Trust me when I say there’s not a lot of inter-city commerce going on between Greensboro and Winston-Salem, despite all my best efforts.
So it’s strange when similar things happen on both sides of the Sandy Ridge Curtain at roughly the same time.
Over the weekend, using our interactive Bartsy map, a civic-minded Winston-Salemite — his name is not important, though he’s since outed himself on social media — took it upon himself to purge the city of this infamous icon.
Around the same time, it was discovered in Greensboro that an anonymous tagger had hastily spray-painted the words “Thug Life” on a photorealistic mural of the rapper Mac Miller by the artist Brian Lewis, aka Jeks.
While both the Bartsy series and the Mac Miller found audiences in their respective cities, the works themselves couldn’t be more different. Jeks’ photorealistic style has garnered him big jobs across the world; one of his latest can be seen in downtown Winston-Salem off Trade Street, at the spot slated to be the new Hoots. Bartsy, on the other hand, is more traditional graffiti, executed anonymously in the hours before dawn on abandoned buildings and spare surfaces.
The reaction, too, was different in each city.
When the Bartsy-killer outed himself on social media, he had just a few defenders against scores of haters, so many that I almost feel bad for the guy. In Greensboro, though, the defacement of Jeks’ piece caused a palpable rift among factions of the culturati, with many people rising to the defense of Thug Life against the proponents of the muralist, which is just weird.
All street artists know that their work will only survive intact until some asshole with a bucket of paint or spray-can comes along. Its temporary nature is part of its allure — and remember that writing on the wall is a tradition that goes all the way back to the days when graffitoes tagged cave walls using charred sticks and mammoth blood.
But not all street artists get to be a part of such a prolonged, passionate and widespread conversation about art in general, and their work in particular.
Art, of course, is a bit like pornography: There’s no clear-cut definition of what it is, but I know it when I see it.
And I know this: Visual art is supposed to be impactful, to be challenging, to transcend mere lines and colors applied on a two-dimensional plane.
In that, these artists — Bartsy, Jeks and even Thug Life — have succeeded.
Anyone who doubts the very real effects that art has on life can look no further.