5 Pointz, A Place for Street Art
For most people, graffiti is considered visual pollution, incomprehensible to read with colors that are garish and illustrations that can be profane. However at 5 Pointz, graffiti is considered aerosol art and it is the place that artists can freely express their creative spirit on a public canvas. The walls of the building that is 5 Pointz are alive with murals of street art. It is a reflection of a side of New York that was born among violence, poverty, and hopelessness. And yet, individuals with an artistic spirit manage to express their creativity with the cheapest tools, paint from an aerosol can as their paintbrush and the side of buildings, dumpsters, old trains as their canvas.
Initially graffiti started with tagging, people using paint from aerosol cans to spray paint their names, initials, handles, or gang affiliation. It was a way for individuals who lived on the margins and who had nothing, to declare their existence, even if it was on the side of a wall of an abandoned building, no matter how temporarily it stayed up. I consider it a way for them to demand that attention must be paid. No matter how wretched their existence, there is a soul within that embarked on a life that is filled with difficulty but survives nevertheless among the grime and concrete. Their actions reminded me very much of Linda's soliloquy in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman,
"His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person."
5 Pointz: A Mecca for Graffiti
Talented individuals came to see graffiti as more than just tagging but a way to create pictures that reflect their life and community, express their political convictions, or pay homage to a fallen brother, family member, friend. Because their art however uses public space, municipalities and communities understandably disliked having it thrust on them and considered it a defacement on public property.
At 5 Pointz, graffiti artist Jonathan Cohen, aka Meres One, negotiated with the owner of a block-long five-story warehouse in the Long Island City section of Queens and turned it into an outdoor exhibit space where aerosol artists can freely paint on the walls of the building. Artists can present their ideas to him and if they pass muster they are assigned space on the wall. How long it stays up is a question mark because artists always come to present new ideas. Meres One had called the center 5 Pointz because he thought of it as the place where artists from the five boroughs of New York City can come together one. And the artists came, not only from New York City but from other states and everywhere else in the world. As I was looking at the walls, I saw artists were from Montana, Miami, Berlin, Tokyo, South Korea.
When you first come to 5 Pointz you are overwhelmed with the riot of color and images, but as your eye settles to rest on an arresting illustration you begin to see the details. Every spot where you can possibly spray paint is filled, even the dumpsters. You can spend all afternoon looking at the entire building but it will not be the same on your next visit because the pictures keep changing. In fact when I took these pictures, there were at least two artists who were creating their work.
As aerosol art (graffiti) is slowly being considered by the art world as artistic, there are some who are already delegitimizing tagging and consider it to be junk, but tagging was where graffiti started. To dismiss this form of artistic expression is to dismiss the origins of graffiti.
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It May Not Be Around Forever
There is talk that the building that holds the 5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center will be razed. It is old and has not been well maintained. In addition, its location and close proximity to midtown Manhattan make it ideal for residential apartment buildings. The community has rallied round but it seems that the center's days are numbered. Meres One has wanted to turn 5 Pointz into a graffiti museum but he is not the owner of the building and the owner, Jerry Wolkoff, has not indicated what he would do.
Attention must be paid to street art, this cultural mecca is not anything that you would experience anywhere else.
5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center
Can be easily reached on the #7 train, 45 Road - Court Square subway station
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