Illustrated City Part 9

Neski Fenced In

The graffiti pictured above is one of many made by a Montreal tagger. There really isn’t much to say about Neski other than that he doesn’t seem to have any ambition beyond tagging. He’s been active in the urban bombing environment since at least 2005, seems to mainly focus on tagging trains and although what he does is actually vandalism he does exhibit an impressive sense of colour, form and control in his line work. In recent years he has been threatened with harm for cross-tagging over graffiti produced by members of the tagging crew known as KP10. They may sound like veil juvenile threats that won’t amount to anything but they should be taken very seriously. Tagging seems to be practiced as an obsessive lifestyle by an unknown sum of graph-writers whose mental and moral faculties are severely askew. There are taggers who are willing to be jailed, fight, kill and die for their tags. Yes, it’s arrant stupidity but tagging-related violence is a very real worldwide concern.

On November 14 of 2009, a 19-year-old tagger named Brian Kachur, known on the streets as Razor, went out with three people to engage in his usual graph-writing activity. He didn’t make it back home. He was murdered in Wilcox Park of Montreal’s Verdun neighbourhood. Can’t be certain if he was done in by any of the three others he went out with but his killers were two other taggers aged 14 and 15. They killed Kachur solely for cross-tagging over their tags. They beat him with a brick and threw him in the St-Lawrence River.

The media says that the coroner’s report declared that the blows to Brian’s head were severe enough to have killed him but his actual cause of death was drowning after he was thrown in the icy river while likely unconscious.  Three to five months later, the RCMP arrested the two murderers.

On March 7, 2011 the accused appeared before the court, now aged 16 and 17, for the last time in this trial. The 17-year-old who pled guilty to manslaughter received the maximum sentence, and his 16-year-old accomplice was sentenced to three years in youth detention (the Crown attorney was pushing to try both as adults).

This is by far the worst aspect of visual art and clearly worse than the worse tag.

After the sentencing, there were people; obviously graph-writers, who declared the murder as the ultimate reason why others ought to not cross-tag; not that no one should vandalize anyone’s property in the first place. That’s the illogic we’re dealing with but yes, we already know this.

Now, while Brian’s grieving mother Theresa Brochet and his sister Laurie-Ann have lost a son and brother, and two other sets of parents get to experience all of their hopes and dreams for their own sons lives be dashed away, this event will probably fade from our collective consciences as a minor footnote in history.

I suspect that there’s a psychology and sociology theory somewhere to say that people don’t rail against this sort of thing because taggers always keep themselves in the shadows. The taggers make it too easy to forget that there are human faces to this tragedy so we relegate it as not a high priority concern. We presume that graffiti-related murders are only isolated occurrences of someone else’s punk kid getting killed by as yet someone else’s punk kid, and winding up briefly mentioned a few times on the six o-clock news. I’m definitely in the same boat as everyone else on this one. I just don’t have a clue as to how to confront the issue.

Okay I get it, the two boys were angry that someone defaced their tag; not unlike how they deface others legally bought and paid for property, but why kill? If that’s appropriate conduct, then Mr. Jones has every right to come out with his shotgun and blow the head off of the kid who spray painted a tag on the man’s fence, right? Wrong. I don’t know why so many people think that killing is a panacea for all of their problems.

Even though I’m a dedicated visual artist willing to take some risks for producing work that I’m happy with, I’m certainly not willing to put my life and freedom or those of others in jeopardy for what I do. Art is so personal to me that I can’t do it without first stopping to consider that while I could produce something, should I produce that thing.

In both my adolescence and adulthood I have made paintings and drawings that have been vandalized by others. On some of those occasions, it was done right in front of my face. Oh yeah, it made me mad as hell but to respond with violent vengeance was unconscionable to me, even when I was a kid.

What is it that sets me apart from those taggers? Is it my upbringing? Do they not have elders that raised them to cherish life and respect other people’s property? Has a sense of conducting themselves in ways that do not bring shame to their family names not been instilled in them? Perhaps their parents truly have made every feasible effort to ensure that their children were properly adjusted but their children are just the types that are determined to behave like human garbage. What would their parents say?

