Wacko stencils (Guest spot)

Canberra writer Doug Fry has been travelling in the USA. This is his second guest blog about Pavement Graffiti.

Wacko, the self-described “premiere pop culture emporium of Los Angeles”, is located in the Los Feliz area – a suburb that’s affluent by real world standards, but decidedly middle class in LA terms. The store is part of a trifecta of hipster shopping opportunities on the eastern end of Hollywood Boulevard – just next door is Ozzie Dots, a novelty costume specialist that also carries overpriced second hand clothing. Barely a block away is Goodwill, the USA’s (approximate) equivalent of Salvos/Vinnies-type thrift chains. So, if you need a costume for Halloween when you’re in LA, Ozzie Dots and Goodwill can provide the clothing – Wacko, on the other hand, will provide the accoutrements.

The store sells all manner of trinkets and novelty items (Japanese conceived, Chinese made), along with a decent selection of books – a lot of indie and one-print-run-only titles, along with more ‘mainstream’ books covering everything from the early days of punk to the final days of the Manson Family. Finally, there is a permanent gallery space tucked up the back of the store; when I visited, the gallery was displaying a series of airbrushed paintings that were, as best I could tell, attempting to convey Alice In Wonderland-via-Dante’s Inferno (with LSD as the catalyst, and Dr Freud as executive producer).

I never established why the steps and pavement in front of Wacko have become an apparent mecca for stencilling and graf. Sure, its customer base would undoubtedly include a good many street artists, but what’s the ritual here? Do they celebrate their purchase of a marijuana-themed toilet seat by adding their latest stencil to the sidewalk? Or did someone arbitrarily spray the space one night, and unwittingly spawn a meme? Is this customer-customised livery actively encouraged by store management? And how does the City of LA feel about this communal modification of its grimy pavement?

Rest in peace

Every now and then a memorial for someone who has died appears on the pavement. Usually there is a very good reason why the memorial has been written at that time on that particular spot on the ground.

Teenager Alex Wildman died in July 2008, his suicide and the inquest that followed attracting much media attention because of allegations of bullying at his high school near Lismore in northern NSW. Epitaphs for Alex appeared in ‘unofficial’ media, such as videos on YouTube and graffiti on footpaths. The graffiti was written around the Campbelltown area in south-western Sydney by Alex’s friends at Ingleburn High School, where he had been a pupil until his family moved to Lismore.

The painted RIP in the photograph appeared some months after much smaller messages for Alex were written in black texta along the edges of the same footpath on the western side of Macarthur Railway Station.

I have written about memorialization of the dead on the pavement in City of Epitaphs, an article recently published in the on-line journal Culture Unbound.

Hicks, M. 2009. City of epitaphs. Culture Unbound 1 (Article 26):453-467.

If you are like me, and enjoy discovering obituaries and other unexpected messages on the pavement, then I wish you a pleasurably doleful New Year.

Greetings

09aJAN09-cP1050471 editcrop_edited-1 Happy blog

To my regular readers and to those just passing by – many thanks for your interest, your comments, your emails, your tip-offs and your photos.

Best wishes for the year ahead and may you continue to enjoy finding surprises on the pavement.

To-day’s photograph was taken this time last year in Belmont Road, Mosman, NSW.