Great graffiti is hard to measure. The rules are sketchy. If it's done legally, is it still graffiti? If the artist is paid to do it, is it still graffiti? What if it is protected behind a fence or advertises a business or promotes a product?
I did a bunch of research on this and I still can't answer these questions, but venturing outdoors is a pretty good start. So I drove around Dallas' more interesting neighborhoods in search of beckoning, spray-painted sides of buildings. Welcome to Graffiti Hunt.
Graffiti as an illicit activity is sexier than getting the blessing of the city or small business owner, but it will not be long for this world. I'm pretty sure the stuff I shot got somebody's official okay, and in more than one case, was flat-out commissioned. They are still vibrant additions to our visual culture, our own little Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Dallas edition.
1. Exposition Park, Haskell at Willow, a couple blocks down the street from Oliver Francis Gallery This area is stocked with images like the bulbous doggie drawn on this wall. All the figures seem to be nervously frittering away in the presence of that looming scary orange hand, which might be pointing up to the sky, or the tag above it, or simply stating that it is Number One, bitches. This is graffiti wall supreme and probably had multiple contributors -- look at all that tiny detail, stars, flowers, polka dots -- and its crowded room of googly-eyed, clenched-toothed figures.
2. The Cedars, Gould at Beaumont, next to Lee Harvey's Cedars, you disappointed me. A resident of the Cedars has bragged to me that his neighborhood has the best graffiti, and I did see some very cool stuff, and most of it was protected behind chainlink fences. I saw many white walls and passed an Institute for Economic Development. I saw a quasi-bohemian work painted on a wall but tagged "Catherine" and laughed out loud. The cops have a strong presence in the Cedars, to put it mildly, and I settled for this building, which I am told houses a T-shirt shop.
3. Oak Cliff, Davis at Cedar Hill, Artisans Collective building This wall seriously blurs the line between art and a traditional vandal's graffiti. These suckers spring from that blue wall like they're on attack -- sharp edges marking their territory about one car length apart from each other, and tentacle curves snapping that wall to life. There are letters in there somewhere, but the design alone is worth its stake at that location.
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4. Deep Ellum, Malcolm X between Main and Commerce Cute homage to gaming.
5. East Dallas, Roseland at Haskell This is the garage door of Lucky 7 Cycles. Maybe it qualifies as graffiti, maybe it doesn't, but I know it freaked me out when I first saw it, and it looks like it's dripping with blood, machismo, and confrontation. These three things combined scream "small business owner" when you're that close to Ross Avenue.