How do you prevent this?

What about the taggers, seeing that their on the frontline of this? What do they suggest should be done about it?

14 thoughts on “Illustrated City Part 9

  1. This is a moving post. Our society has been stripped of dignity, honor the simple value of life. Our children, whether they were taught or not seem to not value life. I don’t understand the reason for taking a life as it doesn’t remedy the situation. I ask the same question what is the difference between those who commit these senseless acts and those who don’t? These individuals come from all walks of life. It just saddens me that our society has come to this; so desensitized.

    • It’s an arrant waste! So many of these people, most of them being juveniles, have colossal artistic talent. People spend insane amounts of money in colleges and universities to learn things like colour theory and application, spacial tension between typeface characters, image scale, the various types of perspective and how to express what’s on their minds artistically. All things that these graph-writers do spontaneously. Yet these taggers continually fail to put their amazing and underappreciated skills to real good use for themselves and others.

      More often than not, they restrict their own efforts to self-delusion, self-destruction and the obliteration of communities that have people in them who want desperately to help them reach a better way of life with their art.

      It’s crazy!

  2. That’s an ok piece, but I prefer when they make elaborate grafitti paintings.
    At some places in Oslo they have legal grafitti walls, but you can see the effect on the surrounding neighborhoods: there are small tags (usually just their nicknames) on the nearby buildings & shop windows.
    Sometimes it seems like they have adopted the behavior of dogs and that they are marking their territory on every corner.

    • I know what you mean. There are street artists, who have a real history of doing unethical tagging, who can also do some seriously brilliant work. A blog I follow recently featured a perfect example of just what can be achieved:

      Many taggers; however, limit themselves to the mediochre writing of street names either as Neski has done on the rail tanker above or worse, little scribbles or stick letters. This is the stuff that they expect to get respect for, and wipe each other out over.

      • The tagging I was thinking about isn’t like Neskis above here, but just a little scribble on a wall or on the seats of the subway – like dogpiss on a street corner.

        Thanks for the link, great mural.

  3. a poignant piece. i have asked myself the question about grafitti on occasion – especially when travelling by train in Europe, which reveals much of the tagging. and the question is: is grafitti vandalism or is it art vandalism? and i think yes, it is. both.

    • oops! typing too fast!!
      the question was supposed to say: is grafitti vandalism or is it art? and the answer is as indicated above: i think yes, it is. both. 🙂

      • Oh yes.

        Highly controversial, not one of the official fine arts, just a part of street art which is on the periphery of the fine art realm and as much a source of significant problems as it is a source of brilliant aesthetic inspiration, expression and healthy discord to societal conformity.

        It’s not all likable; some of it deserves our admiration while a lot of it is worthy of our scorn. It’s definitely art.

  4. hi.
    i hope u be health and happy my friend.
    one of the problems of our world this is that we Accuse others beceause we think they’re on mistake and we’re on the right.
    but it is not.
    when we have a wrong idea but we think we are on the true.
    this is the greatest problem of people.
    we should not do this.
    you right.
    thank u for this post.

    • It’s good to listen to the established media. There is still value in it but we still have to be careful. Like any institution in existence, the media is run by people. People are flawed; therefore, even the media can be corrupted by people who run it with their own agendas. It becomes too easy to fall into their web of lies about all sorts of communities, from neighbourhoods to entire nations.

      We imagine enemies where there aren’t any and needn’t be. We nurture our prejudices to label people we don’t know as foul, and we ally ourselves with factions who relish the spread of hatred by any and all means. We can get quite lost.

      There is a way out. Question the media and any information source that seems to be a reliable source. Don’t be lazy, get out there and do the research yourself to see if someone’s word is indeed the truth. It might be but you’ll never know for certain until you start digging yourself.

      I’m a visual artist. If I say anything on my blog or main website that seems questionable or even sensible, still go and do research on it. Learn for yourself what is fact from what is fiction, and always remember that somewhere there are lives that are impacted by whatever is going on.

      Thanks for writing in. I wish you the very best.

