Monday, April 04, 2011

Hidden Town

I recently took a bike ride exploring areas of Port Talbot; largely off the beaten and corroded tracks of a tearful town dying on its gangrenous feet.  I wanted to visit the dark areas where the population at large avoid as if they were part of an exclusion zone around a spent Soviet atomic plant.
I traversed narrow back alleys, where sagging brickwork and burnt garage doors held each other up earnestly over discarded sofas and TV sets that were once considered luxury items.
Moving south, on the edges of the town I gravitated to an old deserted warehouse; a place I had long wished to visit to produce some suitably atmospheric and desolate shots to go with one of my suitably atmospheric and desolate albums.  This tired raped old shell of a structure sucked me into its myriad corridors and rooms, before spanning out into a huge space where shafts of sunlight spread like radioactive fingers in the asbestos dust disturbed by fleeing pigeons through roofing apertures. I inhaled an almost overwhelming scent of acetone. 

It was then that I came across numerous youths spray painting the empty plaster walls.  The iridescence ascended from rubble-strewn floors like sinewy limbs of  vibrant ivy holding up the swaying structures.
They were mostly six-form metal skate-punks, and at a stroke of the aerosol bucked the media stereotype for graffiti artists.  These were no skunk-addled subway crazies or street hoods marking their turf;  but ordinary kids using their urban environment as a canvas.
There appeared to be a delineation along class lines.  The obviously more prosperous lads with their backpacks teeming with large pallets of coloured paint enveloped themselves in giant triptychs of detail and complexity, impervious to anything but the concept;  whereas the lesser proletariat contented themselves with a small handful of primary spray, marking simplistic tags in the available space.  There appeared to be an unwritten understanding that nobody shits in another artist’s nest.  None of them appeared to notice or resent my presence; a ghostly visitor to an art project.
Graffiti artists (and artists they most certainly are) get a filthy press; pilloried as vandals and wanton destroyers.  Yet the same people who vent such spleen on these kids blithely tolerate the nauseating bilge on billboards from Sky or Coca Cola.  None of them bats an eyelid when the airbrushed horror of David Cameron promises to save the NHS.  This town has choked its residents for decades, given them cancer, smashed their hopes, destroyed the very aesthetic and culture of their existence.   If only people could comprehend the level of effort, commitment and talent that goes into such a sub-genre of art, one assumes attitudes would change.  Don’t hold your breath.

For me, the discovery of such concepts are hugely enlightening, and every bit as (if not more than) exciting as a visit to the Tate or indeed some stuffy exhibition of Neolithic cave paintings.  The smell, the colour, the ideas and the narrative are of now, and should be cherished.

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