OBSCENITY AND THE RESPECTABLE ANARCHIST
This blog posts very Monday and the next post will be Monday 25th January. It appears a day early as I am going to Lavrio on the mainland tomorrow. You can always contact me about anything, including Bargain Online Fiction Tuition at firstname.lastname@example.org
Athens is full of graffiti at every turn, and you see it mile by mile as you chug along at a delightfully tranquil walking speed on the city’s trams, from coastal Voula and Glyfada to Syntagma in the centre. Some people, including God bless them, art experts, rate graffiti lettering as a worthy art form. After about 30 years of immensely inscrutable deliberation, I have to admit I am no such fan, and unless things radically change, I never will be. The street-art scene got a significant boost when they made that engaging film Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010). It was about the ebullient vintage clothes dealer living in LA, Frenchman Thierry Guetta, who befriended, acted documentary cameraman, and later was ad hoc PR man in the United States for the world’s best known graffitist, Englishman Banksy. Later he parodied the great man in his own exhibition, where he called himself Mr Brainwash. Thierry had idolised and imitated Banksy and other graffitists so well, he ended up making over a million dollars, and at his splendid opening, everyone who was anyone was found to be there, darling, knocking back the white wine and the ducky little canapé nibbles. Banksy who is customarily as silent as the grave, or as JD Salinger was between novels, broke his vow, and at the end of the film was quoted as saying his collaborator/parodist/so called Mr Brainwash, was rather derivatively crap, or words to that effect.
You’ll notice that I specified graffiti lettering which I regard as a negligible art form, if only because from Auchtermuchty to Thessaloniki and Des Moines and Detroit, they all use the very same boring and unassertive lettering style. It is seemingly called Blockbuster, and it is a bit like a squint-eyed and anally retentive version of Pretorian. The only pessimistic conclusion I can draw, is that no graffitist in the world has the basic bottle to try out another kind of innovative calligraphy. Given, if you take a sharp look on t’ internet, to quote the ineffable Peter Kay, that there are millions of lettering types, some very beautiful indeed, and others apparently designed by and for 5-star psychopaths, it would seem that many graffiti writers are all too timid and uncreative conformists worried stiff they don’t look exactly like everyone else.
Not so the more various graffiti artists, or at least the two whose work I saw in Athens. Both of them were of an unabashed sexual frankness, yet for all their in your faceness (forgive me) at least they showed some evidence of a fondness for actual as opposed to theoretical humanity. The less shocking was that of a naked woman with voluptuous indeed wishfully thinking impossibly outsize and mythologically vast breasts. Underneath in large letters in English, was the genial imperative SUCK! It was clearly meant to be cheekily funny rather than misogynistic, though being strictly accurate the breasts were drawn much better than the face, so the artist showed where his all too naked priorities were. The other one was notionally offensive, arguably not the kind of thing you would want a little kid to see, as I for one really dislike impromptu depictions of male genitals (usually with grotesque erections) such as you get in the malodorous town centre Gents. It showed three huge versions of the same naked and bony man, who was bearded and long haired, and was most probably the artist. In two, his genitals were flaccid and discreet, whereas the third had an upstanding and curving erection. Normally such a thing looks lewd and aggressively antagonistic to women (as well as children) but oddly this one looked no more than a neutral hence unassuming depiction of an erect penis. You could almost say it was a humble and matter of fact portrayal of something which after all is indisputably matter of fact (and biologically an imperative) in its natural context. The graffitist was certainly no great shakes as an artist, but his skinny bearded bohemian had a kind of vulnerable humanity about him, which was anything but vicarious and prurient.
Opposite me in the tram was a dark-haired, neat and sympathetic-looking woman in her early forties, who like Banksy and Mr Brainwash was also engaged in a kind of public art exhibition. The precursor to this, was that she was obviously either late for a vital work appointment, or for an even more vital romantic date. As it was 6pm, it could have been either, especially if meeting boyo Manolis in a restaurant, and then going on to the nearest 4-screen flicks. She was all too touchingly running behind schedule, for she did something I have never seen in all my life, though perhaps as most of that has been frittered away up in small town Cumbria (51 years when I last calculated) I have long been far too sheltered. She had a vast cosmetics bag, and she was proceeding with slow and lavish precision, to apply her make up from scratch. Lipstick, eye liner, eye shadow, blusher, everything but her glistening nail varnish, which presumably she had decided would pass muster (as indeed it did). To achieve all this, she had to turn sideways and use her compact mirror, then do all the necessary puckering, grimacing, teeth baring and eyebrow raising, which necessary rigmarole, genius comics like Harpo Marx have turned into such gleeful parodies. I have never seen a woman of any age do this on public transport in the UK, unless it was possibly in a parallel railway seat where either no one, or only the adjacent passenger was there to observe.
It would be exaggerating to say it was as if seeing her naked in the literal sense, but in the metaphorical sense, yes it was. She was striving to make herself look as good as she could, and she was bravely letting the whole world watch the anxious all too human show. And yes, you’ve guessed it, none of the Greeks nearby of whatever age, including notionally eligible bachelor males, gave her a second glance, and only me the nosy foreigner kept sneaking a peek to see her wondrous transformation. You’ll be pleased to know she looked exceptionally good by the end of it, and I hope either the no doubt exacting and irritable Manolis, or the fussy stickler of a new boss of the shop in Amphitheas where she got off, and where she wished to be deputy manager, was suitably enchanted.