The train I take to and from work goes through Newark, New Jersey, and at one point, there is a pretty interesting view where in the foreground, spray painted against an old industrial warehouse is a crazy patchwork of graffiti. Much of it complicated graphics and murals, the work of artists who have clearly put a lot of time and effort into their illegal trade. In the background, however, stand both the Prudential headquarters and the Prudential Center, a sports and entertainment complex with a massive LED screen that makes it feel, if only for a moment, that when you are looking out the window, you have tuned into a passing television channel.
Once you take notice of graffiti, it becomes impossible to ignore, and all the way from Hoboken down to the Jersey Shore, you see the same handles of graffiti artists on every bridge, span and overpass. Echoe. Falser. Tacoe. After a while, you begin to realize that these people are putting themselves at serious risk of getting plastered by a passing train, all for the sake of painting up something that could land them in jail. Why?
A documentary called Infamous profiled a half-dozen graffiti artists to see why they do what they do. After all, spraying graffiti of any kind is dangerous business. The cops don’t like you. Gangs like you even less. Breathing all those paint fumes is not good for you, nor is the constant crouching and working on tall precipices. And yet, there is this weird compulsion to do it anyway.
The movie draws no conclusions, but it seemed clear that these graffiti artists needed to create a legacy, even if only a criminal one, to convince themselves that they were not a waste of space.