The East Bay Express ran a great story on Berkeley's graffiti wars last week, exposing a secret conflict over public space that's been going on under our noses.
We know Berkeley's home to graffiti, stickers, and tags. But the Express outed a fascinatingly weird new figure in the mix: Jim Sharp, a.k.a SIlver Buff, a 62 year old man who goes around spraying silver paint over unwanted graffiti, stickers, and tags--increasing the amount of vandalized property, and spurring on counter-attacks. Sharp is an active member of the Berkeley community, and appears to be involved with a variety of local preservationist / anti-development causes. Suddenly, the presence of all that crazy silver paint I've been seeing around town makes sense.
Sharp's identity was discovered by Nathan Wollman and Max Good, the makers of Vigilante Vigilante, an upcoming PBS documentary on Berkeley's graffiti wars, in a tremendous piece of local detective work reported on in the article.
I have complicated feelings about graffiti and stickering. I love discovering unexpected underground art around town. It makes me pause and reflect, and helps me connect to what folks around town and thinking and feeling. The downside, of course, is the unauthorized takeover of public and private space. And for that matter, ugly graffiti or graffiti that's particularly disrespectful of others just pisses me off (most tagging falls in this category for me). I don't know that I can easily reconcile these two tendencies, but I won't apologize for appreciating good street art.
Life is easier when, like Jim Sharp, you can turn those grays into stark black and white. I don't know that I have an answer to urban visual pollution, but I'm pretty sure anti-graffiti vigilante vandalism isn't part of it.