Visual Art Commentaries

Graffiti Bombs in Overtown
VIRGINIA HOFFMAN, SRQDaily December 12, 2011 

Picture Berlin, the most bombed out city in WWII Germany, home of anonymous artist MTO and the infamous “Wall”: an icon to the dichotomy between its graffiti side in the western world and solid gray eastern side. The downfall of the Berlin Wall caused an international influx to the city layered in decades of graffiti and socials issues indicative of post war culture. Graffiti bombs are part blessing and part problem to Berlin officials; some of the graffiti contains illegal gang tags that merge with the street art culture. We have the same problem with the artist MTO’s recent work in Sarasota – the “Fast Life” mural created as part of the “Going Vertical” portion of the Chalk Festival. The phrase “Fast Life” has for decades been slang for the road to prison or premature death and is the subject of numerous Gangsta Rap songs. The “Fast Life” grey scale graphic (or “Fat Lie” depending on how you cock your head when you view it) has been a bomb of sorts in Sarasota. It is not that it flops as art, but it serves as the only public relations failure of the Chalk Festival. The few who mentioned a gang feel are the small voices of the original Overtown residents the original black neighborhood of Sarasota that became gentrified into the Rosemary District. Those quiet voices have been neutralized by the roar of a popularity contest via a Facebook social network effort by Chalk Festival founder Denise Kowal saying: “I have issues with any image being robbed of its intent and meaning, and basically being hijacked by a specific thought or stereotype.” Talk about pious blather! The mural correction (adding text so the mural reads: “It’s a Fast Life let love express it”) is as thin as spray paint because real art will stand on its own and should not be altered with saccharine sentiments. Kowal’s slogan added to the graphic does not reveal that this was intended to be temporary. Defending it as high art seems hypocritical. So who robbed whom? Meanings of words do change with time. “Bad” now means “good” and “Sick” means “really good.” Kowal want us to believe “Fast Life” is a positive message. Perhaps when more people tattoo it on their knuckles, its meaning will change, but for now we must acknowledge that the phrase “Fast Life” refers to a life that lands one in an early grave or prison. We don’t know if MTO gave permission to alter the piece. He was asked this, and to also defend his art, but relayed “I look what’s going on and what’s said. The reactions and debates are too interesting to stop them now.” Glad we can entertain you.