Un-Graffiti

"No Dogs!" painted on side of small factory in Millvale

“No Dogs!”, Millvale

If there’s anything that watching television has taught us, it’s that serial killers are everywhere. The Pacific Northwest, the beaches of Miami, Belfast, 1950’s London, you name it.  Hell, Chloe Sevigny turned up scads of them right here in Pittsburgh–imagine if she could have finished the season!

We street bloggers can learn a lot from the fictional hunting of these seemingly very normal monsters: trust no one, collect as much material evidence as possible, we all need to take a long look at our own mothers, and mainly that we’re always looking for patterns.

When The Orbit photography staff started going through their deep back-catalog of photos, one such interesting pattern emerged.  Photos of places that had all the hallmarks of graffiti: the crude, quickly-executed messaging, raw emotion, paint applied directly to wall surfaces.  But these weren’t graffiti in the typical sense; they all appeared to be committed by the owners of the buildings, too in-a-hurry or just too cheap to have a sign created, instead scrawling the messages directly on their own property.  We’re calling these “un-graffiti“.

"No Parking Open-Pantry Customer Only" painted on wall in Lincoln

“No Parking Open-Pantry Customer Only”, Lincoln

Not only were there no non-customers parking at the Open-Pantry, there were no customers, there was no open business, and there were no human beings anywhere to be seen for blocks around this former convenience store in Lincoln.

"PAULs" letters on side of building in New Kensington, PA

“PAULs”, New Kensington

PAULs is a little different in that the medium isn’t paint, but rather recycled letters from (likely) commercial signage, fixed to plywood.  So maybe this is more like “un-street art”, but I think it counts.

"Wrap Your Garbage" painted on side of building in Lawrenceville

“Wrap Your Garbage”, Lawrenceville

This message obviously predates some heavy-duty rewiring of a commercial building on Butler Street.  On this day there was no problem with unwrapped garbage.

"Quit Paintin...... Dumb Shit on Garage" painted on garage door in Bloomfield

“Quit Paintin…… Dumb Shit on Garage”, Bloomfield

This one is the mother of all un-graffitis: a homeowner’s desperate plea/demand for the scofflaws of his or her Bloomfield neighborhood to cease and desist their assault on this small cinderblock garage.  The request seems to have gone unheeded.

Update: since this photo was taken the entire garage was repainted a deep blue and I don’t recollect any new tags on it (yet).

The Chewing Gum Graffiti of Bigelow Blvd.

Chewing gum graffiti reading "Matson"

“Matson”

The intrepid cityscape blogger walks everywhere, even if he or she is just getting started in this game.  There’s just no other way to have one’s ear to the ground without keeping his or her feet on the ground (or something like that).

The walk from Lawrenceville to Oakland usually passes through Bloomfield, by way of the Millvale Street Bridge, but on the alternate route up and over the Bloomfield Bridge one gets to pass through the long stretch of Bigelow Blvd. at the northwest corner of Oakland: Zarra’s Italian restaurant, some new hotel, and The Royal York apartments (former home of Lord and Lady Lagrosa).

Out in front of The Royal York stands an old stone wall, hip high, with a curious assortment of graffiti, executed in chewing gum.  I’ve been following these expressions for the last several years.

There are a couple really interesting things about this particular strain of graffiti.  For one, it’s a really slow burn: it plays out over weeks, one stretch of gum at a time, rather than the more immediate gratification of spray paint “bombers” who get in and get out (seemingly) without time.  Second, what is this (gender neutral) guy going after?  Matson?  Who the hell is Matson?

Chewing gum graffiti reading "Canandaigua"

“Canandaigua”

Canandaigua?  I can Google with the best of them, and that particular search term turns up a small town in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, not far from Rochester.  The assailant’s home turf?  It seems like a possibility.  I like my home town just fine, but you’ll struggle to find me spelling out “Blacksburg” along any public surfaces, let along in chewing gum.

Chewing gum graffiti reading "Go Bills"

“Go Bills”

Chewing gum graffiti reading "Go 'Cuse"

This would ultimately read “Go ‘Cuse”

Go Bills and Go ‘Cuse.  Finally something to work with.  Here, we’ve either got somebody who is crazy about the legislative process or a big fan of western New York state college/professional athletics.  Now, I can’t cotton to any version of the Buffalo Bills since their horrendous move to the red fielded, aerodynamic buffalo, but I empathize with their haven’t-been-good-since-the-Reagan years, astroturf-enduring fan base.  Hell, maybe they could go north and win a Grey Cup, like Baltimore.  If your team strategy is exporting missionaries to Steelers country with cases of Doublemint, hats off to you.

Buffalo Bills old logo

Vastly superior old Buffalo Bills “bison” image

Allegheny Cemetery: The Shark Grave

Shark grave marker, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Lester C. Madden: Korean War veteran, Jaws fanatic

Allegheny Cemetery is as vast as the largest of Pittsburgh’s city neighborhoods, occupying some three hundred acres.  There are well over a hundred thousand permanent residents on site, some going back to the French and Indian War.  These include titans of industry, mayors and congressmen, silent film actress Lillian Russell, baseball great Josh Gibson, and the father of popular music, Stephen Foster.  With any luck, The Orbit will get to all these folks at some point in future.

Possums, squirrels, field mice, and scores of deer scurry about when the rare visitor is encountered.  Thousands of blackbirds haunt its treetops, moving in coordinated squadrons.  Its steep hillsides, dramatic views, and gentle sweeping passes rival any of the city’s great parks, but it’s rare to encounter even a single other living human, making it unique for its solitude.

As one may imagine, it also has many curiosities.  One of the most interesting (and out-of-place) is “the Shark Grave” of one Lester C. Madden (1931-1983).  I won’t pretend that I did any more digging than a Google search, which merely turned up the two facts that Mr. Madden was a veteran of the Korean War, and that indeed, he was a great fan of the 1975 blockbuster shark thriller Jaws. So much so, apparently, that he chose to spend his post-mortal coil eternity under a headstone in that film’s most indelible, terrifying image.  For you, Lester C. Madden, in the words of Jaws‘ old sea dog character Quint, “And so never more shall we see you again,” but we’ll enjoy your marker for a very, very long time.

Movie poster for the 1975 shark thriller "Jaws"

Movie poster for the 1975 shark thriller “Jaws”

UPDATE (3/2/2015): Mere days after this post was originally published, a suspiciously similar image appeared spray-painted on the wall of a Bloomfield garage.  Coincidence?

Graffiti on garage wall similar to the "Jaws" movie poster

Jaws graffiti, Bloomfield

UPDATE (5/3/2015): Even more new(ish) Jaws graffiti, this time wheat-pasted in Garfield.  What’s going on around here?

wheat paste graffiti of Jaws

Jaws III: Garfield