Friday, 29 June 2018

the writing on the fence

I had planned to write a series of reports on our recent trip to Brussels and Cologne, but I’ve been going through the photos that I took in Manchester last week, and I’ve decided to jump ahead and post the following description of graffiti that I photographed in that city. They may not justify a special visit to Manchester, but if you’re in the city, they are worth going out of your way to see. They have all been painted on a temporary structure, so who knows how long they will remain.
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It was the first day of the academic conference at Manchester Metropolitan University, where Paula would be presenting a paper. I walked with her to the university’s business school, where the conference was being held, then headed to Oxford Street, where I’d spotted a flight of steps leading down to a canal. I was a student in Manchester between 1964 and 1967, and I never knew that there was a canal running under Oxford Street, although that might have had something to do with spending all my spare time, when I wasn’t attending lectures or working in the laboratory, in the bar of the student union.

I followed the canal towpath as far as Deansgate locks, where the canal—the Rochdale Canal—opened out into a kind of basin. It wasn’t obvious where to go next, and I didn’t think it worthwhile to simply retrace my steps, so I found myself following a busy road northwards, looking for a suitable place to turn east. It was then that I spotted some graffiti on a board fence on the other side of the road. There wasn’t a pedestrian crossing anywhere in sight in either direction, so I decided to cross where I was, which would probably have been impossible in rush-hour traffic.

Although I did photograph the first graffito, it was typical of many you see and not at all interesting. However, the second graffito provides the first indication that there is some serious talent on display here. There is only a narrow pathway between the fence and the road, so I’ve mostly had to shoot at an angle. And because this graffito is so wide, I’ve included photos taken from both left and right:

The next image includes the next graffito on the fence and part of the one after that. I’ve included both in the image because there isn’t a gap between the two, and although the encroachment is minimal, it seems clear that the left-hand graffito is the later one.

…and this is a better view of the right-hand graffito in the previous photograph:

This work includes the first example of a common motif: light glinting off the edge or corner of a letter, although this is simply a drawn representation, and some subsequent examples, like the next image, provide more of a trompe l’œil effect:

While the previous image contains many straight lines, the next one has none:

For whatever reason, I didn’t photograph the graffiti visible on the right of the previous image.

The next graffito reminds me of Chinese writing. It doesn’t look remotely like Chinese writing, but there are stylistic quirks that lead me to believe that the artist may be Chinese:

The next image is stylistically very similar to the last image in this report—jagged outline; red and yellow as main colours—and may therefore have been painted by the same artist. See what you think:

When I first saw the next graffito, I thought that it was a pity that the paint had run in a few places. However, notice that these ‘few places’ are all at the bottom of internal gaps in the lettering, from which I conclude that the running paint is a deliberate act by the artist. In fact, running paint is a recurring motif, the most obvious example of which I will flag up when I come to it.

In fact, you will see that stylized paint drops have been included in the next design:

The next image includes the most complex backdrop, but it’s also unusual because there are no curves in the main design, with the possible exception of the head of the insect on the right:

…and now for something completely different:

This image is more like an abstract painting than an example of graffiti. I’ve included what I take to be the artist’s signature on the left.

Calling occupants of interplanetary craft:

If you’re not convinced that graffiti artists deliberately include the dribbling of paint in their work, take a closer look at this image, where, inter alia, paint is seen running across the surface of three-dimensional objects.

I didn’t realize at the time—although I should have, given the uniform blue background—that the next image is part of the same graffito. I think it spells ‘alien’:

The immediately adjacent image is a return to basic lettering, although I must say that it has been done effectively. I’ve been amusing myself by trying to work out in what order the colours were applied, but the only thing I can say with certainty is that white was last.

There is a wide gap in the fence between the previous and the next image:

I spotted the blue face with the yellow cap in half a dozen other locations, not including this one:

Both graffiti in the next photo feature running paint, but the graffito on the right is probably the most ‘fluid’ in this entire collection:

The next graffito is unusual in that the outlines are defined by wavy rather than straight or uniformly curved lines:

The red lines in the next image remind me of the trace of an electrocardiograph. I wonder if that was the artist’s intention.

…while the similar shade of red outlining the adjacent graffito, coupled with similarities in lettering style, suggests that both were painted by the same artist:

The next two graffiti also appear to have been painted by the same artist, given the use of almost identical shades of mauve and yellow in both. In fact, there are also some ‘heartbeat’ motifs, so both could have been painted by the artist responsible for the previous two graffiti.

