Last Sunday I was photographing a group of biker friends (some of which can be found here). The group has chosen to stop by the St. Louis Graffiti Wall, a mile long stretch of concrete flood defense that has been used over and over again by local and not-so-local artists. It's a popular spot for professional photographers providing an interesting background for model shots and wedding parties – the bread and butter of making a living behind the lens.
A model shoot was going on as the bikers gathered, not quite as brightly decorated as last year and somewhat subdued following an accident earlier that morning where one of the group had left the highway on a bend, taken out a road sign, and been ambulance-driven to hospital. Not too seriously hurt, fortunately. Other tourists had arrived to look at the wall, snapping off shots of themselves.
A lot going on.
In the midst of all this, quietly and stealthily, a young man driven up, parked, and walked up to the wall with a bulging rucksack. He drew no attention to himself amongst the bustle and moved away from the crowd to a deserted spot of the wall. There he dropped his backpack to the ground, pulled out a spray can, and proceeded to redraw part of the wall.
My attention had been on the bikers, one doing motorcycle acrobatics, and it was really by chance that I turned around to see this artist at work.
His concentration and indifference to the noise and crowd around him struck me forcefully. His demeanor suggested that we might have all been on a different planet as far as he was concerned, yet here he was making some very public art. He must have known that some of us would be looking at his work as it was done, some would look later, and some not at all. Was he painting for a very specific audience that would later appear? Perhaps. The wall was full of coded messages – on this particular spot a crab motif was prominent. Or was he seeking a wider audience? Hard to tell for his initial effort was simply to whitewash an area in preparation for something – or nothing.
Nonetheless, whatever the result, I felt that out of all of us there he was the only person there who was really in tune with that wall. The rest of us were viewers – he was the artist. He may have striven to be as anonymous as possible but when I looked at him everyone else seemed to fade away. By making art he himself became art. I hope that somehow he is aware of this.