In the film the Horse’s Mouth, the main character, an artist named Gully Jimson, has an obsession with blank walls. To him blank walls have an unseen character. They hold potential for something that is not already there. He perceives blank walls as holding a personality that has just not had the chance to be revealed yet. In the end, the urge to “reveal” the hidden character of a blank wall is so strong that it leads him to destroy a benefactor’s home, all in the effort to paint a wall.
This film may promote an overly romanticized view of the artist as genius, but the urge to decorate or mark a blank wall is not foreign. (Parents with the responsibility of scrubbing crayons off the walls know this.) There is something disturbing about a blank wall. It can be impersonal and overbearing. Through marking it and disturbing the perfection, the wall is somehow rectified.
Graffiti has a long history that dates back to the ancient classical period. For thousands of years, people have been writing their names, poems, statements, and pictures on walls. And interestingly the subject matter has not changed much within that time. It still is centered upon self declaration, love, politics, and pop culture.
Blank walls tend to not be encouraged in neighborhoods because of the frequency of them being subjected to graffiti. However, there is a growing trend to accept graffiti into the urban fabric. Examples like Lennon’s Wall in Prague or the Berlin Wall show a city’s encouragement of the activity. In many communities, people are encouraging local graffiti artists to disrupt the blank walls on their private property. The attractive thing about a these blank walls are their potential and the tendency they have to reflect the attitude of the community around them.
There are obvious impracticalities and downsides to blank walls and the uses that they are sometimes subject to. But there is value in the application of these walls. They become a material that can be adapted by the people who come in contact with it daily. The digital realm come to mind, with personal walls that we graffiti on, sometimes daily. It would be interesting to explore the possibilities of allowing city-dwellers to affect their urban surroundings through “digital graffiti”.