This is a closer look at the right-hand graffito in the previous photo:

The next graffito, partially visible in the previous photo, is probably my favourite:

This graffito reminds me of the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein, although that doesn’t mean that this was the artist’s intention.

There are only a couple more graffiti around the corner:

You will have noticed that I have routinely referred to the creators of these graffiti as ‘artists’. Of course, this begs an obvious question: are these images art, or merely a species of vandalism? I have no doubt that just spray-painting a name on a wall is an act of vandalism, but I’ve compiled this collection to support the notion that graffiti can be considered an art form, and like artists in more conventional fields, not every graffiti artist is equally talented. However, painting an image like any of the above on a wall without the owner’s permission is a criminal offence in the UK carrying a possible jail sentence. That seems harsh to me.

If you’re in Manchester and want to see this ‘gallery’, it’s located roughly halfway between Deansgate railway station and Manchester Cathedral. By the way, it is not my intention to claim credit for these artworks. I merely thought that they deserved a wider audience.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

continental excursion

I must apologize for the lack of activity on my blog over the past month. For the first time, Paula travelled back to the UK with me, and the activities to keep us occupied have included a nine-day trip to Cologne, with a two-night stopover in Brussels, where we were due to change trains anyway, having travelled via Eurostar from London’s St Pancras Station, home of the former Midland Railway. During the trip, I took more than 700 photographs, and Paula took around 400, so once Paula has headed off back to Hong Kong next week, I shall be posting detailed accounts of some of the things we saw and did during our excursion.

In the meantime, here are a few photos to illustrate the various themes that I shall be focusing on. I’ll start with street art; the first photo was taken in Brussels, the second in Cologne and the third in Bonn (which we visited during a cruise on the Rhine).

These are by no means the most intriguing we found. The Bonn image appears to have some religious significance—there is a caption (‘Hl. Gertrudis von Nivelles Patronin der Bonner Altstadt’)—although I’m bound to ask: ‘Why the rats?’ Is there some connection here with the pied piper of Hamelin?

Another recurring theme is graffiti. I posted an account of graffiti that I’d seen in Hong Kong under the title Physical Graffiti a couple of years ago, but a quick comparison with the examples below reveals much greater sophistication in the European ‘tags’. The first photo was taken in Brussels, at the entrance to a skateboard park that had been heavily tagged, while the second was taken at the western end of the Hohenzollern Bridge, which carries the main railway line from Cologne to the east across the Rhine:

We were able to spend only two hours in Bonn, and we didn’t see much graffiti there, but the following example attracted my attention because for once I could read what had been written, even if it didn’t seem to make any sense. And it’s three times longer than a typical tag. However, does anyone know what FeTAGIZeMTRIXA actually means?

The third theme is churches. Our main reason for visiting Cologne was to see what many commentators consider the finest example of a Gothic cathedral in Europe, but we also visited many smaller churches in Brussels, Cologne and Bonn. It would have helped if I’d made a note of the name of each church, but I didn’t, and I’ve now forgotten them. However, here are examples from Brussels, Cologne and Bonn, respectively:

The church in Bonn is the most impressive example of a Baroque church that I’ve ever seen.

My final theme is the River Rhine. We’d pre-booked two days of what was billed as a ‘hop on, hop off’ service, but we discovered that were we to travel as far upstream as Linz, then we needed to stay on the boat for its return journey, because it was the only service each day between Linz and Cologne. No problem. There was a bar on board, and it was very pleasant to sit on deck, drinking good German beer, as an almost magical panorama passed slowly by.

The Rhine is an important transport artery carrying a lot of freight traffic. Much of this is bulk carriers, but tankers and barges carrying shipping containers are also common. The next photo is of two bulk carriers travelling in opposite directions. Our boat is in the process of overtaking the nearer of the two (note the car on the roof of the accommodation at the stern of the nearer vessel—this practice appears to be almost but not quite ubiquitous):

Before Paula returned to Hong Kong last weekend, she attended a conference at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she presented a paper on the use of virtual reality in education. While this was going on, I spent two days exploring the canals that pass through the city. I took around 400 photographs, but the one I’ve chosen to post here is of images painted on a derelict warehouse alongside the Ashton Canal. I couldn’t get any closer, because the warehouse is on the opposite side of the canal to the towpath:

Once I’ve finished with the themes I’ve listed above, I shall be posting a more detailed account of my canal odyssey in Manchester.