Every city has graffiti lurking and the range of art is tremendous. Sometimes a piece will linger in your mind while you try to decipher it, and it is during these moments that you are most human.
While I am neither an art critic nor graffiti artist, I will attempt to be a little of each. This miniature list is designed to be a starting point, not an epilogue. In no particular order these are ten paintings I have come across in Taichung that defy logic and may waylay your consciousness too.
It hangs under a rail overpass, ready for wear. Immaculately tailored, it beckons one to try it on. Rather stylish; karaoke-chic. Or perhaps it will stay on the hanger, forever yearning to formalize even a single occasion. By flattening it against the wall into two dimensions, the artist has rendered it inaccessible – to don it the observer must step inside the wall.
A concise ode to all the Clonely Planet readers who brought at least one nice suit when they moved to Taiwan because experts deemed it mandatory.
This garment is like a shiny river rock reflecting the passing vehicle lights. It never blows in the wind as the countless engines scream past it; the elbows never even slightly akimbo. White shirt-cuffs are ready to be locked around your wrists. It’s a jacket offering male viewers the authority of instant membership. Female viewers may see a cracked glass ceiling just below it. It alternately dreams at night of being a Thriller or Bad original, but wakes up daily to jet black with no accoutrements at all.
Drink No Evil
This totem pole of three faces looks every bit like a short stack minus the maple syrup. Pigs in a blanket and a tall glass of milk. “See no evil, hear no evil, drink no evil.” The monochromatic gray concrete color-scale heightens the brightness of the milk, if that is in fact what they are all drinking. The top head is sporting a mustache to make any bobbie jealous. The middle face can hardly contain its pleasure and blissfully dribbles away like a baby. The bottom face is in mid-gulp, hoisting the seemingly shared mug with no compunction. It evokes a study of anthropology – only Goldilocks could ascertain if the communal milk is too hot or too cold, but she’s at the Korova milkbar getting juiced up on Moloko Vellocet.
Amid a chaos of matrix color stripes and hyper-enhanced textures, four faces intrude. Three are joined in a feathery theater-mask dance, a fourth face breaks away to the right. From one perspective, the faces appear to be peering out through a time tunnel which led them to this very building. At any moment, a hand might poke through, and then perhaps a whole body. Rapid dimensional play is certainly at work here, with pastel wormholes and LED gravity beams pulling and transposing the surface of the mural every which way. Not only do the faces evoke masks, they also have disguises sewn on in parts. Truly hectic photorealism might be one of the reasons this work hasn’t been painted over by the city. The facial expressions are at once gripping and compelling. Ambition accomplished, there is a ghost in the machine.
It’s a muscle. It’s pumping for you. It can power a body, a group, even an entire city and it’s there for you twenty-four hours a day – a reminder of just how cool your heart really is. At first glance it appears to be weathered, but a closer look reveals this to be meticulously intentional. A fierce avocado-green gives it a numb frostbite flavor. The heart almost appears diseased, like a Cronenberg jelly-pod lifted from a Naked Lunch hallucination. The scale creates a feeling of intimacy with the image. Basquiat fans eat your, um, nevermind.
The lower face could resemble an oil barrel, full to the brim with its non-renewable cargo. And the smaller fellow hot-tubbing in this petrol, albeit somewhat moodily, defiantly refuses to exhale. But you would feel hostile too if someone had bunked up your face. Maybe the second head symbolizes standing on the shoulders of giants as it were, artistically cannibalizing the existing record and burning bridges with books of matches. Looked at another way, the large cylinder is a spray can, topped by a human head. The artist is inhabiting his medium by literally becoming his paint.
Here we have two faces, one gray and one red. Perhaps the gray imprint is a spirit which has just hopped the psychic MRT for an out-of-body stroll. Cabin Fever. The departing ghost identically resembles the self, a shadow of a whisper. The visage that remains is vivacious and full of life – flesh and blood that can adapt just fine to the intellectual and moral implications of a soul on strike.
The look projecting from the face is accepting, tranquil, completely at peace. A sanctuary. The gray stencil truly fuses with the fence’s attitude, while the orange is too vivid for the environment and is endured by its neighbors rather than embraced. Can the observer reunite the two opposites. Have they separated forever, or just for an instant? What mystery is concealed by such placid waters?
He seems to be hanging on for dear life as though the border between matter and anti-matter is disappearing into a photon milkshake and he forgot to bring a straw. This piece contains an Edvard Munch engine cased in a late-model ‘economic summit protest’ exterior. Forget existential nausea, this particular screamer looks ready to fight. On a more mundane level, traffic does pass and this painting just wants to show approval. Maybe this is a frustrated teacher who decided not to fail anyone this term. Or is it civilization that will pass? Ozymandias in the dust and a Sphinx with no face remind us of this fragile human transience. An armored analog to the Sixties flower child placing a daisy in a rifle barrel? We paved paradise to put up a six-lane expressway.
A surveillance camera comes into contact with a being of light who exhibits a contrite model grace. Is this the way we must bear our burdens? Are security cameras really everywhere – even heaven? Or did this angel descend to earth to observe these ubiquitous observers?
The celestial traveler is presented in stunning detail, earning the right to be hanging in a gallery as opposed to crumbling away on the side of a bridge. Can the camera see the sin within the holy? They almost appear to be in conversation, this metal post and this apparition. Each picking up tricks from the other, like convicts sharing a cell. Or perhaps this piece tells us that every act is divine – the camera sees all and all is absolved in the process.
He confronts you. A face so familiar. An expression so vain and dignified and yet strangely humble at the same time. Suddenly you feel doubt. Can you name his date of birth, his accomplishments? This royal face hides in a small alley off Taichung Port Road – the Appian Way of Taichung. He wouldn’t reside anywhere else, his pride demands it. A mini-mausoleum vibe resonates out of the wall here, a stone’s throw from Boardwalk and Park Place.
The toy-store blues of his face clash hard against tree-green incidental borders, creating an almost day-glo contrast. It vibrates the auras of customers at nearby tea shops. Get with the program. Arch villain? Aging politician? Billionaire recluse? Paint over him here and he’ll just pop up on another wall the very next day – invincible.
Now this is ecstasy in real life. Scientifically and medically accurate, this piece burns like Uranium 235. A lack of ninety-degree angles makes this organically swim around in your field of vision. The buzzing electricity reverses current as often as your perspective changes. The brighter shade of pink in the middle emphasizes depth and suggests a three-dimensional creation. It can’t possibly be digital in origin, it is too chaotic. But the level of twisted detail implies that there is no way it can be man-made either. This shows how words really come alive. Take away the structure, the code and the formula, and all you have left is the flow. The motion of thought expressed in total singularity regardless of decipherability to the untrained eye. This piece is an acid test. Are you a hater, or have you learned this new dendrite language? This is many levels advanced over scrawled nicknames on subway walls and doors. Prisons and holding cells often use color to achieve psychological goals. This shade works like two Valium even as red fiery wisps tickle the top layer.