You can never tell what response you’re going to get from a blog post. Mostly you get none at all, but the one I did a couple of weeks back titled The Walk of Self-Loathing - about my fascination with things written and painted on the ground - really seemed to hit the spot with a few readers.
Evidently a lot of people share my fascination. Jen Pedlar, my London walking guide pal, aka “The Queen of Archway” – says she refers to these marks as glyphs which undoubtedly they are, so I’ve adopted the term terraglyph – glyphs on the ground. Yes, you may use it, but you should also celebrate the source.
I had a dig through the Nicholson photo archive and found a few more of my pictures, which you see here, and I went out walking and photographed a few more. Once you start looking there’s no shortage. Some are art, some aren’t.
And I remembered I did once talk a man in my own street, from the department of water and power, who was painting marks on the road, prior to some roadworks, and I said to him, “Is that where you’re going to dig?” and he said “No, that’s where we’re NOT going to dig.” The marks indicated where the service lines are, so they have to do the digging around them.
And then Matthew Licht, now in Italy, but long an inhabitant of New York City, reminded me of something he used to see on the road surfaces of Manhattan in the 1990s (although they were in other places too – various parts of north and south America): The Toynbee Tiles, which looked like this, messages cut out of lino, and stuck to the road.
I’m pretty sure I saw these too when I lived in New York, but it’s possible this is false memory. In any case I feel a bit ambivalent about them. Some people find the Toynbee Tiles deeply mysterious and inscrutable and resonant – there have been at least two documentary films about them. But I don’t quite get it. I mean, I like them a lot visually but I’m not sure I find them all that mysterious, inscrutable and resonant. Perhaps I’ve lost my sense of wonder.
I mean they were obviously done by some guy - the best guess is that the guy Severino “Sevy” Verna from Philadelphia – and if he did all the tiles on his own, which seems likely then OK he must have been very active and very obsessive, but I guess I’ve been around long enough not to find obsession in itself all that impressive,
And message just doesn’t strike me as all that fascinating – Arnold Toynbee by way of Stanley Kubrick, telling us to resurrect the dead on Jupiter. Well OK, go right ahead.
Some of the tiles refer to media conspiracies, which seem less interesting still. But yes, I do like the way the tiles look, or rather looked, since they’re disappearing fast, if the haven’t gone already.
And then I heard from Megan Hicks who runs a website titled Pavement Appreciation, which describes itself thus “Pavement Appreciation: a step-by-step guide to asphalt graffiti showcases snapshots taken since 1999, mainly in Sydney and other parts of Australia, but also in Canada, China, Europe and New Zealand. This website is a component of a postgraduate research project undertaken by Megan Hicks in Sydney, Australia. The creation of the site was supported by a grant from the Macquarie University Postgraduate Research Fund.” The website’s divided into sections that include “Magic,” “Death,” “Resistance,” etc.
Asphalt graffiti is a good term too, and again some of these are aware of themselves as “art”, some are not, some are inscrutable, some less so. Here are three of my favourites.
You can check out the website here.