Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday is Street Art Day, Sometimes

Today I went out and did some street art. I used spray paint, so I guess you could call it graffiti, but any self-respecting graffiti artist from the States would scoff and call it mere street art.

Whatever. It didn't come out that great, as I am woefully out of practice (this is my first painting of the year) and the way I painted it didn't allow for a lot of touch-up, but I was happy about a couple things.. First, it is in an extremely public spot here in the center of the city which is a kind of Mecca for the graffiteiros here- an old building at a major intersection that has been walled off with plywood and particle board for years- periodically the wood disintegrates and is replaced, and it gets painted all over again. The plywood was recently replaced, so I took advantage of one of these cycles. The other redeeming quality was a personal achievement on my part. Graffiti lends itself to working fast, and I've been trying to take advantage of this. I am a poky sloth-like perfectionist by nature, and I'm likely to spend hours noodling with picky details rather than calling it done and getting out of there. This time, I brought a beer along, opened it when I started, and as I was finishing up I still had beer in the can. Better yet, it was still relatively cold, despite the fact that I was in the full blast of the tropical sun. Kudos, Kuza! Too bad it was kinda sloppy.

So, as I have already mentioned (twice) the painting left me less than satisfied, but as always when I go out and paint something I had some interesting encounters as I was doing it. A number of people went by and made comments in the "cool!" "looks good!" vein, which is always gratifying. At one point I heard the chirp of a police siren, which was no big surprise as the spot sits right across the intersection from a large police station. A cop car, or viatura as they are called here, had pulled up with four or five military police in it and I debated stuffing all my cans in my bag and walking away. Then I figured I was already way too obvious to try to slink away at that point and plus, the painting would remain unfinished, so I went about my business. The cops had no interest in me as it turned out and a couple of them stuck by their viatura for much of my remaining time there. They may even have been watching my progress.

Later some young guy came up to me and t0ld me the painting was looking good. He stated that he was an artist himself and I asked him if he also worked on the street. He gave a vague kind of answer, or maybe I just didn't understand him, but it sounded like he was interested in doing so but never had. He asked: "There's no technique involved in doing work like this, is there?" and I, surprised, tried to disabuse him of this notion. In retrospect I can understand why he might have thought this, judging from my simplistic lines. Then he wanted to test out my paint, and I told him that not only was the paint mind bogglingly expensive, but no longer available here in Salvador, so he let it go and then went away.

I finished my painting and then did something I've been trying to get in the habit of when Ipaint stuff like this: step back, wipe my brain clean and look at the thing with fresh eyes to make sure I haven't forgotten anything. I hate getting home and looking at a photo of a piece and immediately noticing that I forgot to clean up a line or something simple. I noticed that the nostrils of one of my monsters looked like they were barely attached, so I decided to beef up the nose a bit. As I was doing this, someone started talking to me. It was a police officer, in a full camouflage uniform that is generally reserved for the Choque police, the badass special forces dudes- the ones who walk around during Carnaval with the oversized nightsticks. He asked me if what I was doing was authorized. He seemed kind of keyed up, like he was expecting trouble. I, learning from past mistakes, stated with glacial, Obama-esque calm, that it was indeed authorized. I told him graffiteiros had been painting there for years, which was true, unlike my previous statement. Whether it was authorized or not, I don't think the owner/owners really care if we go and paint their plywood, which is probably why I was able to summon such certainty. He didn't seem entirely convinced, and he said "Você sabe, né?", which literally means you know, right? but which I took to mean you know you shouldn't be doing that and you know I should be stopping you so don't be doing that if you aren't supposed to. I asked him if the plywood didn't look better with the painting on it, which was a pretty stupid thing to say to a police officer but it's what I believe so I said it. Apparently he was satisfied because he left me alone, so I spent thirty seconds finishing what I was doing and then I got the fuck out out of there.

In case it isn't obvious, I'm not going to post a photo of this latest artwork here. I'm happy that I snagged a sweet spot, but the truth is, there are a lot of sweet spots showing up around the city. The graffiti scene seems to be in a lull, maybe because the graffiti store has closed its doors, maybe because everyone's bored with it. I'm even happier that I broke my own lull, at least for one more Sunday, and left another little something for people to look at.

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