Everybody is a Critic
Photo taken by Mr. Blank
Last Wednesday night I decided to give Andrea a break and take the kids out to Chick-fil-A. Sometimes this can be a hectic endeavor, but I almost always enjoy it. Something about enduring a frenetic dinner with a 5 year-old and a 19 month-old gives me a chance to work on my Daddy skills as well as spend some time with my kids, sans Mommy.
On the way to the restaurant, I was going to be passing by the mural that I'm currently working on behind Victory Vintage Home. I always slow down each time I happen to find myself in the vicinity of the mural just so I can try and view it fresh, with new eyes. That way I might be able to see if there are any problems with the thing, to see what might need to be done next to it. Anyway, it was 7pm, and with the winter hours it was already dark. But no matter, because I knew that there would be plenty of amber light shining upon the mural, giving me just enough lighting to check up on it.
As I pulled up next to the wall, I noticed an unusual amount of activity going on in front of the family in the middle of the mural. Now, I didn't think much of this because I knew that Victory shares its parking lot with a pizza restaurant and a bar nearby. It's not unusual for some kind of activity to be going on in that parking lot, but because it was a Wednesday night, and because the 'activity' consisted of about 4 or 5 teenage boys clamoring about, looking like they were trying to climb up onto the roof of the store, it caught my eye. At least one guy was being hoisted up by another. My first thought was, "Oh, they must've thrown something up onto the roof of the store and they're trying to retrieve it."
So I drove on, not pulling into the parking lot, not confronting the teenagers. I felt that it probably wasn't anything serious.
But then I the more thought about it, the more strange that whole scenario started to play out in my head. If they were just getting something up off the roof of the store, why were they acting so suspicious? Suddenly, my initial thought of an innocent situation didn't seem so plausible. I turned around to head back to the store.
No one was there. No teenagers, no pickup truck that was parked in front of the mural. I pulled up to the side of the wall and did not see any movement on the store's rooftop. I started to pull away until I caught a glimpse of reflected light coming off of the mural, as if it was wet. But it wasn't wet all over, like it rained or anything, but only on specific areas -- right on each of the heads of the family that I had painted. I backed up and parked right next to the family and got out to take a closer look.
Yup. The mural had been pissed on. There was urine running down the face of the Dad, the Mom and the little girl, with scuff marks from the boys' shoes here and there. Because the parents' heads were situated higher than your typical crotch height, what I saw those boys doing was trying to pee right on the heads by being hoisted up by one of their buddies. This was not your run of the mill, "hey i gotta take a piss" moment. This was done on purpose. I also noticed that some of them had spat on the heads, too. This was deliberate.
Well, there was nothing I could do about it then. I got back in the car and went ahead to eat with the kids. I then waited until after the kids were in bed when I went back to the wall and doused the affected areas with hot water. No harm done, all is good as new.
So, this got me to thinking, why did they do this?. Well, there are two several possible explanations:
1. I think it was game night that night and so these guys had just come from the school with heightened adrenaline. When they drove by the wall, they decided that it would be kinda funny to desecrate the faces to this mural because it was so convenient. Just some silly tomfoolery done by your typical average teenager boys. No big deal.
2. These boys, being black, were not too keen by this all-white family and wanted to do something about it. Make a statement, to some degree. With piss and spit.
Do you know what I think? I think it's a little bit of both. Decatur (where the store is) is a very cosmopolitan area, with a great mix of both white and black. Even where there may be unity in some communities, there'll always be some distention and disputes in others. When I first thought about the idea of using these illustrations for this mural, I did have second thoughts about putting this very vanilla white family right in the middle of the mural. My take on murals is that there should always be some sort of connection to the community. People who live in the area where a mural is going up should at least have some ownership to this new work of art that's being put up. After all, they are the ones who will be seeing it on a daily basis. It's a sort of artistic call and response, a give and receive, if you will. Some murals will be completely community oriented, possibly including images and faces of the people who live there. Some will be more commercial in nature, but hopefully offer something more to what that particular store provides for the community. The Victory Vintage Home mural falls into the latter category.
So, when I began the mural, whenever I had someone call out or pull up next to me, I always cringed a bit for fear of some possible criticism from people who possibly wouldn't get it. But all that cringing was for naught because everyone has been so cool with the mural. I've received nothing but praise. Everyone seems to like it.
The recent incident kinda put me back on defensive mode. I'm over it now, because I realize that I can't make everyone like the painting. I can't force anyone to like my artwork. All I can do is just do my thang and hope that everyone accepts it. That's really what ART is all about anyway. I once had an instructor who laid it out for me: Art never said to like me, but to accept me. Accept this, if you can, and eventually you will understand it.
If the teens were trying to make a statement, I understand. I can understand if this mural represents something that they might be frustrated about on a daily basis: discrimination and racism -- of which, I have no right telling them how they should feel. But I know I'm right to say that they totally and completely misunderstand my intentions with this mural. I'm not trying to say subconsciously that only white people can come into this store. All I was doing was re-appropriating some fun vintage illustrations that featured modern furniture to create a connection with what Lee sold in her store, which of course, is modern furniture. The mural is an extension of the store, and should be taken lightly.
Again, I'm over it now. And I never really got upset with all the urination and expectoration because I know that piss and spit can be washed off, with no worries. But I can't wash off what those guys really think of the mural. Perhaps I am reading too much into this whole thing, but if I'm not, I do hope that they can accept this mural at face value: just something fun that hopefully makes you smile as you drive by.