While I was recently downtown checking out the new Arch grounds, museum and surroundings, I scootered down the graffiti wall along the riverfront to see what’s new.
I’ve known of the graffiti wall for years that stands just south of the Arch in a touch of the Downtown Neighborhood, but mostly in the Kosciusko Neighborhood, a place with no residents, but one of most striking names.
When I need escapism time, this is one of my favorite places to ride my scooter or bike. It brings out the good and bad of an art form I’ve struggled with for so long. I hate the destruction that trespassers, partiers/d-bags and 3rd grade-level “artists” have done to our building stock. The vast majority of taggers and graffiti in this town are a joke. The arson and other negativity that comes with trespassing and property destruction is not.
The graffiti wall makes sense and has seen some much higher-level talent over the years, also the social commentary that evolves with the times is always worth a repeat visit.
It’s been part of Paint Louis, an event that brought talented artists to do murals on the wall.
Paint Louis began back in 1995; but it has not come without it’s negative effects on the city as a whole. In 2001, taggers scorned by not being included in the official event proceeded to bomb our built environment with 3rd-grade level tagging all over the city. The damage was undeniable and Paint Louis was not officially sanctioned by the city from 2001 through 2012. It rekindled and made its way back, but sadly the same thing happened again in 2015.
You can see how people like myself who love St. Louis architecture and old buildings are miffed by the hack-level tagging and trespassing in and on our building stock.
But, it is a document to the current state of policing and gross abandonment that is a reality in St. Louis. It is a sign of the times.
“Paint Louis actually began roughly around 1995 or so, by a group of friends from St. Louis who were avid lovers of graffiti and Hip Hop noticed that the other three elements of hip hop were being heavily represented in nightclubs and parks around the City. Although people had been doing graffiti on the flood wall for years, nobody had ever put together a real graffiti production. Graffiti wasn't getting the attention it deserved.
STUN ONE along with the rest of the KMS Crew, FCC, and other members of the St. Louis HipHop community decided to throw an open graffiti jam. It was branded with the name Paint Louis.
From 1995-1997 Paint Louis consisted of a small group of local artists that would paint murals. As those artists traveled from City to City, State to State, word spread about the event and artists from all over the country started showing up. Paint Louis gained notoriety in 1998 when t-shirts were made and a DVD documentary was created. Fat Joe and Big Pun came to the 1998 Paint Louis and did murals. That year's event was sponsored by Tribal Street Wear and Starbucks Frappuccino. That year the Guinness Book of World Records named the wall the longest graffiti mural in the world.
The event continued successfully until 2001 when artists showed up and bombed the City. After millions of dollars in property damage, City officials shut down the event.
In 2012, two of the original committee members reconvened and invited a handful of artists to paint at the wall. With support from the City and new committee members, the 2013 Paint Louis hosted 300 artists and had around 1,000 attendees came to appreciate the art.
The Paint Louis event we hope will carry on from generation to generation and become more and more the most amazing all element HipHop event in the world.”
The love/hate continues for many locals.
Thanks to the wonderful writing of local writer, Thomas Crone, there are several articles on local graffiti that are mandatory reading if you want to dig into the subject. And, while this reading didn’t really change my mind, it did help explain the perspective of the taggers.
And it also corroborated my colloquial conversations that many if not most of these guys don’t even live here. They prefer living in the quiet/no graf burbs in the region and come to St. Louis to ‘work’. Their “alter-egos” are ours to digest. They creep while you sleep. They wouldn’t think of doing this in their native leafy suburbs of Maplewood, Kirkwood, etc. Too risky. The more you are on private property, the more you risk getting caught.
And of course, anyone who has done any level of urban exploring in St. Louis knows, the cops do nothing here to stop you. They don’t care. Security guards do, though.
Yet, I’ve almost lost my camera on several occasions and have been read the riot act a few times by security guards who are fed up or just trying to do their jobs. I have a Hank Hill gene, so I can relate to their disgust of people wandering about on property they don’t own.
The younger generation has taken exploration of abandoned properties to a new level, sharing their experiences on YouTube. Here’s just one example, there are many, many more:
All this said, no matter what you think of tagging, the level of work on the graffiti wall is stunning and worthy of repeat visits to see the techniques and coloring used. And also the petty destructiveness of no-talent hacks.
The social commentary and chosen phrases are eternally interesting, as they tend to be immediate reactions to the goings on in society and politics.
You can click through the gallery below to see some of the work that caught my eye: