Nick Walker and the Problem of Vandalism

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN

Had you asked me two months ago to pick an American city with a thriving arts community, I never would have picked Indianapolis.

In fact, if you’d asked me for my general impressions of Indiana I would have said “Midwest, corn… something about cars?” Maybe also sports??? The Pacers ring a bell. Art would never have crossed my mind, but that’s why the company CityWay exists —to change our minds about what Indianapolis has to offer.

Much like WALL/THERAPY in Rochester, NY, CityWay in Indianapolis uses art and charity to bring diverse communities together. Once a year it hosts IndyDoDay, a day where they to encourage the people of Indianapolis to get out and get involved in a project in their neighborhood so they can “get to know their neighbors, take ownership of their neighborhoods, and take care of one another.” They also partner with the Indianapolis Museum of Art, commissioning artists and bringing art to public spaces.

CityWay worked with The Alexander, a hotel in downtown Indianapolis, to curate the hotel’s art collection. They filled the hotel with the kind of edgy-but-tasteful contemporary art pieces that edgy-but-tasteful people adore and put together a gorgeous lobby bar designed by Jorge Pardo.

All of the hotel art was well received but then they invited the British artist Nick Walker to tag the hotel’s parking garage. For some reason, this was a bridge too far.

Now admittedly, it’s unusual to pay an artist lots of money to intentionally create a space that looks graffitied.

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN

However, this is what Nick Walker does. He came up in the same British graffiti movement as Banksy, the most (in)famous graffiti artist there ever was. Walker has the same irreverent approach with his stencils, although his work is much less political than Banksy.

Walker’s main character is a formally dressed bowler hat-wearing character called Vandal. And most of Walker’s murals focus around the act of creating art.

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN

Here’s the Vandal with his paint can

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN

And his paint dusting plane

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN










And this chica with her spray paint missiles

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN

And I love it. I love the artwork, the themes, the color scheme, and that it’s in a parking garage next to a high end hotel. It’s an unusual place to put commissioned artwork and moreover, it’s a clever way to put the gallery artist crowd and the street art appreciators in proximity and give them exposure to each other’s art.

Except not everyone agrees with me. I found the public response puzzling, to say the least.

In an article I can only describe as snarky, Katherine Brooks, the senior arts & culture editor for the Huffington Post, described Walker as “Banksy-esque,”  which no one would argue considering they were influenced by the same graffiti school. Despite that connection, somehow she makes it sound like Walker is simply an imitator. And then Brooks calls Walker’s work “lowbrow basement art.”

Oh snap!

This article in the Indy alternative newspaper NUVO is generally more positive, but also notes the irony of an highly-paid street artist whose main character is a Vandal “co-opting [the] graffiti culture.”

And that seems more to the point, doesn’t it?

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN

However, Walker isn’t coopting the graffiti culture, he is a graffiti artist. Back in the 80’s he painted buildings illegally, just like all the other graffiti artists of that era. Walker’s work still references street art politics and vandalism and he still paints on public buildings but now he’s also a big deal art guy selling prints and paintings for thousands of dollars and he gets invited to tag up shi-shi hotel parking garages. Apparently that’s not ok? Apparently he’s only allowed to be an illegal vandalizing graffiti artist wherein he can paint whatever he wants or he’s allowed to be a big deal gallery artist but then he has to change his style and subject matter to suit the venue.

Walker is clearly aware that his artwork gets people’s knickers in a twist. He says:

“At the end of the day, ‘vandal’ is a taboo word…It’s a word everyone associates with graffiti. Everyone says if you paint graffiti it’s vandalism, or they used to before it became more of an acceptable art form.”

Therein lies the crux of the dilemma, right?

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN

Graffiti used to be considered vandalism. It was cool because it was an art form created by outsiders and rebels and revolutionaries who flouted the law.

Graffiti artists were braver and crazier than the rest of us and their work was even more precious and fleeting because of the government’s power to eradicate it immediately and jail the artist. Anyone who believed in their art form strongly enough to risk imprisonment was inspiring.

But now… it’s different. Today street artists are invited to paint. They’re paid and often paid well, and their work is coveted by private collectors. Formerly repudiated artists now show their work in posh galleries and museums and their work is chiseled off of public walls and sold at auction for a zillion dollars.

So where does that leave us?

Is street art still a form of rebellious expression?

Is graffiti still outsider art if it’s supported by big companies and museums?

And more importantly, if street art no longer is outsider art, does it lose its impact?

