27 Oct 2013

Anarchy on the Walls: Ghostsigns, Street Art & Graffiti

Fading painted advertisement on wall alongside piece of street art
Kasey Smith (perceptionfilter.com)

Kasey Smith’s ‘Perception Filter‘ blog is well worth a follow for all ghostsigns enthusiasts. Her dispatches from San Francisco have been a big influence on me, as evidenced by the number of times I’ve decided to highlight her observations, insights, investigations and mapping efforts here on Ghostsigns.

Her latest post concerns the work above by artist Augustine Kofie that now props up this San Francisco ghostsign. Kasey’s account concludes in favour of the piece and its integration with the pre-existing paintwork on the building. There are echoes of Specter’s mildly controversial work in London which was deliberately positioned over the Boyd Pianos ghostsign as part of his politicised ‘If I saw you in heaven’ project. (It has since washed away and the sign is once again covered by a billboard.)

In both cases there is respect and consideration given to the preceding work, using it as a platform to build upon and relate to. This contrasts with the graffiti, lettering repeated in multiple locations, that pays no attention and gives no reference to the historical work it that it covers (e.g. Strange & Co, Oxford; Chandler’s, Waukegan; J. Crane, Stoke Newington; A.H. Dunn, Battersea; STP, Chicago; Mattress Sales, Stockton).

In many instances the addition of graffiti to a ghostsign results in the eventual painting over of the whole wall, or some of it, in local authority efforts to clean up the area. The by-product of this is the partial covering of ghostsigns that were minding their own business until the graffiti came along.

While I still maintain an agnostic position on the general issue of protecting ghostsigns, I do prefer, aesthetically and artistically, changes made that acknowledge their existence and make reference to them. There is a sensitivity to these approaches which appears to be missing from the more brutal efforts of some graffiti artists. This is possibly a biased opinion given my own interest in ghostsigns and others will no doubt have different tastes.

Ghostsigns, street art, graffiti, murals etc are all part of the anarchic make-up of our urban walls. They are all, ultimately, ephemeral in nature. Graffiti in particular faces attacks from the authorities, while many street art locations are systematically renewed throughout the year. Ghostsigns have proven their longevity and, even with these threats to their existence, I suspect they’ll be around for a little longer yet.

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