s sunflowers, for example, be painted on walls and be considered graffiti? Does graffiti art have to painted on public walls or other surfaces, or can it be done on traditional artist’s canvases or other media? Does graffiti art have to have an element protest or social commentary? Does graffiti art have to be urban? Is there such a thing as rural graffiti? Does graffiti art have to incorporate words as well as images? Would sidewalk chalk art be considered graffiti art?

  6. September Girl

    PFK, the hypothetical was designed to point out the irony of the taggers who typically deface private property (illegally)while at the same time “protecting” their sanctioned space from outsiders. Having owned a business that I spent 10’s of thousands of dollars having painted by an artist of my choosing, I am not a big fan of graffiti on public OR private property. I was just wondering aloud how these same vandals would feel if the tables were turned. No worries, I’m about removing unwanted graffiti, not about stooping to the criminals’ level.

    Here’s a good blog on the whole NYC graffiti issue:
    http://www.alphabetcityblog.com/2008/12/1970s-nyc-subway-graffiti.html

    I firmly support public art, arts programs for schools and outlets for expression of all types. But these “artists” are grownups with jobs and means, let them find outlets without destroying other people’s property.

  7. Piffy!

    AshevilleObserver:

    How do we tell “good” graffiti from “bad” graffiti?

    Well, if you like it or not would be a good start.

    When is graffiti art and when is it vandalism?

    It’s art if someone thinks it is, and it’s vandalism if the law says so.

    Do graffiti artists have to be anonymous, is that part of the aesthetic?

    They dont have to be, but it is common. It is certainly part of the aesthetic. But anonymous from who? Most involved int he scene “know” each other, even if the regular world is unaware.

    Does graffiti art have to be done in stealth on unapproved targets or can it be done openly on approved targets?

    There are no universal “rules” on this that I am aware of. Although clandestined graffiti is generally seen by those who practice it as being somewhat more “pure” than “legal” graffiti.

    Do graffiti artists have training or must they be self-taught?

    Lots today have a whole lot of formal training.

    Can graffiti artists sell their work or benefit from it commercially?

    Sure, why not?

    Is there a “style” to graffiti art?

    Well, it sounds like you mean Hip-Hop influenced when you say “graffiti”, which is what you see in most of America, and many other places around the world. But in general, graffiti is just writing on the walls. Many different cultures have many different “styles”, of course.

    Could replicas of famous paintings, Van Gogh’s sunflowers, for example, be painted on walls and be considered graffiti?

    Sure. Why not? If it is writing on a wall, it is graffiti.

    Does graffiti art have to painted on public walls or other surfaces, or can it be done on traditional artist’s canvases or other media?

    It’s not actually graffiti if it is on a canvas. See above.

    Does graffiti art have to have an element protest or social commentary?

    No.

    Does graffiti art have to be urban?

    No.

    Is there such a thing as rural graffiti?

    Sure. Ever been to bathroom stall?

    Does graffiti art have to incorporate words as well as images?

    No.

    Would sidewalk chalk art be considered graffiti art?

    Interesting question. I would say “no”, since chalk art is generally tolerated by the public. Although I know some cops threatened to arrest Alex Sacui if for a chalk drawing he did the lexington/240 bridge a few years back. So maybe.

    You should rent WyldStyle.

    http://www.mountainx.com/forums/viewthread/911/

  8. doughnut gangster

    observer… need more questions.
    september….tens of thousands of dollars to an artist, bullsh#t

  9. September Girl

    doughnut – 37K. It was a massive project. Why is that so hard to believe? Have you ever had a house painted. Now quadruple that figure add the interior, quadruple that and add artwork.

  10. tatuaje

    Would sidewalk chalk art be considered graffiti art?

    Interesting question. I would say “no”, since chalk art is generally tolerated by the public. Although I know some cops threatened to arrest Alex Sacui if for a chalk drawing he did the lexington/240 bridge a few years back. So maybe.

    From: greenisthenewred.com

    http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/aeta-arrests/1070/

    FBI Arrests 4 Activists as “Terrorists” for Chalking Slogans, Leafleting and Protesting

    Feb 22nd, 2009 by Will Potter

    It was only a matter of time. Since the passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a sweeping new law labeling animal rights activists as “terrorists,” corporations and industry groups have been pushing the federal government to use their new powers. For more than two years, the law has sat on the shelf. The government has finally put it to use.

    On February 19th and 20th, the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the FBI arrested four animal rights activists as “terrorists.” Details of the arrests and the charges are still coming, but based on my conversations with attorneys and local news articles, this is the most sweeping expansion of the War on Terrorism and the “Green Scare” to date.

    As background, a fierce campaign is being waged in California against animal research at the University of California system. There has been a wide range of both legal and illegal tactics. Illegal tactics have included the destruction of UC vans. In August, an incendiary device was left at the home of a UC researcher; no animal rights group has claimed responsibility for this crime, but the university, the FBI and others have recklessly attributed it to activists.

    These “terrorism” arrests are not related to that bombing, though. And they’re also not related to the destruction of property. These activists–Nathan Pope, Adriana Stumpo, Joseph Buddenberg, and Maryam Khajavi– were arrested for First Amendment activity.

    My calls to the FBI for a copy of the indictment have not been returned, and attorneys I’ve contacted have not viewed it either. However, the FBI’s press release notes that the activists are facing four charges, and lists four incidents. They include:

    * Protesting outside the home of a University of California Berkeley professor. Some activists, “wearing bandanas to hide their faces, trespassed on his front yard, chanted slogans, and accused him of being a murderer because of his use of animals in research.”

