Inspiration for writing—and other arts—often comes from the arts themselves, in addition to real life. I’m having a blast doing research for my novel-in-progress, especially learning about graffiti. In the case of my main character, “Mare,” who is emerging as a much more multi-dimensional persona than I had first envisioned, inspiration has come to me over the past few weeks in expected and unexpected places.
First, the expected: the internet is full to overflowing with great sources on the history of urban painting, and I’ve loved learning about Lee Quinones, Banksy, Kami and others. It’s also been fun to learn how to make your own graffiti ink and fill old aerosol cans to use for your masterpieces. Since I’m setting part of the book in the early 80s, I loved discovering the part that urban painting played in favorite old MTV videos, like the one of Blondie singing “Rapture” with Fab 5 Freddy, while Lee Quinones and Jean-Michael Basquiat make cameo appearances, throwing up graffiti on the walls behind Debbie Harry, who is dancing along the street, passing by Uncle Sam, a Native American, and a goat. Great stuff.
Last week while I was visiting the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, I found a DVD in the gift shop—the Arthouse Film, “Next,” a primer on urban painting by Pablo Aravena. I’ve been watching it on my computer, pausing it to chase various names and events through cyberspace for more information from time to time. I’m fascinated by the culture that birthed this art back in the 70s and 80s, and also by its resurgence now.
And then there’s the unexpected: I’m reading Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel, Backseat Saints, (watch for a review in the future!) and was surprised to learn that Rose Mae—her main character—discovers some important secrets in “code” hidden in graffiti that’s been thrown up on ten old Cadillacs, half-buried in a wheat field outside Amarillo, Texas! I love Joshilyn’s blog, “Faster than Kudzu”. When she was doing research for “Backseat Saints,” she did a post once about going to a shooting range to learn to shoot a gun, because her lead character was going to be familiar with guns. So, I’m trying to learn a bit about doing graffiti.
First I went to some online sites that show you how to make bubble letters, for tags. I’m working on creating one for Mare, whose graf name is going to be “Cherry Bomb,” kind of a double-meaning name, since graf art thrown up on walls is sometimes called a bomb. This is a very early attempt—I’ve got lots to learn.
Which brings me out of cyber-space and back into the real world, where I’m getting a strong urge to go out and throw up a tag with a can of spray paint. But since I’m not part of the urban painters culture, I’ve got to figure out where I can do this without getting arrested. Sure, the risk is part of the thrill, but I think I’ll leave the thrill to Mare and find me a safe little wall where no one will care….