Dave the Chimp takes a little look at “the buff”, it’s uses and misuses, and where it can head in the future.
I used to live by a small park. Kids walked through the park to take a short cut to school. Drug dealers worked the same route. There was a garage there covered in tags. I had the idea to paint the garage with some friends, covering the tags with a brightly coloured mural. The idea was to make the space a little brighter, a little less like a spot where drug dealers would hang out. I made a fake letter from my local government authority giving me permission to paint the garage, just in case anyone asked, and set to work. This is the result:
One of my neighbours saw me painting and later told me she thought I was doing “community service”, which in England is an alternative to a prison sentence!
ESPO made his own “community service” projects as a way to get his name up, starting with his “Exterior Surface Painting Outreach” program in New York (those infamous shutters), and later with his “Community Service” project in LA, where he buffed graffiti in the way we are all familiar with today (blocks of colour) so that the buff-marks spelt his name.
What I like about this latter project is that it uses the anti-graffiti weapon as the weapon, like a martial artist using their enemies’ strength against them. It also sits nicely with the way graffiti is abstracted so that it becomes a code that can only be read by certain members of society. And it’s incredibly amusing.
Here are some photos of some abstract compositions I made earlier this year by adding my own buff marks to a wall that had been buffed, and other buff marks that I added to spell my name, much like ESPO did, though I created huge letters by only painting the negative spaces in the letters. I didn’t think much about this piece. I had a bucket of paint that was left over from another project I was working on at the time, and I just walked outside to see how I could use it, and this was the result. I’m sure with more thought better pieces could be created with this method. Feel free to take this idea further.
Another body of work utilising the buff was the Toasters‘ Bluff Buff, which inserted the shape of their toaster into areas of buff, as a comment on the inaccurate colours used to cover graffiti: here and here.
I painted characters so they looked as though they were behind areas of buff in Berlin and Hamburg, and turned the actions of the buffer into comedy:
And in this case, the original piece was buffed for real, so I pulled out a marker and turned the buff into fog:
Banksy took a shot at New Orleans famous buffer Fred Radtke AKA The Grey Ghost when he visited the city:
Mr. Radtke has taken it on himself to buff, with grey paint, any graffiti he sees, and even got himself in trouble with police by buffing a legal mural.
He is featured in an upcoming documentary, along with other buffers such as the “Silver Buff” from Berkeley, California, who believes there is too much “visual noise” on the streets. Watch the trailer here. Something I found interesting is that one buffer in the movie talks about how buffing makes him feel “in control” of life. This suggest that the actions of graffiti and street artists can make people feel like they have no control, making them victims. This is something to consider next time you hit the streets.
The buff itself can also be seen as art. Artist Cody Vanderkaay recreates the grey shapes left by buffers in the streets as “black boards” for people to draw on.
Photographer Chris Brennan documents the layers of colour haphazardly applied to the city walls to cover up layers of colour that were made with more thought. His photos often look like the work of abstract artists. One of the photos we see at that link puts me in mind of the work of Mark Rothko, though I doubt the buff in the street can ever be as effecting as being in a room with one of his huge, deep paintings.
Another weapon in the buffers armoury is the pressure washer, that cleans off graffiti. It can also be used to clean dirt off of walls, a fact ZEVS put to great use. Other versions of “clean graffiti” can be seen here. I’m sure we’ve all seen advertisers use this technique too, usually to place logos on city sidewalks.
It’s not unusual to see advertisers use street art techniques, just as it’s not unusual to see street artists fight back against advertising.
I like these pieces by the Thought Police member Eric Pentle, who will happily cut out your carefully constructed copy, or simply paint your whole billboard black. Unlike other artists, such as OX, that use advertising space as their canvas, there appears to be no clever message in Pentle’s billboards. He simply removes their ability to be effective. He is reacting to the lack of control he has in a world full of messages constantly being shouted at him, and thus makes his environment quieter. This is much the same as the Silver Buff does with graffiti. I find this very interesting, as I live in a country where I understand little of the language, and so advertising has no effect on me. It creates a more peaceful daily experience to not be told what to do all the time. See Pentle defuse more advertising here.
As we can see, the buff is nothing to fear. In fact, let us embrace the buff, and see where we can take it. Let us use this negative energy and turn it into a positive force.
One of the advantages of the buff is that, with a little effort, you can get the materials for the job for free. Try ESPO’s technique and tell the city you want to cover the graffiti in your neighbourhood, and are willing to work for free if they give you paint. Failing that, many cities have “paint recycling depots” where unused paint is taken to be disposed of. My friend Ekta in Sweden gets most of his paint for free by going to his local recycling depot and simply asking for the paint. Also keep your eyes open to see where legitimate painting work is happening. Brushes and rollers are often thrown away as people don’t want to make the effort of cleaning them. Soak them in water and the paint soon comes off. Or if they use an oil-based paint and you don’t want to mess around with turps trying to clean them, just wrap them in a plastic bag, they’ll be good for a few more days. Free brushes and rollers! Sorted!
As buffing requires little skill, this fun activity is open to everyone. No need to spend hours cutting stencils, screen printing posters, or learning how to draw – just grab your roller and a bucket of paint and make your mark in the world. The streets are a playground for everyone! I would suggest though that you have an idea before leaving the house, otherwise your efforts will be as destructive and unattractive as The Grey Ghost and his friends.
So come on kids, lets get buffing! Maybe by employing the buff as one of our weapons, applying it liberally around town, we can confuse city authorities so much that they start employing artists to paint art over all of the ugly buff marks in our cities. They can pay us to do what they paid themselves to undo.