When Walls Talk: An Exploration of Graffiti Through The Queer Lense (Queering Graffiti), Part IV: The Writing on The Wall

Part I: The Beginning

Part II: Social Analysis of Graffiti

Part III: The Street Art Movement

L.A. street artist Jeremy Novy openly combines his sexuality with his graffiti art; he utilizes the Warhol-esque adoption of pop icon images, queers them, and creates stencil versions.  (Stencils are exactly as they sound-typically, negative space in an image is cut out, and the remaining framework creates a stencil. 

Jeremy Novy in SF Weekly

Jeremy Novy in SF Weekly

The stencil is held against a surface as the artist spray-paints over it).  Novy is most noted for his koi fish stencils, which swim upon the sidewalks throughout San Francisco.  Stenciling is a popular medium in contemporary street art; typically, stencils depict common images that have somehow been tweaked to serve the artist’s underlying theme or message.  Novy’s queer stencils create the queer pop culture he identifies with; his stencil of the Queer Marlboro man is an exemplary pop icon reference.

Through the heteronormative lens, the Marlboro Man is eye-candy in advertisements targeting heterosexual women; Novy amplifies the homoerotic potential of the Marlboro Man by queering the popular image, defying heteronormative societal structures in advertising.  Novy’s homoerotic stencils  represent the queer culture historically ignored in the heterocentric atmosphere of mainstream pop culture; queering pop icons in graffiti art makes queer presence visible, something that hegemonic constructs have tried to keep unseen and off the screens (May 1-3).

Novy is also part of a Queer Street Art movement that is slowly gaining recognition and still in the process of being organized.  The goals of this movement are to establish Queer presence, inspire queer youth to create art (legally, of course), and make a proud, Queer statement.  The social change they seek is synonymous with artists such as Banksy, who also queers graffiti to indict societal constructs of oppression, hatred, and inequity.  Banksy often uses the British police in works to make a bold statement about lawmakers; one of his manipulations of the British authority depicts two male guards of Buckingham Palace kissing passionately.

This piece is a statement about the laws against sodomy and queers the enforcers of those laws; Banksy’s placement of the officers is to the left of two conjoining yellow signs that look like they display laws about where and when parking is allowed.  A close look reveals that white stickers hold them in place, and the sign pointing in the direction of the kissing police says “at any time” while the sign pointing opposite the men kissing says “any time but Sunday.”  The reference of Sunday presents the idea that Banksy is debasing religious influence on federal laws, however it can also be interpreted that the Sunday reference is a cruel and satirical comment about allegations made when Church officials were caught for sexually abusing young boys.

Graffiti art provides a seemingly infinite amount of possibilities, from the unlimited ways to express a message as well as the space for multiple interpretations.

Provocative graffiti pieces attract more attention displayed in unconventional public spaces; the nature in which the public conceptualizes these pieces and their connection to current social realities brings about a different type of social awareness.  People can be moved, annoyed, or apathetic—regardless of their personal opinion of graffiti in general or even a specific work—if it’s caught their eye, and they spent a moment digesting its elements, that’s enough, the seed is planted.

Whether it’s a piece satirizing art history, or in a statement about cultural tensions—a projection of hope,or hopelessness, or during a time of possible war, will we ever recognize that graffiti exists at the root of human communication?

No matter, because graffito in its essential context is the beginning of human organization of images and ideas; cave-dwelling graffiti is the image-based language from which spoken and written word evolved.  Graffiti is a reminder that the world is still a place where you can make your mark, and hope that, years later, someone appreciates the story you chose to leave behind.  That is the underlying scheme of street art.  Creativity, ingenuity, courage, and passion flow from the aesthetic fountain of graffiti; the world itself serves as a continuous inspiration for the street art movement.  Why not queer it?

Regardless, the “writing” is on the wall.

Sources For This Series:

–       Stocker, Terrance L., Linda W. Dutcher, Stephen M. Hargrove, and Edwin A. Cook. “Social Analysis of Graffiti.” The Journal of American Folklore 85.338 (1972): 356-66. JSTOR. Web. Nov. 2011

–       Gross, Daniel D., and Timothy D. Gross. “TAGGING: Changing Visual Patterns and The Rhetorical Implications Of A New Form Of Graffiti.” ETC: A Review Of General Semantics 50.3 (1993): 250-264. Academic Search Complete. Web. Nov. 2011.

–       Gauthier, Louise. “Confessions of an Ethnographer: Reflections on Fieldwork with Graffiti Writers in Montreal.” Anthropologica 43.2 (2001): 273-76. JSTOR. Web. Nov. 2011.

–       Weinberg, Jonathan. “Things Are Queer.” Art Journal We’re Here: Gay and Lesbian Presence in Art and Art History 55.4 (1996): 11-14. JSTOR. Web. Nov. 2011.

–       Herring, Scott. “Keith Haring And Queer Xerography.” Public Culture 19.2 (2007): 329-348. Academic Search Complete. Web. Nov. 2011.

–       Ricardo, Montez. “”Trade” Marks: LA2, Keith Haring, and a Queer Economy of Collaboration.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 12.3 (2006): 425-40. Academic Search Complete. Web. Nov. 2011.

–       Rictor Norton, A Critique of Social Constructionism and Postmodern Queer Theory, “Sexual Orientation”, 1 June 2002, updated 19 June 2008 <>

–        May, Meredith. “S.F. Artist Jeremy Novy Thrives in Outdoor Gallery.” SFGATE. 13 Nov. 2010. Web. Dec. 2011. <>.

–       Reed, Christopher. “Imminent Domain: Queer Space in the Built Environment.” Art Journal 55.4 (1996): 64-70. JSTOR. Web. Dec. 2011.

–       Exit Through The Gift Shop. Prod. Banksy and Shepard Fairey. Dir. Tierry Guetta. Perf. Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Tierry Guetta. YouTube. MegaDATC, Aug. 2011. Web. Dec. 2011.


About Kasey
To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch ... to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded! - Ralph Waldo Emerson When you've seen beyond yourself then you may find peace of mind is waiting there && the time will come when you see we're all one, && life flows on within you && without you. - The Beatles

One Response to When Walls Talk: An Exploration of Graffiti Through The Queer Lense (Queering Graffiti), Part IV: The Writing on The Wall

  1. Pat Moen says:

    Excellent conclusion to an excellent series KASEY!

    I can’t wait to read your next piece, and if you’ve got any personal art to share that would be exciting to see, as well!


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