For Greek artist Vlassis Caniaris, the rough surface of his frottage mimicked the walls of his home city of Athens. His Homage to the Walls of Athens 1941–19… series predates the Greek military dictatorship of the late 1960s, but the experience of the occupation of Greece during the Second World War, followed by civil war, informed his concern for political freedom, resistance and social welfare. He stated explicitly that his assemblages were intended to, ‘re-create the image as well as the feeling/ impression of the walls of occupied Athens.’ 16 Akin to Tàpies’ repetition of the letter ‘A’, the letter ‘E’ recurs in Caniaris’ Walls of Athens series; its meaning is threefold, standing for EAM, the abbreviation of the National Liberation Front which was the principal resistance group against the Axis authorities, EPON (United Panhellenic Organization of Youth), and Ellas (Hellas), the ancient and modern name for Greece. The relevance of the artists included in Writings on the Wall reaches far beyond their art historical significance. Contemplating them in the context of today, works by these artists are now understood as providing generative ideas that are continually being reinterpreted and extended by contemporary artists who view city streets and walls as a continuum for a living artistic practice, a practice inaugurated by the artists in this exhibition.17
Brassaï, ‘Preface to the Catalog of my Exhibition of Graffiti in London (September 25–October 25, 1958)’, in Brassaï: Graffiti, trans. David Radzinowicz, Flammarion, Paris, 2002, p.142. 2 The first quotation is from an essay by Robert PincusWitten in 1968, the second from a review in 1953 by Lawrence Campbell, included in Nicola Del Roscio et al., eds., Writings on Cy Twombly, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich, 2003, pp.65 & 25. 3 Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 1991. 4 Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, trans. Robert Bononno, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2003, p.19. 5 Brassaï, op. cit. 6 Brassaï, op. cit., p.20. 7 Brassaï, Conversations with Picasso, trans. Jane Marie Todd, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1999, 27 November 1946, p.274. To keep a record of his discoveries, Brassaï started a notebook around 1950 for making sketches of the graffiti with their street addresses, and then returned to photograph them to capture the passage of time. See Brassaï, op. cit., p.153. 8 Norman Mailer, ‘The Faith of Graffiti’, Esquire, May 1974; The Faith of Graffiti, text by Norman Mailer, documented by Mervyn Kurlansky and Jon Naar, Praeger, New York, 1974.
‘The Language of the Wall’, in Brassaï, op. cit., pp.19–20. 10 Antoni Tàpies, ‘Communication on the Wall’, in Youssef Ishaghpour, ed., Antoni Tàpies: Works, Writings, Interviews, Polígrafa, Barcelona, 2007, p.116. 11 Brassaï, op. cit.; discussed in the Introduction, Chapter 1, ‘The Wall as Proposition’ and Chapter 2, ‘The Language of the Wall’. 12 Brassaï, Conversations with Picasso, op. cit., 10 July 1945, p.254; Brassaï records many conversations with Picasso about graffiti and city walls, and captures Picasso’s response to the book of graffiti photographs (May 1960). 13 Brassaï, op. cit., p.13. 14 Tàpies, op. cit., p.115. 15 Tàpies, op. cit., p.117. 16 www.documenta14.de/en/artists/22250/vlassiscaniaris. 17 See Martin Irvine, ‘The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture’, in Ian Heywood and Barry Sandywell, eds., The Handbook of Visual Culture, Berg, London and New York, 2012, pp.235–78.
Martin Irvine is a professor at Georgetown University, and the Founding Director of the graduate program in Communication, Culture and Technology. He is also the founder of the former Irvine Contemporary art gallery in Washington, DC.