Last evening I stopped by the paint Spot to get some varnish (20% off, by the way). I’m going to be using a lot of it for the series of bit portraits I’m doing for a show in October. The Paint Spot has been my main place to go for art supplies forever. More recently the Naess Gallery at the Paint Spot has become a place to add to my exhibition list: a number of my chalk pieces were hung there as part of The Sketch in 2010.
Last evening I was a strange combination of observant and dense. I noticed that long faces had replaced the staff’s usual joviality, that they seemed somehow distracted and that K. F. Seemed uncharacteristically on edge. I also noticed a number of men wearing surgical gloves working with extreme care in the gallery space. I thought the fastidiousness remarkable for setting up a gallery show.
The degree of my density suddenly became evident to me when I got home and caught up on my TwitFace feeds:
The Naess Gallery had been raided by the Cops!
Here’s my understanding of what went down:
The Naess Gallery arranged/agreed to display works by street artist DP. All well and good. Personally, I kind of liked the works, from the glimpses I had as Edmonton’s Finest carried them about. A bit monochromatic, but . . .
It seems that some of the stencilled images have also showed up in the past – without property owners’ permission – on various structures. So, the EPS followed up on reports that these images were in the show, got a judge to issue a warrant, and sent some of the constables around to collect the evidence. All of it. The whole show.
Whether the seizure of every piece was warranted (sorry for the pun) rather than just of the pieces that had been allegedly duplicated on property without permission I don’t have an opinion. I expect that is an issue which will be addressed as the wheels of justice grind. I do, however, have some other opinions rising out of the show and the siezure:
DP, if no one else, should have expected the police to act. Graffiti has been deemed a problem in Edmonton, deemed so both by the police and at least some portion of the public. The white-washing of the Rollie Miles mural a month or so ago did not go over well, particularly with rapper Cadence Weapon, Miles’ grandson. Tagging and unsolicited street art costs small businesses huge amounts of money every year in Edmonton. DP putting images that he’d (Daft Punk is a “he”, right?) already unwelcomely and illegally installed elsewhere into a legal gallery show was either a foolish or intentional invitation to the police to act. The police very graciously accepted the invitation.
I have no problem with seeing street art as legitimate public art. I do have a problem with property damage. Painting someone’s home, garage or place of business without permission is both illegal and very rude. I don’t care if you’re the new Michelangelo: if the owner of the wall doesn’t like your nocturnally installed Last Judgement, you’re in the wrong, Buonerotti, and the local Swiss Guard should be after you with their pikes. I don’t respect you and I don’t respect your art. I say that as someone who has displayed work in the same gallery DP caused to be raided and as someone who has done legal street art – check out my Capitoline Wolf the next time you have Calzone at Battista’s — it may be crap and you may not like it, but it’s legal crap you don’t like.
Street art, even when illegally and rudely installed is one thing. Tagging is something quite other and totally illegitimate. At a time when the Canadian Arts Community is campaigning for resale royalties to be legislated – a legal affirmation of artists’ property rights — it would be beyond hypocritical to stand up for street artists’ violation of non-artists’ property rights. And tagging isn’t even aesthetically pleasing.
I am a working artist. I don’t want my art tagged. I don’t want my house tagged. And, I don’t want a DP work stencilled on my garage. In fact, I’m intending to paint something I want on my garage. If I wanted a DP work, I would try to contact DP and buy or commission a piece I liked. Identically, I don’t want some British guy to leave a shark in a tank on my lawn or some American to stand a Piss Christ in my garden. If some guy knocked on my door and offered to give me a free Tom Thomson I’d say “Right. Now pull the other. Found a few tubes of Prussian Blue, did you?”
“What’s my feeling about what the Paint Spot raid should spur?” I hear you not asking. I don’t care whether you want my opinion or not: I’m going to spray it in your eyes anyway, just like all those other legitimate artists.
Street artists should realize that they are better off if they ask permission and go through the same sort of proposal/commission process the rest of us legitimate artists go through. Java Jive gave such a commission for the west exterior wall of their Coffee Factory a number of years ago. It’s not my cup of chai, but I respect the work, the artist and the patron. If street artists don’t pursue legitimacy , they’re not seen as free-spirited guerilla artists – they’re just taggers with more paint in their bag. Gallery operators should continue to welcome and encourage street artists of quality, but they should require the artists to not display any work which has in the past been illegally installed – if only for the protection of the gallery. And, legitimate artists, street and otherwise, should speak out and strongly discourage taggers, no matter how big their paint sack, from continuing the illegal side of their work.
I’m sure many will disagree with my opinions. I’ll be sure to warn Battista to watch out for the Tagging Army of artists. I don’t expect The Paint Spot’s walls will long be immune from the spray bomb of vengeance either. A manifesto I read online made clear in no uncertain and certainly no grammatical terms that the street art community of Edmonton was about to rise up against their persecution (they actually said “prosecution”).
Put down your paintbrushes and pick up your scrub brushes, Edmonton.
Update, August 17, 2012: Yesterday the Edmonton Police Service announced that over thirty-five charges had been laid against an individual partly as a result of the Naess Gallery Raid. “Police investigated graffiti reports involving 35 locations and 10 complainants between June 2009 and July 2012. . . .” It seems, contrary to DP’s public statement just after the raid, that in at least some cases DP was putting his art where it wasn’t wanted.
In a recent brief twitter conversation it was pointed out to me that there will always be an illegal aspect to street art. I don’t deny that. But there will always be an illegal aspect to lots of things. Perhaps there will always be illegal drugs, but that doesn’t mean that there is somehow a moral equivalence between a meth lab operator and a pharmacists. Some of us choose to encourage the creation of legal avenues for individuals to express themselves and/or to make a living. As I said in that twitter conversation, to me, someone putting their paint on my garage without permission is just as criminal as smashing the window, no matter how fine his art is. I’ve said to my neighbours, I don’t want some guy painting stuff on my garage — I want to paint stuff on my garage.
Update, August 19, 2012: In light of ongoing frustration in trying to have a reasoned discussion the 140 character twitterverse, I’ve come up with a few questions which strike me as requiring resolution in a discussion of Street Art’s place in Edmonton’s society at large. I’ve put them into post for August 19th, higher up in the archives. I’m not certain of answers myself, but I hope the questions might help to focus discussion.
And, I’d like to give a shout-out to Foundmonton, which is doing a great job of seeking out and recording Edmonton’s street art.
Update, June 19, 2014: The Wheels of Justice have ground slowly but, in the case of the Great Naess Gallery Raid of 2012, they’ve finished their work. The artist pleaded guilty to sixteen counts and has been sentenced to restitution ($3660), the maximum amount of Community Service (240 hours) and eighteen months probation. The Edmonton Journal‘s article about the sentencing has a few more details.