  5. Responding to your criticism of NESKI and his work-you say he’s got skewed morals and ideals. That just shows your bias and complete non-understanding of the people of the hiphop culture. Our view are not your, we don’t think like you. To us he is a hero for putting up hiphop art in the world of the racists who try to destroy us, because we are ‘NOT A PEOPLE’. you would never talk about a Muslim’s art that way, or a ‘Black” mural. And to say it’s not that good, if you were somehow able to sneak in there and do the work without getting arrested, which I guarantee you don’t have the skills or willpower to do, it would LOOK LIKE HELL. he has great technical ability, and if you don’t have equal ability you HAVE NO RIGHT TO SPEAK ABOUT HIS ART. I guarantee you wouldn’t talk like that to his face……………………………..

    • Now, this is a most fascinating response.

      Firstly, hip hop most certainly belongs in the art world. It is art. Secondly, I’m afraid that you’ve missed the point of this post entirely. This post is NOT a criticism of Neski’s or anyone’s art; I even point out the quality of Neski’s work. It is an objective examination of the thought processes of certain – not all – individuals associated with graph writing subcultures in many cities around the world, not just Montreal. Primarily the senseless killing and dying in the name of graffiti, and secondarily the vandalism aspects of some of it, which I explore more deeply in other posts of the Illustrated City series on street art and graffiti.

      I must disagree with your argument that the violence is a necessary part of Hip Hop subculture, and therefore, also graffiti subculture. I suspect that I’m older than you. I can tell you that Hip Hop is only slightly younger than me (born in 1970) and a cultural extension of rap which is older than me (rap has been around since the 60’s, there are still a lot of people for and against rap that don’t know this, and worse, don’t care). Violence has never been an ingrained and inseparable cultural characteristic of Hip Hop. It has increasingly imbued Hip Hop since the 80’s due to negative influences merely assumed to be part of the subculture like street gangs, inner city African-American and Latin-American organized crime syndicates, racial stereotypes from narrow-minded North American suburbanites and music moguls who financially capitalize on the marketing of these negative stereotypes in rap.

      Additionally, not even graffiti is a fixture of Hip Hop. It is a cultural anthropological fact that graffiti and Hip Hop are separate subcultures. Graffiti has been in existence for thousands of years. It would do a lot of artists a lot of good to understand this much of their art history (see here for starters: Today’s graph writers are actually putting a contemporary spin on a very old practice that could become, if adequately honed, an artist tradition and/or movement. Those who accept the violence as just the way things are in the subculture are not doing graffiti, their individual work or themselves any favours.

      There is a long list of Hip Hop artists, both visual and performance artists, who have tried to keep the legitimacy of Hip Hop alive through their art. It has not been easy as there is far too many who buy into the negativity and shallow-mindedness and ruin Hip Hop. Some of the abusers dare to tout that they are celebrating Hip Hop, and they’re liars. They aren’t helping anyone or anything but themselves. The biggest victims of this arrant stupidity are the Kachur’s and killers who fail to separate the stains on Hip Hop subculture from the legitimacy of Hip Hop.

      I do hope that you take the time to re-read this post, hopefully this time without being automatically adversarial and assuming that it is about cutting Neski’s work down. If you do, seeing that he’s still among the living, you will come to realize that I would love to say to his and any other’s faces, instead, that I personally want to see them remain alive, healthy and nurturing their God-given talent for the visual arts. Not senselessly murdered off like Kachur was, or convicted of the crime like the accused have been. As you indicate that you are an advocate for Neski, I imagine that this makes sense to you.

      Seeing that you’re up for challenges, I challenge you to go to Kachur’s mother and sister, and the families of the accused (I suspect that you’re in Montreal), privately tell them about Neski and your thoughts regarding Hip Hop subculture, and ask them if they think that killing in the name of graffiti is a proper way of life and death for Neski. If they say “NO”, are you really going to argue with them?

      Finally, I am a dedicated visual artist, as I have said many times throughout this art blog. I have just as much right as you do to discuss art, and its place in our lives. Even if I wasn’t an artist, I’d still have the right because art is about the human experience because life requires art.

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