I don’t have answers for these questions. Yet.

However, hear this: Nick Walker worked long and hard to get here and he outlasted thousands of other graffiti artists in the process. Moreover, his artwork is badass and if people pay him a zillion dollars for it, then good on him.

We should all be so lucky.

Art by Nick Walker – Indianapolis, IN

Loveless Cafe and Christmas in April

I said goodbye to the South with breakfast at the best place in Nashville. Loveless Cafe has remained unchanged for over 50 years until they expanded the restaurant 5 years ago and added a barbeque pit and a country store for their mail order “hams and jams” program. However, they still have the same secret biscuit recipe and the best country ham and red eye gravy in all of Tennessee. If you want all day breakfast on Highway 100, you go to:

Sadly, Miss Carol Fay “the biscuit lady” died recently.

But she trained her successor well. The biscuits were buttery perfection and their famous homemade preserves tasted like condensed fruit and sunshine. According to Mrs. Wilson, “everyone eats the biscuits just to get at the preserves.”

I LOVE breakfast. It’s my favorite meal of the day and this café is one of my favorites, as much for the scenic qualities as the food. I love the 50’s style neon sign, the red and white tablecloth and the scrambled eggs that I think they cook with bacon fat. Magnifique!

After breakfast and unnecessary purchases, I drove out on the Natchez Trace Parkway, past the double arch concrete bridge:

Down to historic Leiper’s Fork where I hoped to see a friend of mine’s art in a local gallery but the gallery was closed (sorry Clay and Krista!). So I turned around and headed out of Tennessee. Within 2 hours the terrain had substantially flattened and I knew I’d left the South.

I stopped once today, but I made it a good one in Santa Claus, IN where a giant constipated Santa Claus banishes you to the nether realms:

Need a close up of that face? Of course you do.

Puts me somewhat in mind of the troll guarding the bridge in Billy Goat Gruff. Why are characters out of context so disturbing? Santa Claus at Christmas time is great, even a mean Santa like this one who wants to put coal in your stocking. But seeing this giant Santa on a sunny day in April is like seeing a Christmas tree under a pile of boxes and a mattress on an episode of Hoarders. Creepy and a little sad. A decent description of Santa Claus, IN, come to think of it. Of course I had to go buy a Santa ornament:

Note that he’s holding a tire? Because I’m on a road trip! Get it? Get it? Yeah… when you’re in the middle of nowhere looking at an empty Holiday World, signs for Lake Rudolph and a vacant Frosty’s Fun Center, the hysteria mounts and everything seems a bit hilarious.

Then I realized that I lost an hour in Indiana (Time zones. Killing me.), which changed my whole yoga schedule and I had to scramble to find a place in Bloomington Indiana with an appropriately timed class. Fortunately I ended up at Know yoga, Know Peace (say it aloud. Clever right?) with teacher Jean. She’s Bikram certified but the studio isn’t, which gave me my opportunity to talk with a studio owner about this hot yoga choice. I liked Jean’s explanation that she loves Bikram but misses doing other yoga poses so she chooses to teach in a hot room and use Bikram as a base line but incorporate other Hatha poses.

I had a fantastic time in her class and enjoyed doing a different series of poses than what I’m used to. She led with a nice balance of calm and energy and said “Find your breath” after every pose, which made me think about how often we lose our breath or forget to fully utilize it.

The conversation and the class led me to my yoga meditation of the day: Which is more important, the style or the teacher?

I think Bikram (the man) would put the emphasis on the style, thus his choice to train all his teachers with the same patter, phrasing and emphasis to make each teacher/class/studio as much the same as possible.

Advocates of a style above all else believe that their style can work well for everyone, even if it doesn’t work perfectly for some. Advocates of the teacher believe that in any pursuit, the teacher makes the difference in a student’s ability to succeed. My martial arts background leads me to believe that the some styles are more effective than others. But I know that each style’s efficacy is most dependent on the practitioner.

Some students will excel with crappy teachers because they grasp the fundamentals without a lot of guidance. In my own experience as a student, the teacher makes the most difference. Even in pursuits in which I have no skill or talent or ability, I’ve learned the best lessons from good teachers.

I ended the night with a long sushi dinner at Mikado with my high school friend, Laura. We caught up on the last couple decades of our lives and laughed over high school memories over late night drinks at the Irish Lion. It’s so fun to see old friends who are happy and doing well with lives so different from mine.

And now to bed. Tomorrow: Chicago!