Graffiti Artist, The

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 06/24/04 05:50:22

"Whom Are You Speaking To?"
3 stars (Average)

The greatest thing about art to me is its creation. Beyond the final product and whatever is going through the artist’s mind prior to the first drop of paint, the majesty of forming shapes into a cohesive whole is simply enthralling. The “starving artist” is a cliché within every art form. How many people would pay for an artist’s “show” though if they not only got to see the result, but the creation? Wouldn’t you? Films like La Belle Noiseuse and to a far lesser but minutely fascinating degree, Titanic, put the brush and hand to work. The mood is serene and the work intense but occasionally effortless. If only some artists would just shut up, we could appreciate their work more.

That last statement is ironic considering that a significant portion of James Bolton’s The Graffiti Artist is done without dialogue. Nick (Ruben Bansie-Snellman) walks the streets of Portland with his backpack and spray cans looking for an untapped palette. His message is rather clear (“Destroy the System”) signed by his unmistakable handle, “Rupture”. He is alone, steals everything and yet his craftsmanship with the paint overshadows the realization that he’s defacing property.

Nearly 25 minutes go on before anyone has a conversation. That’s before he meets his competition, Jesse (Pepper Fajans). He’s less of a turfmonger obstacle than an object of mutual respect. Soon, the pair team up, avoiding the wandering police at all costs and take off to Seattle to align their portfolios. Nick harbors a growing resentment towards his newfound partner, who is silently funded by a mother’s allowance and therefore prone to (gulp) pay for everything. There’s also the suspicion that respect might not be the only thing growing as the proximity of their sleeping gets closer and closer. “I’ll do the outline. You fill it in,” may not just be about painting.

The frankness of the sexuality may be shocking for those who consider Will & Grace the piece de resistance of homoerotic behavior. Then again, the sound being intensified on every slurpy kiss may be enough for the Queer Eye guys to be shouting “Get a room!” This drastic turn in the narrative begins derailing the film into the screenwriting clichés it was able to avoid by keeping it relatively silent. Without ever hearing “it’s not you, it’s me” the story must now resort to rejection and definition.

Since neither of these loners seem capable of defining their feelings, their only recourse is to spell out their artistic terms. Not that there’s much there, of course. Jesse is accused of doing it for the fame while Nick preaches he does it so nobody has to tell him how to live his life. BOO-HOO, you had me then you lost me. By finally vocalizing his passive ideology as some wandering anarchist, his talk is cheaper than his five-finger discount. If your art is only about ME-ME-ME, then why are you showing the world? Steal a drawing pad, get yourself a set of crayolas and shut the hell up.

I was always amazed by the grade school kids in art class who could do wonders with a pencil and blank page. Hell, I was amazed by perfect penmanship. The beauty of the art, even as simplistic bubble letters such as Nick’s, is enough for me to raise my arms for a clap or a handshake. Telling me you don’t care if I think anything about your art is way too haughty and obtuse to prevent me from raising my hand to do something else and chances are, nobody will be listening.

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