If Don and Phil Everly are to be believed, a man in Kentucky sure is lucky to lie down in Bowling Green. Well, you can bet your dupa that man, woman, and child sure are lucky to wake up in Polish Hill–its spectacular vistas, its legendary city steps, its cattywumpus streets clinging to the hillside. To this list, you can add one more bonus. The residents of Melwood, Herron, and Brereton get the year-round, open-air, free-admission modern art walks of Bethoven and Finland Streets.
The works are created and maintained as a joint effort between some number of indefatigable spray paint-weilding taggers and what we imagine is a combination of city D.P.W. “graffiti busters” and concerned citizens taking matters into their own hands. This cat-and-mouse adversarial partnership ensures that every season the palette will shift, the structure will renew, and the layers will be reborn yet again.
The quirkiest thing about these artists is exactly what makes the whole thing work. A graffiti cover-up team could easily just invest in bulk orders of battleship gray exterior primer. End of story. That’s what it’s like along the jail trail, down in “The Run,” and a bunch of other places*. One clean sweep every spring. If so, there’d be one less blogger loitering at the top of the hill.
But it ain’t like that in Polish Hill. Instead, the clean-up crews (whoever they are) seem to use whatever extra paint they just happen to have laying around. I don’t see any green or black in these photos, but just about every other color in the spectrum is represented. The way these layers peel, flake, and erode suggests they may just be using leftover house paint, rather than some heavy-duty, element thwarting, highway-grade pigment.
Further, the painters use an irregular approach to the graffiti cover. Sometimes roughly squaring off big fields, others targeting individual spots just as needed. The effect is to give the abstraction a loose (if undefined) composition that wouldn’t have been there without the smaller details.
Maybe you have to mentally crop the big retaining wall-sized sections down into more digestible chunks, let the eye focus go a little soft, relax a little bit for it to make sense. But you really don’t have to stretch too far to imagine these pieces sitting side-by-side the great abstract expressionists. I imagine a Hans Hofmann or a Franz Kline or a Mark Rothko being quite pleased to share wall space along Bethoven Street.
* In fairness, the city uses a few different shades of white and gray and some of the results are still interesting…but they’re not like these.