Sunday, 12 August 2018

a graffiti mystery

I recorded the results of my explorations of the Ashton Canal in Some Consolation: Part 2, but I deliberately avoided including the graffiti in one small location for reasons that will quickly become apparent. Most of the graffiti that I included in that report were in a relatively small area on both sides of the canal, starting almost immediately after the towpath passed under a road bridge. However, before reaching the first graffito in this location, I noticed a narrow gap in the concrete panel fence, so naturally I wondered if it led anywhere. It did!

There was a drop of about 1.5 metres to a small area choked with young trees. It was enclosed on three sides by brick walls and on the fourth by the concrete fence. And there were six well-executed graffiti, starting with this one on the concrete fence:

You will notice immediately that all six are in distinctively different styles, although the next one is a very basic design. The photo is probably improved by the shaft of sunlight:

The yellow writing on the left of the next photo appears to have been done by the artist responsible for the tag, which is highlighted in the same shade:

Because of the trees, I couldn’t get far enough away to be able to photograph the whole of the next tag, which is unusual in that individual bricks in the wall have been highlighted in white:

The rounded lines in the next tag—not a straight line anywhere—are quite common, but I’ve not been able to locate any more graffiti in exactly the same style:

This is easily the most elaborate of the graffiti here:

The word I’d use to describe it is ‘reptilian’.

And here’s the mystery: graffiti such as these are intended by the artists to be seen, which explains why so much graffiti is painted on the abutments of bridges and walls running alongside railway tracks. Indeed, the trackside out of Cologne was covered in graffiti for several miles out of the city. And three graffiti artists were killed in south London in June when they were hit by a goods train on a section of track without any refuge from such intrinsic dangers.

And here’s the rub: the graffiti that I’ve featured above are not visible from the towpath, and the opening in the fence is inconspicuous, to say the least. The six graffiti appear to have been painted by different artists, so were these examples merely practice? Was the idea to reproduce these designs in more public locations once the necessary skills had been honed?

I can’t answer these questions, although it does seem likely that the various artists knew each other and may have been part of the same ‘crew’. But they do underline the need to understand the motivation of artists if one is to fully appreciate their work. I come to graffiti with almost no knowledge of the background culture and history, although this type of graffiti appears to have originated in New York in the 1970s, when subway trains were plastered with tags. There may be links from that city with gang culture and hip-hop music, although that is mere speculation on my part. All I can do is describe what I see. And a lot of the graffiti I recorded in Manchester is well worth seeing.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

some consolation: part 2

Although I’d been disappointed not to find the location that I described in Lost Horizon when I looked for it again the following day, I did find another impressive display of graffiti further along the Rochdale Canal (Some Consolation: Part 1). However, that was not all I found that day.

I’d decided to retrace my steps to the city centre, but where my route took me onto a footbridge across the canal, I noticed that the continuation of the towpath led into a short tunnel, and I wondered to where it might lead. (This is what I identified as the start of the Ashton Canal in Canal Knowledge.) I proceeded to follow the canal for several kilometres, during which I photographed a few isolated graffiti. These are the best:

It isn’t often that you see graffiti on surfaces this rough.

Wow! One I can actually read, although it doesn’t make any sense.

Eventually, I came to a location next to a lock with graffiti on both sides of the canal. The remainder of the photographs in this collection were taken here. Unfortunately, many of the graffiti are partially obscured by vegetation, which probably wasn’t there when they were painted.

The second of these graffiti is stylistically similar to the third graffito in this collection (above).

It may look as though I’ve chopped off half a letter on the right-hand end of the next image, but if you compare this with the following photo, you will see that they are separate graffiti:

The mottled shade from trees behind the wall irrevocably alters the tonal balance of the second graffito.

