Since November of 2016, I started photographing stratch graffiti in the LA subway system. In March of 2017, I was invited to participate in a group exhibit put together by Neil France of Cal State Long Beach, and I chose 16 of the photos shown below. More of my photos of scratch graffiti can be found on my Instagram account, where I add them on a continuing basis.
This was my statement for Neil France’s March 2017 Cal State Long Beach group exhibit:
Artist Statement for Jennifer Sharpe
I spent my formative years in New York City starting from the mid-1970s. When I moved to Brooklyn in the summer of 1975, the city was in deep financial crisis and crime was rampant. Worrying about getting held up, pickpocketed, or mugged were concerns that filtered all the way down to children.
Riding the subways during that time probably is best described by the movie The Warriors (1979) – crime, no air conditioning during the hot, humid summer months, noisy, and full of graffiti inside and out. Scorsese’s earlier movie Taxi Driver (1976) gets the seediness of the city just right. I’ve read that living in New York City during this period of its history is considered a badge of honor among New Yorkers. I’d say that has to be true.
I moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 1998, and started riding public transportation to the downtown area in the summer of 2001. Since transit companies invented materials that can’t be painted or drawn on, the subways in this new transportation system were pristine. But within the last year, I’ve noticed that scratch graffiti, on seats, on walls, on glass and even on areas of rubber around windows has exponentially increased. Immediately I was reminded of my youth in New York City, and one day in November 2016 I started photographing this graffiti.
The photos for this exhibit were taken between November 2016 and February 2017. I’ve photographed them with my iPhone using only the Hipstamatic app, with different filters. My interest in this subject certainly has a component of harking back to a time in my life in which my environment felt unsafe and lawless. But also, it makes me think about symbols, secret communication, and the need to express oneself without the approval of anyone. This graffiti is harder to do, scratching involves sharp objects, the train moves unpredictably through the tunnels, sheriffs may appear at any moment to check tickets, homeless people who could be hostile are frequently sleeping there, most of it has to be done in small, awkward movements. But it is harder to remove than paint. It makes a statement, whether you like it, or not.