top of page

Modern Vandalism

I've been thinking a lot about my work and what it means in the bigger context of art. What genre of art does my work fall under? How should it be categorized?

As an artist, I've held the belief that in order to create, you must destroy. This philosophy was felt tangibly when I was a sushi chef. I have killed live fish and shellfish, to create dishes that nourish my guests. I literally took life in order to nourish life. To create, you must destroy.

In my art, this theme runs through my work. From my use of bone black acrylic paint which is made from charred animal bones, to the characters and chaos that ensue in my paintings. The work always speaks about creation and consumption, and the relationship we have with everything and nothing (black and white), while striving to create visual balance and harmony.

I'm finding the more I practice my work, the more I find deeper meaning and depth in my materials. The black line grows darker. The hidden spectrum of colors it possesses becomes more evident.

My artwork is an effort to create without destruction, which is quite possibly a futile endeavor. Creation by subtraction is really intriguing to me, like how famous sculptors have remove material to uncover hidden masterpieces which lie beneath layers of marble. But even in that act of subtraction, a beautiful and perfect mass of marble must be destroyed to uncover a sculptural masterpiece.

It has become increasingly apparent to me that we as humans may never be able to create without destruction. It seems to be in the balance of nature. That knowledge makes me a vandal.

Vandalism by definition is "action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property."

My work as an artist has been heavily influenced by graffiti. In my youth, the works of Keith Haring, and the layers of tags on NYC walls were etched into my mind. These were beautiful and captivating images to me as a child, but as I grew older, I learned they were acts of destruction.

Graffiti is an illicit act. It's understood by all to be vandalism.

A graffiti writer takes an aerosol can of paint and inscribes his name or message on public/private property that isn't his. This act was and is criminal. Corporations, small businesses, and people who have resources are allowed to share their message with the public on private or public property in exchange for money.

It is perfectly legal to share your message if you pay for a place to say it. America is the land of free speech, yet it is only those who have resources that are permitted to broadcast their message in public space. Freedom of speech must be paid for.

Graffiti writers have rebelled against that notion. They have plastered public space with their names in the same way that brands like McDonalds and Coca Cola have, but they have done it illegally. Subjecting a broad audience to your message whether they are willing or unwilling to consume it is a privilege for those with resources.

Graffiti and advertising are essentially the same act but distinguished and made permissible by a monetary act.

The quandary for me is that graffiti now is far different than decades ago. Graffiti is still illegal, but some of it has tremendous value. Take Banksy for example. When he paints illegally, the buildings in which he vandalizes increase in value. In many instances, these illegal acts are protected by government and property owners because of the value Banksy's spray paint has created.

If you paint illegally on a property that's not yours, but it has monetary value, it is not considered vandalism.

Perceived value can change vandalism into a work of art.

I believe that all acts are art are vandalism. I believe all acts of design are vandalism. I believe all forms of human creation is vandalism. But we do not consider human progress as vandalism because we perceive the things that people make to have value. If we take a moment to step outside ourselves and look at the health of the planet before and after each major wave of human progress, we can see the Earth has been vandalized.

With greater context, I can see clearly that in every instance, my artwork has been a deliberate act of destroying public or private property. My work has been accompanied by value, so each act has been permissible and even desirable in every instance.

Art and design are deliberate acts. They are always done with intention. Humans are not the only organisms on the planet, so we must look at our actions with broader perspective. Do the things we create add value to this world? Or are they destructive? Is our perception of value blinding us to the impact of our creations? Who should receive value? Just humans? Or the planet as well? How do we create value for our environment?

These questions start to arouse some cynical thinking about humans and their impact on the world. We seem to see value with near-sightedness, and only from the human lens. Focusing on human progress and the benefits we perceive in the narrow space that is now is dangerous because it prohibits us from seeing the full impact of our actions and has put humanity in a precarious position where our environment may no longer be able to support our needs as a result of our actions.

I believe the work I and many others are doing can be categorized as modern vandalism. Artists and designers who work intentionally to destroy or alter materials, resources, and places in order to create value are modern vandals.

We may not have the ability to create sustainably, but it is not without effort. Conscientious creation that attempts to add value to the world is modern vandalism. We work with our eyes wide open and see creation for what it truly is. We strive to create in a way that adds value without causing harm, or at least minimizes negative impact.

The challenge is great, but worth a lifetime of pursuit. However, I feel the effort may be in vain because matter is neither created nor destroyed. In the context of the universe and the vastness of time, our impact on the planet is not even a blink of an eye, and the results of our actions on the Earth has no real lasting significance.

Life has been catastrophically disrupted with "world ending events" several times in Earth's 4.5 billion year history. Human life is but a fraction of a fraction of a moment in Earth's timeline. So I begin to wonder if my effort to create sustainably is nothing more than a way to artificially inflate my sense of importance and self-righteousness.

Is modern vandalism a movement that makes progress sustainable, or are we simply looking at our work with rose colored glasses?

bottom of page