There’s been a lot of buzz about the historic Williamsburg Bridge Railway Terminal lately. A group has proposed to turn the disused trolly terminal into an underground park, nicknamed “The LowLine.” The project has been backed by city officials and thousands of Kickstarter users and is well along the path to making the park a reality.
In its current state, the railway terminal is a hub for graffiti, just like the High Line was before its makeover. It is important for the space to be documented as it is now, before it is lost in time. Luckily, photographer Nelson Wan attended a Transit Museum tour of the disused trolley terminal just last week and was gracious enough to share his awesome photos with us. Enjoy!
The New York Times recently published an article about an upsurge in graffiti in cities across the country. I have kept a close eye on the graffiti of the J train for the past few years and I agree that the amount of graffiti in my area has increased, but I can’t disagree more with them about the cause of this increase.
The officials interviewed in the piece come to the conclusion that the cause for the upsurge is “a tough economy.” As someone who has had a window into the secret world of graffiti for a good while, I feel I am coming from a strong position to be making these observations. Contrary to the beliefs of the interviewees, I believe that it has little to do with the economy and everything to do with the internet and the wider acceptance of graffiti as an art form.
Graffiti exploded in New York in the early 1970s. Kids from every race and economic background were writing their names on walls and subway cars across the entire city. The vast majority of the early graffiti writers ranged in age from about twelve to eighteen; that would put them in their mid 50s today. Like Rock & Roll before it, graffiti has become more widely accepted by society because the generation that grew up with it is now adult. Even though not all of them are still bombing, their kids are growing up in households that are more accepting of this phenomenon.
Even art institutions are starting accept graffiti onto their walls. The recent “Art in the Streets” exhibition at MOCA is the first of its kind—a major museum survey of graffiti and street art. This is a huge jump towards accepting graffiti into the history books as a modern art movement and yet another reason graffiti is on the rise.
Another contributing factor to this upsurge is the Internet. The widening availability and affordability of digital cameras hasn’t hurt either. Don’t get me wrong: graffiti has been fairly well-documented since the early days, but never has it been so public or available. When I first started paying attention to graffiti, I was barely able to understand any of it and very few names stuck with me. This was the case only until I started browsing through Luna Park’s flickr photostream and eventually posting my own photos for the community to educate me on. With the growing popularity of photography sites like flickr, an extremely transient art form has suddenly become more permanent. Graffiti pieces can now live on long after they get buffed or dissed or weathered.
Take subway artist Jilly Ballistic for example. She has said her stickers could last as little as a couple hours and as much as a few days if she is lucky. What’s the point? Ballistic posts all her work to flickr where it can live long after it gets torn down by the MTA. Jilly is a new breed of artist that relies on the internet to get her work out there.
The same applies for graffiti writers as well. While many of them do not post photos to flickr themselves, they do pay attention to the site to look at photos of their work posted by other users. This gives writers new incentives that didn’t exist a short time ago.
I am convinced that graffiti’s association with economic downturn can be added to the long list of stereotypes about this art form. There is more at work here than just high unemployment and slashed maintenance budgets. If The Times widened its scope, this article might have been very different. it would be plain to see that graffiti is on the rise because Graffiti is on the rise.
To demonstrate how much graffiti has popped up over the past several months, lets look at this one wall that is viewable from the J train:
The first time I flicked the wall in December 2010, SHIFT and EGGYOLK had throw-ups on it.
By the end of December, I was surprised when OVERUNDER and CASH4 roller pieces appeared on the top of the wall.
A couple months later, VIL and BAK had dissed the SHIFT piece—these guys have serious beef.
The wall had stayed the same until June of this year when BOWS and RAST painted this huge, colorful mural.
Most recently, SYKE has covered up RAST. It’s unclear if this was due to beef between the writers. My guess is no, because SYKE got a shout on the top left of the mural.
All photos by Jowy, through the windows of the JMZ.
Graffiti writers, VIL (above) and BAK (below) and have had an explosion of activity over the past month as they put up dozens of his tags in the tunnel between the Williamsburg Bridge and the Essex Street station. They have turned the space into a X.B.S. (Xotic Blunts Smoked) museum of sorts. See the video below to get an idea of just how much of their work is out there. The writers’ distinct lettering and iconic caricatures were already a common sight to the riders of the elevated JMZ trains; this explosion of new work reaffirms beyond a doubt that these two are the kings of the line.
I woke up to some wet tags this morning at the Kosciuszko Street stop on the J train. Lo and behold, I ran into the same tags again at the end of my day at the Myrtle Avenue station. It’s some of the most interesting, freshest subway graffiti I’ve seen in a while and I believe it is well worth sharing. Besides, the commentary on Valentine’s Day is pretty funny. Check out the rest of the photos bellow.
Update: The tags are already gone. I spotted this MTA worker painting the walls this morning. The writer’s tags appear to be BAK, VIL and JEOR.