Grey seems to be a popular colour hereabouts, although the second graffito does have a few splashes of other colours:

And this is probably the most colourful graffito on display here:

More grey, and only straight lines. No curves:

The next graffito is the most complex in this collection. It was only possible to capture it in its entirety from the opposite bank of the canal:

Notice the blue face on the left. I saw several examples of this image around Manchester, and I’ve included it here because it may be associated with the main graffito.

The remaining graffiti were located on a wall on the other side of the canal, starting with this one, which I assume was painted by Leon:

You may think that the top has been chopped off the photograph, but that is actually the top of the wall! The same effect can be seen in several other photos.

Although the two graffiti in the next photograph are stylistically different, the colours are very similar, suggesting that both were painted by the same artist.

I wonder whether the black shapes in the right-hand graffito in the next photo are meant to represent whales and sharks:

The next two graffiti are clearly by the same artist. Not only are there stylistic similarities, the colours used are identical:

The next graffito would probably have been quite vivid when first painted, but my guess is that this has been here quite a while, because the paint is flaking off.

…while this one appears to have faded quite a lot:

The final image is darker than it should be because of the angle of the sun:

So, although I couldn’t find the location of Lost Horizon again, I could find some consolation in the locations featured in this and the previous post.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

some consolation: part 1

In my last post (Lost Horizon), I lamented being unable to find the location featured in that post when I tried to return to take more photographs the following day. However, I did find two other locations that I consider worth recording, which will be the subjects of this and the next post. Having followed the Rochdale Canal for several kilometres the previous day, I’d found myself in an open parkland area, which is where I’d probably wandered away from the canal.

However, when I came back, I thought that I recognized the continuation of the towpath under a low bridge with a sign advising cyclists to dismount. When I started to follow this path, it did seem familiar, but immediately after passing a lock on the canal, I spotted this in the distance on a low wall on the opposite bank and knew immediately that I’d not been here before:

That was all there was to see on the opposite bank, but the wall on my side was covered in graffiti for several hundred metres. This is the first photo I took:

In addition to the vividness of the colours, I particularly like the pointed ‘horns’, which the artist may have intended to represent serifs. The word ‘GooDLiFE’ also appears in the next image:

That’s probably Bart Simpson on the right in the next photograph:

I think that there are stylistic similarities between the next graffito and the one that I likened to the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein in The Writing on the Fence:

…while this one appears to be similar to the graffito that I described in that earlier post as ‘more like an abstract painting’:

Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to capture the entire work head-on because of the narrowness of the towpath, but you can see how much detail it includes. In each of the last two examples, it’s likely that the same artist executed the graffiti in both locations.

I particularly like the variations in tone and hue in the body colours in this next example:

Another example of a simple, bold yet effective tag:

I noticed the stylistic similarities between the next graffito and the one signed ‘GooDLIFE’ (above), but it was only when I examined the photograph that I realized that this one carries the same signature:

Is it merely my imagination, or does this remind anyone else of an old-fashioned steam locomotive with cow-catcher?

It takes two photographs to show the next graffito, which features a soft, deliquescent lettering style:

Surprisingly, the remainder of the graffiti on this wall are in monochrome. This is an unusual stylistic choice, which suggests that they may all be the work of a single artist, although there are a lot of stylistic differences that suggest otherwise.

And, to provide some context, this is a view looking back along the canal the way I’ve just come:

 You can see just how apparently remote this location is. I don’t think many people pass this way.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

lost horizon

During my recent trip to Manchester, I spent the first afternoon exploring the Rochdale Canal east of the city centre. At some point, I must have strayed away from the canal, and in the course of doing so, I came across a ramp leading down to a subway, with a corresponding ramp coming down from the opposite direction. To my great delight, the walls enclosing these ramps, and the subway, were covered in graffiti, the best examples of which I present below in the order in which I photographed them.

