Recently someone in Grand Rapids, Michigan started adding Banksy-esque stenciled images of former president Gerald Ford on walls downtown. The first image that appeared depicted a standing figure of Ford, which later had a word bubble added with the words “Motu Viget” (the city’s motto which is Latin for “Strength in Activity”).
Another figure appeared more recently of Ford with his arm raised and the infamous quote from Ford’s Oath of Office speech in 1974: “our long national nightmare is over.”
There are also other works I haven’t had the chance to see yet depicting Ford and his quote “I am indebted to no man,” and even other local celebrities like Floyd Mayweather, Jr with the quote “all work is easy work.”
I’ve been amused by these works and am now keeping one eye peeled near the I-196/US-131 interchange for more of these illustrations, wondering about the motivations of the individual(s) behind them, what they’re building toward and hoping that the Michigan Department of Transportation is slow to act on its threat to remove the graffiti.
This morning, however, I noticed that someone had scrawled the words “War Criminal” in red spray paint with poor handwriting next to the first Ford illustration. It upset me.
I wasn’t upset with the characterization of Ford as a war criminal, there’s certainly a case to be made for that. Rather I’m pissed at how utterly lazy and unimaginative the response is. I’ve decided that I don’t hate graffiti – I hate CRAP graffiti.
- Crap graffiti is some jerkweed tagger plastering the exact same sloppy, rounded uninventive image of their inane alias over every available surface out of view of a security camera.
- Crap graffiti is some lazy, ignorant suburbanite teen adding a wobbly swastica to a school wall for shock value – completely unaware of the origin of the icon or the weight the symbol carries.
- Crap graffiti is what adorns so many railroad cars – though there’s slightly more time invested, it still is the same unoriginal design: a crunched, barely-legible thickened font filled in with swirls of color.
If you’re going to post something for hundreds of people to see each day as they walk past a transformer box, don’t you take enough pride in what you do to make a good show of it? Ostensibly you’ve got the need to communicate (which you’ve demonstrated by risking misdemeanor charges) – if you’re going to go to all that trouble don’t you want to be effective and original when you do so?
So you want to critique President Ford – fine; add to the stencil illustration and give him an arm offering a thumbs-up to Suharto to massacre East Timorese civilians, or add a stencil of Henry Kissinger doing the same.
That goes for anyone that puts up a billboard (which I usually consider to be visual affronts more offensive than graffiti, distinguished only by the fact that they’re more expensive to produce and are officially-sanctioned).
Can’t we do better? If you’re going to confront me with your message – at least provide me some value; a bit of humor, a spark of originality, an artistic flourish, a new font … ANYTHING. Maybe social media has ruined me – but I now expect to extract something of value from attempts to get my attention and I refuse to believe I’m the only one.
So taggers and advertisers – give me better graffiti. Make it art.