Graffitiâ€™s Gray Area a photo essay by Kristin Fouquet
In New Orleans anti-graffiti artist, Fred Radtke is commonly known as the Gray Ghost. This moniker is based upon his color of choice when blotting out graffiti found in public as well as private places. Through his non-profit organization, Operation: Clean Sweep (www.operationcleansweepnola.com) formed in 1997, he considers his actions a public service to eliminate graffiti.
These blank gray slates or gray canvases he has provided only serve to draw the graffiti artists to them. This phenomenon has prompted a local t-shirt company, Dirty Coast, to jest that the Gray Ghost is â€œthe most prolific graffiti artist in the city.â€?
The British street artist Banksy has painted over a dozen murals around New Orleans. In a statement released to The New York Times on August 28, 2008, he cited one of the reasons for creating them as a response to Fred Radtke. Banksy, along with many of his imitators, has used these gray areas. Many New Orleanians comb the city, hoping to spot them. This desire to find and photograph the work, therefore â€œcollectingâ€? it, brings up aesthetic questions about art, especially the transitory nature of street art. Some property owners have taken their own measure to preserve the work by covering it with Plexiglas.
After many years of support by police and politicians, the Gray Ghost was arrested by military police on October 23, 2008, for attempting to conceal an authorized mural. On March 24, 2009, a municipal court judge ordered Fred Radtke to stop covering up graffiti without the property ownerâ€™s permission. Only time will tell if these art wars in New Orleans will cease.
Kristin Fouquet writes and photographs from New Orleans. She is the author of Twenty Stories, a collection of literary short stories and flash fiction, by Rank Stranger Press. Her photography has been published in print and online. You are invited to visit her virtual home, Le Salon at http://kristin.fouquet.cc