Rumor has it that the painter responsible for one of the city's most visible and intriguing pieces of graffiti hails not from Cleveland, but from Brooklyn, New York. The slogan READ MORE BOOKS! and related phrases began to appear around town earlier this year, with the most prominent example rendered high atop the decrepit Clothcraft Building — the former home of a men's clothing manufacturer, at West 53rd and Walworth (see left). Though the building was already in shambles, the artist's daring installation involved breaking and entering, climbing a dark stairwell five flights to the roof, then leaning over the ancient parapet with a paint roller. If you've ever painted your dining room, you know this involved a precarious and protracted bit of teetering on the brink of tragedy, with the ground 50 feet below forever in sight.
The prolific writer has put up similar messages in several locations around town, including simply "READ" on the concrete wall between Carter Rd. and the Cuyahoga River, visible from Columbus Rd. in the Flats (see top left). You can also find his work in San Francisco, New York, and New Orleans.
The letters themselves are exceedingly dull — a whole lot of paint in an unimaginative font, noteworthy only for their size and daredevil location. Not so much a work of style, this one is all about the context and the message. A similarly massive installation by Alot, Milk, and Tems (three of Cleveland's most enterprising taggers) at the top of an abandoned building on Carnegie Ave. shows plenty of ego and danger (see above). But it's very light in the way of artistic skill and offers no message but the fake names of the writers.
In the case of READ MORE BOOKS!, substance wins out over style. By encouraging literacy through vandalism — and at some risk of physical harm — this one gets our attention and makes us think in complicated, perhaps even uncomfortable ways.