Memorials to the potential energy of spray paint in public bathrooms

Cement cast sculptures of outdated aerosol cans, July 2014.
Cement cast sculptures of outdated aerosol cans, July 2014.

At the age of 11 I fell in love with graffiti. It was the mid 1980’s in NYC and it was a great time to be a kid being shuttled back and forth from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Brooklyn to Queens, Queens to the Bronx, the Bronx to Staten Island, and Staten Island to Long Island. I had family in each borough, and I always loved those journeys for a lot more reasons now than I knew at the time. They were multi-sensory, stimulating inspirational portals of awareness. I became hyper aware of the art on the streets and I wanted to participate. At 12 years old I was far too scared to put the works directly onto the streets at the time, but I wanted to learn that style, and I began writing. Twenty five plus years later, the same energy still inspires my work, but an evolution has taken place. Its not just in my own work, the whole medium and context of graffiti as a subject has expanded. My new installation dictates to me how times have changed within my own public art practice as well as a metaphor for how graffiti is changing. Of course there are tons of amazing artists worldwide who have taken the traditional letter styles and characters to amazing new levels of style and execution. I will always be a fan and a lover of that form of graffiti, but I do see and have desires to communicate the evolution of graffiti as a subject itself.


The sterile white glossy public bathroom walls call out to writers. It begins in your junior high school’s bathrooms and transcends right through to the bus or train you took to high school and into the rest of the world. To this day I still love finding the tags of my friends still holding up in public bathrooms. Mostly in bars and pubs but some of these tags have been in place for over 15 years. In this context, of course I could have pulled out a marker and tagged this space, but that is not in my interest the same way as it was years ago. My perception of could be done in the space has changed. With this piece, it is my intention to evoke the memories of the past, while suggesting what could have happened if the cans were real and full of paint. This installation sets the stage for both. The walls are clean and free of any markings, yet the very present dormant outdated cement cans remind the viewer what could have happened in this space, and that a graffiti artist wanted to remind them of that. The casts are not adhered to the floor, they can be picked up and taken. This puts the viewer in a position to make a few choices about the work and hopefully how they may obtain a piece of art. In this case it will not be through a gallery, art dealer or an auction, there is a whole other impulse to deal with.


Find these cans if you can. My cement works always get left behind, they are easy to transport, anonymous and unsigned.


Photos by Ryan Seslow

Teaching graffiti history and practice


Ryan Seslow is an artist and professor in New York. I asked him to write this guest post about his experiences bringing street art and graffiti into the college classroom. Hopefully it will help to inspire others to do the same. – RJ

Street Art & Graffiti has entered the college and university level. It was long overdue. At both Long Island University (Post campus) and this coming year at CUNY York College students earn 3 credits towards their degree requirements in the areas of art history, studio art, or as an art elective. “The History & Emergence of Street Art & Graffiti” is the title of the course that I created and began teaching at LIU Post in 2010. One may think that the course would have trouble with enrollment at a University on the North Shore of Long Island, but this is quite the contrary. The course has booked solid every summer since it has been offered. I started teaching at the college level in 2003 simultaneously between 4 colleges and universities here in the NYC area.

Bringing this subject and content to the college level did take some time and convincing, but not with the students, it was more with my peers, administrators and colleagues. Even rallying support and over all approval for a course of such nature took even more time, but here we are 3.5 years strong and only building and expanding. As a graffiti writer, artist putting his works in public spaces, and an art professor, the state accreditation aspect of the course is important to me. There are a few schools and programs out there that offer workshops in both street art and graffiti, and they are fantastic. Being able to earn actual credit towards one’s chosen degree requirements validates the importance of the content itself as an emerging art movement of value contributing to the “art world” in the realm of academia. I’m passionate about graffiti and street art, it is the core of my inspiration as an artist. As an art educator, I feel it is my responsibility to bring that passion into my classroom to share and instill its energy into my students. We just completed one of the most productive, collaborative and energetic classes of my teaching career to date. The course at LIU is a 1-week intensive course. The class is offered in July and runs from 9AM-6PM Monday-Friday.

I carefully curated this course, and have been micro testing and interweaving the content into all of my classes for the last 10 years. Keeping students engaged and excited is a huge part of my teaching strategy, and I’m lucky to have a multidisciplinary studio based workload of courses that I teach. Street art and graffiti are always a topic of interest, whether it’s drawing, painting, sculpture, print-making, graphic design, or art history based courses, my passion for the content, its history, and techniques always comes through. In the classroom, the students will find themselves switching regularly between slide and video based lectures, technical demonstrations, museum and gallery visits, guest artist presentations, and hands on collaborative art making experiences. This results in an over stimulating experience filled with retained use value, plus the generation of several new pieces of both collaborative and individual works. Students create a network of new colleagues in a communal course like this. Having guest artists frequent the courses is of huge importance. All of guests are highly respected in the movements for their prolific styles and commitment to their work. Best part of all, these are warm and open people, their process and love for their craft is transparent. If that is not contagious enough, I don’t know what is. Hearing their unique personal stories inspires motivation beyond one’s expectations. This course has filled to capacity every summer since 2010. I don’t have to convince anyone to take the course, and 90% of the students that do are not street or graffiti artists. People are inspired by the movements of street art and graffiti, and I’m taking about adults older than 20 years of age. This particular class that just ended had an average age range of 28 – 40 plus. Continue reading “Teaching graffiti history and practice”