New York’s first generation of graffiti artists meet their modern civic counterparts – or competitors in this double bill exploring legal and illegal use of the city as an urban canvas.
Tony Silver’s groundbreaking documentary Style Wars focuses on New York’s early 1980s hip-hop scene and its original graffiti artists who go to astonishing lengths to go ‘All City,’ transforming subway cars into mobile canvases. Meanwhile Matt McCormick’s contemporary short The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal concentrates on the act of municipal over-painting and the subconscious Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist ‘masterpieces’ that could be said to be created in the process.
This celebrated 1984 documentary presents the city as a canvas and dance floor, offering a glimpse into the graffiti and hip-hop scenes in 1980s New York City, at the time of their nascent emergence. We see 149th Street subway station become a subcultural civic hall, where diverse young artists meet to discuss ‘rocking the city’ at the ‘writers’ bench,’ whilst the city government fights back with a marketing campaign asking its citizens to ‘make their mark in society, not on society.’ Providing a very different kind of trainspotting, this film offers a fascinating glimpse into a resolutely urban form of personal expression, at the inflection point from where it gained a global following.
USA 1984 Dir. Tony Silver, 69min.
The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal
Narrated by Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), Matt McCormick’s short film playfully positions the sanitising act of graffiti removal and over-painting within the history of modern art. Unveiling the outcome’s arguable similarities to Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Russian Constructivism, the film revels with sly humour and insight in the formalist beauty created unconsciously by these civic ‘artists,’ for whom such achievements are all in a day’s work.
USA 2001 Dir. Matt McCormick, 16min.