Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

ErN 100, entry April 2005, updated Sept. 2021             

he Handwriting on the Wall

Just a cursory stroll through the titles of articles about graffiti is enough to make you go breathe paint fumes:

—"The Handwriting on the Wall: Toward a Sociology and Psychology of Graffiti"
—"Aesthetics of Graffiti"
—"Art Attack: The Midnight Politics of a Guerrilla Artist"
—"Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping in the Empire of Signs"
—"Research on Mural Sprayscripts Graffiti"
—"The Semiotics of Aerosol Expression"
—"Folk Criticism of Religiosity in the Graffiti of New York City"
—"Anonymous Expression: A Structural View of Graffiti"
—"Graffiti as a Function of Building Utilization"
—"The Scrawl of the Wild: What People Write on Walls and Why"
—"Style Writing From The Underground, (R)evolutions of Aerosol Linguistics"
—"An Insubstantial Pageant Faded: A Psychoanalytic Epitaph for New York City Subway Car Graffiti"

Only one of those titles is a fake. I dare you to find it. If you answer correctly and your entry is received first, I will spray your name —and address— on the front of the police station in downtown Naples! There are also hundreds of magazines with names such as Aerosol Kingdom, Foe Toe Graff, Pressure Expansion Valve, and Vandal Maggotzine (those are all real). In other words, this is not just some ephemeral, lightweight phenomenon. This is Art. Even worse, this is sociology. Naples, from that point of view, is one very large open-air laboratory of anonymous expression, insubstantial pageants, and spray semiotics.

Some of it isn't bad actually. I'm not talking about the brain-dead magic markings of teen-age lust that you find defacing public buildings and classical treasures at Pompeii, or even the poorly understood and imperfectly rendered versions of American rap lyrics scrawled on the magnificent columns of the Church of San Francesco di Paola at Piazza Plebiscito, the largest square in Naples. Or even the insults directed at poor "Gloria's mother" on the great statue of Dante in Naples. That is the work of idiots, whose bodies should all be steamed back into their component molecules, forced into one large aerosol can and then sprayed onto an outhouse in Hell.

Welcome to Barra!                              

No, I am talking about real art: the complicated portraits and stylized script, the stuff that takes all night to do —the kind that decorates— dare I say alleviates? —the concrete Führer-bunker sameness of all 30 train stations of the Circumvesuviana train line that runs from Naples to Sorrento. If I have to choose between waiting for a train in some drab & slab dump and waiting amid bright psychedelic shapes and letters, I'll always choose the latter. (It's like having a 1960's flashback!—and that's 40 years ago (and counting). It works out just right because I'm likely to wait 40 years for the next train. Who says there is no balance in the universe?)

The local Louvre of graffiti seems to be the station of Barra (photo, above). The original long one-dimensional nothingness of grey concrete wall along the track has been morphed into a bright kaleidoscope of Rastafarian "reefer art" —a happy change. They even "tag" the trains with elaborate murals. (Hold on. I'm getting a message. Yes, I can feel it being sprayed onto my brain from the "other side," some very hip —or at least hip-hop—parallel universe. It's an idea for an article—"Train Graffiti in Naples: the Semiotics of Mobile Protest") Or something like that. (Wait. I think "Or Something Like That" is supposed to be part of the title. Oh, no. They've put me on hold.)

I just wish they wouldn't spray the windows; after all, that gets in the way of my admiration for the graffiti on the station walls as we whiz through. I have thought about spraying the "taggers" a message about that.

added Sept. 2021- This has appeared in various places in Italy. I don't know where this one is. It plays on a phrase that has become current.

[See related item on street art]

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