I’m a bit of a graffiti watcher, I like the stuff basically, it’s that human mark-making thing. The ‘remember me’ trope. I’ve written about it a little bit before, arborglyphs at Blickling springs to mind. I’ve also watched a lot of developments with Medieval Graffiti via friends Matt Champion and Jess MacDonald, and also various Great War and Second World War splashes and scratches across our hardened landscape over the last few years with interest, also the growth of stickering and stencils both as marks and as political statements. At some point in our lives I suspect we nearly all scratched ‘fuck off big nose’ into a rivals desk, or our scratched our initials into a brick somewhere, maybe quietly stated a love into the bark of a tree with a penknife to grow on and get larger over time. There’s something both infinite and finite about it. The cathedrals and churches marked with names and dates, mason’s and witch’s marks, ships at sea deep in the land, compass drawn circles, strange shapes and games. The landscape of the bored school child, the superstitious, the lover and the forget-me-not.
And there’s also graffiti as an art form. Because like it or not it is one, and it’s one that’s practiced and perfected around the world. From the New York subway to abandoned Northern Mill, to, well, a derelict, weed-filled office block very near where I live.
HMSO was closed up in the early 2000s, and boarded up in about 2009 as it had become a target for vandals, access back then was easy and lots of people got in, smashed ceiling down and nicked wiring, so I suppose from the then landlord, in the long list of people who have spotted a few quid to be made in their little property developer brain, was closed off. And a huge canvas of raw marine plywood was created.
I’ve been watching the side of Sovereign House for years. I’ve been keeping an eye on one corner of it every day as I wander past, and standing in roughly the same spot taking photos of the graffiti war which has developed as various people have painted over each other repeatedly at night, some great, some okay, some frankly awful.
Yesterday I looked at all the photos, and picked the five that weren’t just some herbert tagging over the top of someone and stuck them on Instagram where they’ve sat being not liked by many people because I suppose it’s a niche interest of mine; time and process, sort of archaeology of paint, because everything on that canvas is still on that canvas, but buried under layers of more paint, dust and so on.
The main thing was it got me thinking, which has been quite rare lately, and remembering which hasn’t been quite so much, and I remembered that when the wall of ply went up, A guy I knew from working venues in the 1990s and vaguely on the internet at time had set up this event. Step 39, or Tony, a friend, was and is a talented graffiti artist, and in fact artist in the more general sense. He had something to do with organising a Graffiti Jam, but time erodes memory and I’m fucked if I can remember what it was now, he’ll hopefully tell me. Anyway it was nothing to do with conserves or fruit being boiled and everything to do with legitimately being allowed to paint the side of a building in bright colours using tins of spray paint. And they did, and I went down there and photographed them all doing it. Put them on Flickr as you did back then and promptly got asked to remove all their faces in case it caused any legal problems later, like being arrested for vandalism, which this isn’t, so I did, and they’ve all sat there in a folder on a hard drive ever since. I recorded pretty much all of the work they did a few days later. It was an amazing thing.
What also occurs to me is, someone should do this again, because this was historically ‘ages’ ago, and it was one of things which felt good, it brought something into the area and gave these talented people something to use as a focus, to work large without the usual holdall full of fear and adidas at the ready.
So anyway here it is, in the gallery below, fresh from 11 years ago. Click on each pic to expand and click through the whole gallery.
There’s also a stitched panorama here of the main wall, because, well of course there is. Click on it to view it larger.
Now the rap music’s makin’ money for the corporate
It’s acceptable to flaunt it, now everybody’s on it
Graffiti isn’t corporate so it gets no respect
Hasn’t made a billion dollars for some corporation yet, so…
In the name of Phase2, Stay High, Pre-Streets
Grab your cans and hit the streets, I’m out for fame
Lawrence ‘Kris’ Parker