Most cities, in their edgelands or less invigilated central areas, are now home to streets where almost every vertical surface is either, depending upon one’s outlook, adorned with street art or marred by vandalism. One such, in Brighton, is Trafalgar Lane, an alley just to the south-east of the train station’s undercroft. Along its 100 metre length are the backyard walls of a terraced street on the east side, and a builders’ merchant stretching along most of the west. Here the aerosol, if not explicitly sanctioned, is largely tolerated. Even some local residents and business owners who consider graffiti to be unsightly will grant that, having become a minor tourist attraction, the footfall has reduced the street drinking and drug dealing that used to be endemic there.
Grafalgar Lane (as it has, with some inevitability, been rebadged) provides the painters with various substrates. The builders’ merchant side is brick interrupted by large steel roller shutters, the residential side, mainly stucco. The pub on the north-west corner and some adjacent workshops have decided not to play, and have applied dungeon grey anti-graffiti paint to their walls.
Most pieces don’t last long here. A site-specific exception for the last four or five years has been the witty use of foliage above Sideshow Bob’s head, shown here as it was not long after it first went up, and as it is now, radicalised after the murder of George Floyd (between these versions, during pandemic lockdown, Bob briefly exhorted passersby to STAY HOME!).
A few years ago when one of the terraced houses was remodelled, among the improvements was giving the back wall a re-render, a smart white paint job, and a hopeful NO GRAFFITI sign. The surface didn’t remain unmolested for long. The sign’s NO, in the feeblest of rebel gestures, was promptly crossed through, and tags and throw-ups began to appear. The fight for gentility seems lost and the wall, for now, has become another panel in the gallery. There used to be a more tenacious hold-out: the tenant of a parking garage who made an evolving piece of anti-art that was, notwithstanding the accomplishment of some of the work that goes up there, the best in the lane. The steel doors of the lock-up, continually assaulted despite the stencilled prohibition, changed from week to week, its gauzy texture formed by regular and zealous scraping and sanding.
In the realm of fine art, this sort of erasure has a respectable pedigree (at least when the erasing is done by the creator of the original image): Gerhard Richter’s ‘Cage’ series (2006) was made using a similar if less thorough process. Unlike paint on canvas, ephemerality is the fate of paint – or lack of it – on walls, and when the owner gave up the garage it wasn’t long before a less distinctive manifestation appeared…
And was itself eclipsed by one less distinctive still…
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