Polar Bear

Santa Fe’s New Age Graffiti

Santa Fe may have invented its own genre of “new age graffiti,” giving further credence to Jeffrey Deitch’s statement for his Art in The Streets exhibition, that the global phenomenon is continuing to thrive and evolve forty years after its beginnings.

Jogging along the Arroyo Chamisa trail recently, I looked up hill next to the railroad track and saw the word “breathe” in quotes, stylishly spray painted on a metal train service building. Obviously it spoke to me, in my labor to surmount the hill, but how odd, I thought. What does it mean?, other than being a tag, to the person who wrote it? “Breathe!” is the yogic command, a contradiction in many respects, since breathing is involuntary, and since our version of yoga has to do, we think, with a lifestyle far removed from the military. I have heard, but haven’t researched, that some yoga was developed by and for Indian military training. Either way, it seems a stretch to imagine taggers as yoga practitioners. Maybe “breathe” is the mantra of a spray paint inhaling cult.

Another graffiti caught my jogger’s attention lately. On the sidewalk near the corner of St.Francis and Alameda is a screened imprint in blue, that repeats “share, share, share, share”. This time the words are mushy block letters,not in quotes,grouped in a free-form bunch. This graffiti has a more self-conscious arty vibe, but still expresses a surprising sentiment. It is placed next to the Santa Fe river and a beautiful weeping willow tree, thus causing me to wonder whether one of the allusions might be to the need to share natural resources.

It was after these two sightings, that I began to wonder if there is a very particular local graffiti thematic which could be called “new age” because it shares a concern with the natural, native, and spiritual worlds. Subsequently I have seen several new works which might fit this hypothesis. Two are on the same pedestrian bridge further south on the bike path. First is a scrawly but sophisticated, black marker drawing of a polar bear with one hand on a sack of ice and the other hand smoking. The text says “what/was is,/what/will/b/ufalo./k”. Original has no quote marks. Slashes show line breaks. Actually the world weary sophistication that allows for relaxed co-existence of opposing ideas, may here disqualify the provisional term “new age”. No simple-minded dichotomy of nature/culture here, nor any assumption of enlightened human intervention to restore a mythical balance. At the end of the bridge, evidently by another hand, is a solid black stencil of a landing crow.

Two other drawings on power line poles on Manhattan street may be by the polar bear author. They share the sketchy but assured, un-cliched hand. One is a near life size nun figure of girlish mien with a rosary, headdress, and long skirt. Seeing street art with Catholic imagery puts me in mind of artist/activist Sister Corita Kent. The other is drawn over a lozenge shaped green ground and depicts two wizened, stacked faces, skewered by a branch like form, suggestive of a totem pole pictorial organization.

Downtown just inside an alley off of Water street was a very ambitious, large multi-colored spray paint drawing of a kachina figure holding a spray can. This drawing had such authority, scale and pride of place that I subconsciously took it to be officially sanctioned and thus lolly-gagged, missing my opportunity to document it before it was painted over.

Meanwhile, a long spray painting of a mountain skyline with a teepee has cropped up along Santa Fe river. A real, or at least three-dimensional, teepee is in someone’s backyard right on the other side of the painted concrete block wall and a real mountain range lies to the East. Just what games of simulation are we playing here in Fanta Say?


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