Painting the word

There was a good piece in the Observer at the weekend about an interesting art project running in Philadelphia right now where graffiti artists have been allowed to paint a series a grand murals on neglected facades and rooftops. This is no free for all however, it’s been carefully choreographed by the Mural Arts Program and artist Stephen Powers which means there is a continuation of theme and style across the 50 sites. The style in question is what I would call retro americana, it reeks of 1950’s truck stops, milk bars and diners, soda fountains and drive-in movies. It’s light hearted, handsome and a definite improvement on what came before. Crucially, I think, it’s broad appeal may lie in the fact that it does not really look like graffiti, it looks like advertising of the sort that people who live in loft apartments buy to put on their walls. It reminds me a bit of Banksy, the same kind of whimsy and a look that won’t scare the horses.

The paintings are basically words and slogans in pretty styles, either in referance to an associated business or merely a slogan or aphorism. The vibe is positivity: Open your eyes I see sunrise, that kind of thing and they have plenty to be positive about: The project was supported by a $263,000 grant.

All of which makes me wonder what chances such a project would have in this country? North America and Europe seem to have a rather more enlightened approach to ‘street art’ as Public Art, here, if the calls for submissions in the Scottish Arts Council newsletter are anything to go by, public art projects must involve new media and the approval of sixteen minority interest groups. Something as simple as paint on a wall doesn’t get so much of a look in.

Words are good. Words in unexpected places especially so, which is why the Philadelphia stuff works. Here’s a couple I’ve come across:

I found this in London, it comes from the same stable of thought as the Philadelpia project, but is just the work of some solo artist. It made me look, and laugh.

This one is an actual sign, above the railway in Gateshead. I like it too, it’s just out there, attempting to get through to depressed North East commuters, an incongruous suggestion, a surprising thing to see above your train.

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