On a winding street, in the early night, in southern Tel Aviv I stumbled across something akin to a faerie circle. Industrial lighting lined the streets, turning the night to day as music and beer poured out of the pub in the middle of the street. All along the buildings on either side, artists slashed at the walls with cans of spray paint, stencils, and paint brushes like demented pixies. The lights of cameras were perpetually flashing, igniting the air and making the images taking shape in front of you leap off the walls in curves and rivers of colors. Styles that I recognized taking shape right in front of me, allowing me to put faces to signatures that i’d seen across countless pieces of graffiti around Florentin. An easy who’s who in a few characters.
A few hours before I’m sitting in the loft of a tattoo parlor, riders on the storm filtering through the background and reverbing off of the wooden floors. Sitting there in a chair next to the artist I’m there to see, we talk about their art and about what they did, doing at the moment. We talk about how they got started through an ex-boyfriend, who still graffitis around, and about why they work on tattoos and why she works on graffiti. Ignoring the ringing phone on their desk I ask if they want to pick it up.
“No.” Seeing the tilt of my head they continue, “I rarely pick up the phone myself. If people want a tattoo they can wait for me to respond.” I ask if they prefer graffiti or tattooing.
“Neither. Both. How do I say it?” They lean back and think for a moment before looking
back at me. “It’s like tattooing is my wife, and graffiti is my affair.” We keeping talking and they describe the familiar adrenaline rush of spraying on a wall. The thrill of doing something you know is illegal, of looking out for the cops that might be turning just
around the corner. The hunger of transforming a regular wall into something incredible, creating beauty for beauty’s sake. As I get close to wrapping up I ask if they hope their work will live on. That someone would love and respect it enough to let it stay. They smile and tell me of course. They turn to the computer sitting on their desk and start looking through a facebook photo album of pieces they've done. They pull up a beautiful elephant face.
“This was my first piece ever. Someone came and put a no parking sign on it. Right in the middle of the face. You can still see the rest around the sign though. So maybe in five years I’ll come with a screwdriver and I’ll uncover the beauty. Then I’ll have my first art again for everyone to see and enjoy.”
I put on my hat and thank them for letting me talk to them when they mention something. “If you’re interested, there’s a meet up tonight for artists, 7 o'clock. All doing a bunch of stuff on the walls. You should stop by if you want to see some artists and talk to them.” I promise to stop by and slide my feet down the narrow stairs with a couple of interesting bits to gnaw on. The rust tin roofs reflect none of the sunlight streaming down across my eyes, but the walls of the shacks cut off the light as I begin to wander the labyrinth of shacks, letting my eyes roam over the graffiti. Memorizing names of artists I want to track down, forgetting half of them. Remnants of a rebellion that’s dying. Dying and being born again. Like a garden the colors on the wall bear the fruits of last year’s harvest, the drying of a mural, freshly painted over the winter snows that blanket everything in aching grey and white, and the explosion of color that appears with every fresh color in the empty spaces of the world around you, the renaissant spring of spray paint.
I check my phone and I see that it’s 7:00 o'clock. After the walk there fashionably on time. One relay past, feeling my head turn 360 degrees, 10 times trying to take all of the motion in. Paint spraying, cameras flashing, eyes turning. I step inside the open pub nearby, a place that’s issuing drinks fast enough to make sure that no one in the street goes without for even a second. A third of Guinness poured easy enough from a very pretty woman behind the counter and I can half turn to see the art going on through the glass windows behind me.
It really is wonderful. A blaring swing rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ain’t No Grave, pumping through the speakers while a mixture of more wealthy fashionables, and poorer co-conspirators mingle around. It’s great though, the best sort of art exhibit possible. The most fun. Like Halloween almost. You expect the ghouls and goblins to playing little tricks, splashing new colors and costumes on the buildings. Although all the artists are still wearing masks.
I’m not sure I can exactly describe it. But it was incredible, and I can’t wait to write it in full in the future. So long for now and good luck!