    * At another protest, activists “marched, chanted, and chalked defamatory comments on the public sidewalks in front of the residences.”

    * Fliers titled “Murderers and torturers alive & well in Santa Cruz July 2008 edition” were found at a local coffee shop. They listed the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of several researchers. The fliers said “animal abusers everywhere beware we know where you live we know where you work we will never back down until you end your abuse.” The FBI says three of the defendants are tied to the “production and distribution of the fliers.”

    Chalking, leafleting and protesting are not terrorism, they are not property crimes, and they are not violent crimes. They are speech. Unlike real terrorists, these defendants are not accused of arming themselves with bombs or machine guns. Their only weapons are words.

    Not only is it now considered graffiti art, but according to the FBI, it can now, potentially, be considered “terrorism”.

    Make sure your kids don’t draw hop-scotch squares on the street!

  11. rationalinfidel

    “Painting an ugly, blank train with beautiful colors, all for free, is criminal? Wow.”

    This is the “reasoning” we have come to expect from The (PFKaP).

    First drop all context (including the pesky matter of ownership).

    Insert an arbitrary claim or two (such as “ugly, blank train”).

    Next emphasize one or more nonessentials (such as “beautiful colors”).

    Then wrap it all up in a new formulation which ignores the primary moral question.

    And we are presented with the following implication: The property owner should not prosecute an individual for the unauthorized defacing of his property, he should pay him.

    Moral inversion – clumsily brought to you by PF.

  12. rationalinfidel

    “Although clandestined graffiti is generally seen by those who practice it as being somewhat more “pure” than “legal” graffiti.”

    “(Graffiti is) art if someone thinks it is, …”

    More nuggets from The (PFKaP), the resident graffiti expert.

    Tell us this, PF. Would you object to the placement of such “art” on your “ugly, blank” vehicle or residence, assuming you have either?

    And if you wouldn’t object, can you not understand why the more reasonably-minded would?

  13. Piffy!

    your not very “Rational;”, are you?

    Glad your a fan, though. Thanks for the off-topic, random input.

  14. SER

    Rationalinfidel turned this into an ethics discussion on illegal graffiti. Did I miss read the article? For some reason I was under the impression the article was about a legal wall, where the owner encouraged the production of graffiti.

    rationalidiot, have you ever seen graffiti on a car…ever? Or a house for that matter. I’m guessing you probably haven’t, provided the house wasn’t condemned. There is reason for this. It absolutely sucks when small business or other inappropriate spots get hit.

    I completely understand why some “more reasonably-minded” people dislike graffiti. However graffiti is part of life, and always will be. People have been writing on walls for centuries and it can not be stopped. My best advice to you is to at least learn to tolerate or move to a far less urban environment.

  15. Piffy!

    its just a tired argument played out for ever, SER.

    They try to turn any discussion about graffiti into a “how would you like your houses tagged, that is if you own a house”?

    In this instance, he has taken quotes out of context and attempted to turn the discussion into one of those “graffiti is terrorism” debates.

    Quite “rational”, indeed, eh?

  16. rationalinfidel

    PF writes, “Thanks for the off-topic, random input.”

    A partner in ignorance, SER, chimes in: “Rationalinfidel turned this into an ethics discussion on illegal graffiti.”

    Is it possible that neither of you noticed that I was replying to statements made by the graffiti expert, PF?

    Statements that came from this thread?

    Statements that I copied and included in my replies?

    And put in bold letters?

    If the thread was hijacked, it happened before I got here. So calling me an “idiot” only shines a bright light on your inability to read or to reason.

    But of course, SER has more: “rationalidiot, have you ever seen graffiti on a car…ever? Or a house for that matter. I’m guessing you probably haven’t, provided the house wasn’t condemned.”

    Well forgive me if I place more stock in what I observe rather than what you “guess.” I’ve seen it on cars, trucks, fences, garages, occupied homes, apartment buildings, businesses, schools, buses, and trains.

    I’ve never seen graffiti on airplanes, but I suppose the higher level of security might have something to do with that.

    And SER continues with more off-topic comments: “It absolutely sucks when small business or other inappropriate spots get hit.”

    What a profound thought! Notice the choice of terms here. I’d say there’s a good chance that “inappropriate” does not equate to “failed to get the owner’s permission.”

    Not knowing when to stop, SER offers this pearl: “People have been writing on walls for centuries and it can not be stopped. My best advice to you is to at least learn to tolerate or move to a far less urban environment.”

    Yes, SER, that probably is your best advice. And one could display such impotence when considering most crimes. Fortunately, there are still a fairly large number of reasonably-minded folks who believe crime should be eradicated, not “tolerated.”

  17. doughnut gangster

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^You break it down for everyone with sharp surgical rational, and your quote and response technique, is simply mind altering
    brilliant just brilliant.

    It is a releif to know that there are other reasonably minded individuals with decent morals in this beautiful mountain town.

  18. PF FLYER

    CaptainRational-Perhaps you failed to notice all those quotes come from a direct response to “AshevilleObserver”‘s (tongueincheek) questions.

    Dont get your self in a tingle over this, now.

    You not liking graffiti is never going to make it go away. I dont like blank walls, but i have to live with em.

    So let’s all be happy about things together!

    Yeah!

  19. effinhell

    Ya know, the owner of the property is very happy to have these artists working on his property. I has brought a lot of attention and interest there, so what is the problem?

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.