New York: Graffiti – part of New York’s history for over 50 years – is flourishing during the coronavirus pandemic, a sign of decadence for some, but vitality for others.
As dusk becomes nightfall, graffiti artist Saynosleep takes a quick look around and then gets to work on a luxury store closed since it was looted in June during protests over George Floyd’s death. “If you’re not painting right now, I don’t know what you’re doing,” says the 40-year-old, adding an expletive. “There has never been a time like this.”
The facades of hundreds of store that have shut because of the pandemic are “an invitation” to artists, says Marie Flageul, curator at New York’s Museum of Street Art (MoSA). Walls, bridges, sidewalks and subway cars – 34 of which have been painted since the beginning of the month – are canvases.
“It’s a big surge, a renaissance of graffiti,” enthuses Saynosleep, who uses a different pseudonym for his legal artwork.
Graffiti was first accepted by the art world in the 1980s when it moved into galleries. Expressive street art then captured the imagination of the general public in the 2000s when it went from illegal to legal spaces.
“Everybody wants to express themselves,” says Saynosleep, who says he has seen a woman in her 60s drawing graffiti. “People are bored. They need something to do.”
In a year when socialising has virtually stopped and streets no longer throng with activity, graffiti is artists’ way of saying, “‘It feels like New York is dead and you don’t see us but we are still here,'” says Flageul.
The creative impulses are not to everyone’s taste, however. New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo said the graffiti was “another sign of decay,” along with an increase in murders and shootings in New York City.
Bryce Graham, who lives in the Chelsea neighborhood, said the graffiti would shock him in somewhere like Ottawa “where everything is super clean.” “But here in New York, it’s a hell of a mix of what is clean and what is dirty,” he said.