A strong opinion on Grey matter
By Michael Martin
Gray is good. Actually, it’s better. Considering the anemic street art and graffiti scene in New Orleans, the one street artist who stands out is the Grey Ghost. His philosophy is anti-art, which is practiced through destruction of the medium.
Sounds a bit like Dadaism, doesn’t it? The Grey Ghost defaces buildings by rolling gray paint over a sometimes colorful wall, essentially committing the same crime as the original street artist or graffiti writer. Yet he does so with such conviction and destructive efficacy that his contribution to the New Orleans street scene cannot be diminished.
There are two strands to the argument as to why I think the Grey Ghost is the foremost street artist in New Orleans. First: 99 percent of the work he covers in gray paint lacks poignancy and is not executed precisely. Most is either tagging or a stencil pontificating about a pointed political issue, which, let us be honest, is a hapless exercise in political discourse. Who exactly are these writers winning over or convincing with an anti-capitalist screed on a falling-down brick wall? Push the creative envelope and be a little bit less explicit in the war of ideologies: It would be more effective messaging. In contrast to the above, the Grey Ghost and his apolitical gray swaths say more than any anarchist buzzwords ever could.
The second aspect of my defense and praise of the Grey Ghost is that street art is by nature temporary. If we break this down on a more theoretical level, “the street” is intrinsically a place of contestation and dynamism. There is no permanence on “the street,” thus when art, and all of its competing definitions, are added to this stage of confrontation and temporality, the art is transformed. This theoretical construct needs to be understood in its dialectic as well: As soon as art is hung in a museum or gallery, the art itself is transformed. To bring this back into concrete terms: The Grey Ghost is only following the rules of “the street” construct, contesting with other street artists and graffiti writers for the use of the public space as a platform; it just so happens that his platform is the antithesis of form, color and message (thus becoming a message in and of itself).
Sure, you can argue that because he has been supported by the city in the past (though he was arrested in 2009 for property damage) that his endeavors are de-legitimized, but I would argue the opposite. The level at which the city may sanction him does not necessarily negate his zeal in covering other art in gray paint; in combating “bad art” he is aligned closer to the local art duo Generic Art Solutions than with an anti-graffiti task force.
Ultimately, the Grey Ghost is possessed by his “duty” to reclaim public space from street artists and graffiti writers, even if his reclamation does nothing but dull a potentially interesting space. His possession of mind and spirit is often at odds with certain artistic sensibilities, but is that not the criteria we have for other revolutionary artists? So destructive and graphic and stubborn in their vision that only time can reveal the true depth of their (often maniacal) genius.
Michael Martin can be reached at [email protected].