The gang’s all here.
The pale blue, two-story stucco and cinderblock building squats in a parking lot along Broadway in Lemon Grove between a Walgreen’s and an Eyeglass World. It houses Rock Liquor (Beer Wine Grocery) and a Western Union. It is not the sort of place you would expect to find an homage to French art from the Impressionist and Belle Epoque eras. And that’s what makes the murals so delightful: there you are, standing in an asphalt alley with traffic stacking up at the nearby intersection, contemplating larger-than-life copies of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party and Toulouse-Lautrec’s Confetti, Divan Japonaise, and Reine de Joie. In a museum, they would be original, but forced to compete with the aesthetic abundance. On an apartment wall, they would be pale imitations, mere bourgeois posterwork. Here, they are striking evocations of (and invitations to) just the sort of exuberance and pleasure (confetti! cafes! company!) you’re seeking when you stroll into Rock Liquor for a bottle of absinthe, a round of brie, and a baguette. (Or Bud, cheese, and crackers.) Here, the art lives again.
Rabbit season! Duck season!
And it’s tagged. VLGLSX on the Renoir. Varrio Lemon Grove, maybe. LGLS on the Confetti — painted on after X’ing out the previous tag. There’s plenty of empty space on the wall — a veritable clear blue sky of opportunity for marking your territory/sounding your barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world. But people look at the murals, so that’s the spot to hit. (The nastier interpretation is that there’s more transgressive satisfaction in messing up someone else’s work.)
My kids are fascinated by tags — the daring that goes into some of them (highway overpasses); the back-and-forth drama of crossing out the other guy and asserting yourself, only to have him do the same; the mark left upon the world. I tell them it strikes me as desperate: the behavior of people who feel so powerless that signing someone else’s property, even the public’s, is the only way to establish personal significance. They remain fascinated.
Have at it, kids. Get creative.
So I’ve proposed an alternative. The Rodeway Inn at the corner of Spring and Palm in La Mesa burned a few years back, but the sign remains, complete with movable type. HOME AWAY FROM HOME / NEW MANAGEMENT / COMP BREAKFAST / FREE WIFI HBO — two times, one on each side. Come rush hour, Spring is crammed with people trying to get onto the 94; lots of opportunity for attention. A chance to get your message out, because like art in an alley, the unusual placement just might be enough to break through the fog of the everyday. I even gave them a sample rewrite:
THE HEATHEN RAGE / O MEN O WOMEN BE FREE FROM SIN / COME AWAY FROM MAMMON / REPENT PRAY FAST