The first example seems to be showing signs of wear and tear, judging by the condition of the paintwork:

The next photo is a closer look at the graffito seen on the right in the previous photo. It shows what appears to be one graffito painted on top of a pre-existing tag. The offending overlay isn’t remotely as good as what has been destroyed:

The next graffito also appears to have been painted over a pre-existing work—by ‘the vanilla killa’—but in this case the previous work has been almost completely obliterated. The graffito that has replaced it is crude but is nevertheless more interesting than the previous example:

Part of this graffito can be seen on the opposite wall in the first photo above:

…while this graffito is located on the wall directly opposite. There is nothing striking about the lettering, but there are a lot of small details to add interest:

This is the first example of a ‘jagged’ tag, but what strikes me about this graffito is just how much of the wall has been left untouched by paint. I imagine that the artist decided that the colour balance was fine as it was:

The next image represents a quantum leap in artistic imagination, although it does feature commonly used motifs such as bubbles and glints of light:

I should draw your attention to the subway on the left of the photograph. It shows part of a graffito, a photo of which I’ve included below even though the severe glare made it impossible to take a good picture. This photo provides a more accurate impression of the colour balance in this work.

I’m not sure whether the next photo includes two separate graffiti or whether this is all the work of a single artist. The lettering style and colouring is different in the two lines, but the dripping paint in the lower line matches the background colour in the upper line:

This is the graffito at the entrance to the subway that I referred to above. It turned out to be impossible to avoid the glare, but I’ve included the photo anyway because this may be the most impressive of the graffiti in this location:

Glare also affected my ability to take a reasonable photo of the graffito on the opposite wall of the subway:

Note the wavy outlines, a style that I first drew attention to in The Writing on the Fence.

The next graffito also employs this style. And it too appears to have been painted over a pre-existing work:

The basic graffito in the next photo is dramatized by the dripping paint. The black and yellow highlighting along the top seems to be part of the design, although it also seems rather incongruous:

The next graffito also features black and yellow highlighting, but the lines are curved rather than angular. The body colour has been applied quite thinly, so that whatever is underneath can still be seen faintly, offering opportunities for the imagination:

Not a curve in sight:

Two faces back to back? There is a definite aquatic feel to the next graffito, with its fin-like extensions—and of course the colour. And the bubbles:

The last five photos were of graffiti on the left wall of the opposite ramp. The next two graffiti are located on the other wall. I consider the next graffito to be the best in this collection:

…apart from, possibly, this one:

I’m not sure what the first of these is meant to be depicting, although the imagery does look vaguely anatomical. I’ve included the inane scribbles on the left because they were clearly done after this painting, showing utter disrespect for what I think is a great piece of art, which must have taken hundreds of hours to execute. Because of the difference in light intensity between the left and right sides of the image, it has been difficult to get a good tonal balance, but I think the photo gives a good idea of the complexity.

I have a feeling that the second graffito was painted by the same artist as whoever was responsible for the graffito that I introduced in The Writing on the Fence with the invocation ‘Calling occupants of interplanetary craft…’.

And this is what the subway looked like from the other side:

In fact, the subway led into a small area of parkland, away from which led three other subways. This is the next one:

Around this time, I began to notice that my camera battery was running low—not at all surprising given that I’d already taken more than 200 photos that day. This meant that within a few seconds of extending the lens, it would retract automatically and I would be unable to take a photograph. When this happens, I can usually coax two or three more photos out of the camera before it shuts down for good.

This is a spectacular graffito that I photographed next to the second subway:

This one is crammed with common motifs—heartbeats, bubbles, glints of light—but also a new one: parabolic nets. The pink squiggles appear superficially to be nothing more than vandalism, but they may be part of the design and are intended to represent an extremely large number with a lot of zeroes.

The next photo is a general view looking up the ramp reached via the second subway:

I managed to take one final photograph, which I’ve included here even though I didn’t quite manage to get the full design in the frame:

I wasn’t particularly bothered about not being able to photograph all the graffiti here, because I could come back the following day, having charged my camera overnight. There was just one problem: I couldn’t find the location again.