Graffiti Speaks To State of Society

Dear Editor,

It’s been a while since I walked the Reef Bay trail and sat by the edge of the petroglyph pool. I may make a special trip just to see the graffiti that somebody left on the surface of the rocks and nearby plants.

How anyone could be so self-centered as to deface pre-Columbian art is incomprehensible and adds but another layer to the enigma that those stone carvings represent. Until now they have remained unmolested.

Through slavery and revolt, peaceful obscurity and tourism they have afforded thousands of viewers a glimpse of a mysterious and relatively unknown civilization.

In a way, the vandalism speaks to the state of our society. By the way: one graffito, two graffiti (from the Italian). Defined as images or letters applied without permission to public surfaces, graffiti have existed since the days of early man and, maybe, the petroglyphs themselves fall into that category.

They took longer to create than hastily scrawled “tags” of spray paint or marker. But it’s the thought that counts. Presumably, Taino artists stood waste-deep in that pool and endlessly scratched at the stone face to create the figures that have puzzled viewers over the centuries. We can only imagine their reaction to seeing one of them become a corporate logo.

In 1915, a 22-year-old college student in Changsha, China started defacing the dorm toilets with over 4,000 hand-painted characters denouncing his teachers and society in general. It became the longest known piece of graffiti and he became Chairman Mao.

During WWII, American soldiers drew the ubiquitous Kilroy everywhere. The most notorious living graffiti artist is the secretive, paranoid, British “art terrorist,” Banksy, whose real name might be Robert Banks. He’s an incredible talent who started out spray-painting rats on blank city walls. These days his oeuvre includes sculpture, canvas and video and his pieces sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars as soon as they are displayed. Google him. He’s way cool.

The same can not be said for the phantom petroglyph tagger or any other St. John graffitist for that matter. It’s a sad testament to the ingenuity and capacity of those yearning to express their inner angst with Krylon or crayon. You need only visit the basketball court to see why we need to improve the quality of our public schools.

The scribbler who despoiled that park couldn’t decide whether he “was” or “were” there and seemingly gave up in disgust.

Jeff Smith