Ghost Writers

Cleveland’s graffiti artists are plenty daring, but are they any good?

Ghost Writers

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Words, Signifying Nothing

A kid in New York once told famed writer Norman Mailer that artists' fake names are "the faith of graffiti," and that became the title of Mailer's 1973 book, now considered a classic on the subject. Its countless photos showed copious tags and vividly colored pieces — invented names in fat letters. Ten years later, Charlie Ahearn's movie Wild Style brought fat lettering to the masses. Nearly thirty years after that, street artists in Cleveland are still doing the same thing. Alas, originality is not one of our strong suits.

The overwhelming majority of Cleveland graffiti artists still risk life and limb to top abandoned buildings, dodge trains and police, and then ... paint their names in big fat letters. It's the street-art equivalent of bubble letters scrawled in high-school bathroom stalls.

The so-called "Fun Wall" at West 27th and Swift is one of those places where people have been painting fat letters with impunity for so long, the layers of Krylon and RustOleum can be peeled off in thick slabs. The example above represents more of the same, but it does feature some distinctive qualities, beginning with the gold chrome paint, contrasted against black with the kind of drama typically reserved for football uniforms and Halloween costumes.

Two distinct styles in this picture indicate that two writers were sharing the gold can. The letters on the left — whatever they may be — are of the kind made by writers playing the fame game: The artist wants you to remember who he is. But if you can't make out the letters — even if their flowing convolutions show balance and symmetry — you can't very well tell someone what you saw.

Meanwhile, the letters on the right, SENR, are as clear as Helvetica type, and just about as interesting. We appreciate the figure drawing, but there's nothing to be gleaned from this clean, well-executed character — unless the implication is that aliens have landed in the desolate landscape of the southwest side.

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