The Flickr campaign against and debate surrounding Fred Radtke a.k.a. The Gray Ghost has finally spilled over into the NOLA blogosphere following a New Orleans City Business article on Radtke’s recent victimization of Michael “Rex” Dingler, local artist and founder of the NOLA Rising project. Mark Folse, Suspect Device and Dangerblond on the brouhaha.
As issues go in our day and age, this one has come to be falsely viewed by the authorities as a solely-two-sided battle between the placement of graffiti on public and private property (BAD) and the “removal” of said outside art by painting over it in an institutional gray (GOOD). To clarify, there are several aspects to this struggle:
1. Graffiti in New Orleans spans the gamut from ugly tagging to beautiful and elaborate pieces in a variety of colors and shades. It’s not all bad, it’s not all good. Just as SPIN’s graffiti is godawful and out of place in the Garden District so is Radtke’s combative gray.
2. Michael Dingler’s work, specifically, is not graffiti per se. A majority of the time he places removable pieces of art (as seen above) on poles. To many, they are unobtrusive messages of hope, peace and empathy in a smile-starved city. What’s uglier? Artwork on a pole, removing it with a stick or painting over the pole and art in gray so that the combination makes for one giant totempole of grotesque?
3. Again, tags on buildings like Cafe Brasil conjure visions of a Singapore-style caning (some taggers even printed their handles in silver or gold on the pretty blue and black side wall), but that is the responsibility of the property owner to paint over the graffiti. The response ought not to be NOPD’s blessing of Fred Radtke’s gray because it is, in no uncertain terms, graffiti also.
4. What official capacity does Fred Radtke have with the city? If not a city official, isn’t he in violation of the No Posting On Public Spaces ordinance, too, especially when he paints over scribbles and stickers on historic French Quarter properties and traffic signs? (Seriously, how stupid is anyone who defaces a public safety sign?) Additionally, can Radtke not be taken to court for painting over private property around town?
0. Distinguish between removable art on poles and spraypaint and sharpies on walls. While you’re at it, get your subtlety on and begin to see the difference between art and quick territorial shots from a spraypaint can.
1. Removal (all of it doesn’t have to go, but if it must)
a. Poles: If it’s a piece of paper, placard, show poster or piece of wood, scrape it off! Spraypaint or permanent marker should be painted over in a matching brown (wood) or gray (metal).
b. Walls: If it’s a piece of paper, remove it. If what you find is spraypaint or permanent marker, paint over it in a matching color. If said graffiti is on private property, i.e. property not owned by the city, leave it to the property owner’s discretion. Do not trespass and deface their property! To combat this activity, as the CityBusiness article states, a Magazine Street store owner is “circulating a petition among Magazine Street business owners demanding Radtke secure their permission before he paints anything on their properties.”
2. Public art spaces, people!
Heaven knows we have the room. As Alexis, our mutual friends and I have discussed off and on over the past year, the quality of graffiti in New Orleans is dismal, but that doesn’t preclude and, in fact, necessitates large mural spaces or even smaller walls where graffiti-ers can get their yayas out. This will allow local artists and wannabes to express and better their art using any medium – brushes, spraypaint, pen, pencil, charcoal, you name it.
Whether the public art in question is indelible or removable, good or bad, banning and painting over it in one drab color is not the answer. Let’s think about this like the creative people we tell ourselves we are. Meanwhile, please write City Council and ask them to Stop Fred Radtke; use some arguments and solutions from this post if you want to. If graffiti/public art is outlawed, only outlaws will make graffiti. And, in return, colorful New Orleans will become a sea of gray.