Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label GRAFFITI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GRAFFITI. Show all posts

Friday, June 10, 2016


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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I’m in the middle of doing one semester’s part-time teaching at Cal Arts (MFA workshop on the novel).  Maybe you’ve heard of it.  They say of themselves, “As an internationally recognized school for the performing and visual arts—film, theater, art, dance, music and writing—the CalArts artistic philosophy places an emphasis on an exploration of new paths beyond conventional boundaries.”  That sounds like me, for sure.

Anyway, Calarts is thirty miles north of Los Angeles, set in the middle of a green, rolling campus and the first time I saw it I thought I, “Wow this place is huge, there’ll be so many opportunities for walking around and drifting and exploring it.”

I’m “mentoring” a couple of students and I have even been known to employ the peripatetic method when discussing things with them. I think they find it winningly eccentric, or at least eccentric. 

But the odd thing and the interesting thing is that once you’ve walked round the campus even once you realize it isn’t nearly as big as you thought it was, and also although it certainly does have elements that are green and rolling, an incredibly high percentage of its acreage is given over to parking lots.  This seems fair enough in one way.   You’re not likely to get there without a car and you have to have somewhere to park the damn thing once you get it there. 

The campus walk will also show you that there really aren’t very many people walking around, and the few that are most likely are walking from the car to their main building or vice versa.  

On my first cursory stroll I did see what looked like an intriguing path, running through a hillside on the edge of the campus, and I saw that some graffiti had been painted on it – a face and a penis – not precisely “beyond conventional boundaries” but hey, street art gets everywhere.

So last week, before I started teaching, I decided I’d try to walk along this path.  The first, and in some ways the last, problem was finding where it started.  I didn’t much want to scramble down the hillside, if only because I thought it’d be a terrible sweat to scramble up again.

I poked, I walked, I ambled around in the scrub and finally found the start of what proved not to be a “path” after all.  It looked like this:

And it wasn’t exactly an optical illusion, more a trick of perspective, the thing I was looking at wasn’t a path at all, it was part of a concrete drainage system. And it wasn’t flat, the way it had looked from the top of the hill, but it ran at an angle, which is no doubt what you need for water runoff along a concrete drainage system.

Well I was glad to have “solved” that problem though as a walking expedition it was a bit of a bust, and of course it meant there were even fewer opportunities for walking the campus than I’d thought.  I went off to teach my class and finally found some walkers; my own students.

Later in the week, after some discussion about Thomas Bernhard, one of them

sent me this passage from Bernhard's Wittgenstein’s Nephew:

“I do not care for walks either, and have been a reluctant walker all my life. I have always disliked walking, but I am prepared to go for walks with friends, and this makes them think I am a keen walker, for there is an amazing theatricality about the way I walk. I am certainly not a keen walker, nor am I a nature lover or a nature expert. But when I am with friends I walk in such a way as to convince them I am a keen walker, a nature lover, and a nature expert. I know nothing about nature. I hate nature, because it is killing me. I live in the country only because the doctors have told me that I must live in the country if I want to survive—for no other reason. In fact I love everything except nature, which I find sinister; I have become familiar with the malignity and implacability of nature through the way it has dealt with my own body and soul, and being unable to contemplate the beauties of nature without at the same time contemplating its malignity and implacability, I fear it and avoid it whenever I can. The truth is that I am a city dweller who can at best tolerate nature. It is only with reluctance that I live in the country, which on the whole I find hostile.”

Here’s a picture of Thomas Bernhard walking, or doing something anyway.