As big of a toy as I would later realize I was (for at my age in just starting off, it was very intimidating to see guys do windmills and frog-walks (on one hand!), so I was too shy to really get into practicing in front of them, afraid to make a fool of myself...), this was my introduction to graffiti. After the dance sessions were over, b-boys and b-girls alike would bust out sketchbooks to compare their latest creations, the discuss where they planned to bomb next. It was in this context that I learned about the "Jail Trail", a few mile stretch running-path along the Allegheny River (which passes by the PGH Courthouse/jail, hence its name), which apparently has been the testing ground for all of Pittsburgh's writers for quite a long time.
Relatively closed off from the public and easy to access, this place was easy to hit and gave writers time to do more than simple throw-ups and tags. For over 14 years years I have been dying to see these walls, which you can barely catch glimpses of when passing into Pittsburgh on I-376. Two days ago, I finally had the chance to visit the place which holds a very large cup of sub-culture...
Either way, the breadth of style is exciting, to say the least. Everything from character-laden throw-ups to old-school fill-ins and massive paint-rolled crew dedications to wild-style blockbusters! There are so many things to say about what I witnessed in only having time to ride the Jail Trail's western section, I guess the only place to start would be at the entry point when coming over the South Side's Hot Metal Bridge (map at bottom of post).
As mind-boggling as it is that nobody wrote-in a budget for mural-proposals to fill this space when talks about revitalization started in 2006, riding on in either direction quickly turns to more color, technique, and style than the city can keep up with.
With so much to drink in, it can be hard to focus. Highlights of my first trip included hippie-protest paint on the retaining wall of Pittsburgh major highway (Oil War), which may or may not have taken place during the historic G20 summit back in 2009, and a killer mural, "NO TANKS".
Many of the throw-ups & fillers had a lot of funk mixed in, while too many of the wild-styles were either faded due to weathering (thus indicating madd respect - i.e. nobody touched them after all that time), or way too difficult to read (post to follow soon about why I hardly shoot wildstyles for this reason!).
FATE reminded me about the inevitable end to all pieces (i.e. sun-burned), while KYS was just a little to cynical for me (although I do recognize the importance of everyone needing an outlet to say whatever they feel- and so appreciate even the most negative of messages any writer may share- even if I am searching for positivity, I understand). It had to be a tie between VOZ's reverse-letter tag and NaMe's stack-filler as to what was my favorite, although MEWS and DONE had such a dynamic presence that I soon gave up on trying to pick favorites.
The hardest part was trying to balance a real-time appreciation for what I was seeing vs. selecting which pieces required my camera.
I should point out one more thing before I go, and that is the essence of "writing". While this collection is a great example of the many approaches to the same idea, there is one theme which remains true. Whether tagging rhythmic poetry ("humdrum / conundrums") or positive messages (LOVELIFE '08), writers are always revising and coming up with new ways to convey an old message (or find new ones!). If you pay enough attention, you can almost read what the writer is going through, and in a way, watch him/her grow not only in craft, but knowledge and understanding about the world (i.e. the peace sign in DONE, could be read as positive, like "(d)thee one", or a visual pun that "peace is done / over" - but in either case, DONE is learning how to open up conversations for interpretation in shortened form).
Most importantly for you to know is how they leave clues. For instance, DONE often re-tagged pieces with d1 to let you know in the future, if you see "D1", its the same person. It also gives him/her more freedom to explore form, and in many cases, space (and even more importantly, time -- i.e. it's easier to write D1 than DONE - also notice how now your mind struggles to keep the concept of both spellings together! thus breaking convention). Kill Yo' Self (KYS) and many others along the Jail Trail do the same, often adding commentary to either mark the occasion or provoke the reader (aka side-tags).