Painter Steve Van Nort and I drove to Rochester, N.Y., last week for the closing of the annual B-Boy BBQ street art festival there. Our host was the local radiologist and collector Ian Wilson, who eight years ago helped start the street painting festival with taggers Sno, Zone and Range. Now he includes visiting street writers from all over the world such as FAITH 47 and DAL, who were in Rochester a few weeks back.
Rochester is divided by an old winding highway called the Interloop, currently the subject of an exhibition at the Rochester Center for Contemporary Art, whose director Bleu Cease was one of our posse at the festival, along with drummer Jake Watson, his brother skateboarder Luke Watson and their pal, comix artist AJ Torre. On one side of the Loop is the wealthy part of town and prestigious academic institutions such as the Eastman School of Music; on the other is one of the widest and most depressing ghettos I have ever seen, where Ian Wilson and his team are introducing street art with a necessary flare.
The Rochester ghetto must be 20 square miles of beat down, single-story, broken-windowed dwellngs, where the local bloods drag race muscle cars at dusk, with no police presence. Even the McDonald's is rundown and dangerous. I remarked to Ian Wilson, "I was in New Orleans right after Katrina and this is not only much worse, it is permanent." Ian grinned and replied, "Welcome to the Rust Belt, Charlie."
Nevertheless, the participation on the street was joyous, with writers spraying the jagged wild style writing (that is not my favorite), while adding touches of romantic brilliance: a backwards-looking Mickey Mouse, sympathetic cartoon rats right out of the old L.A. Big Daddy sketchbook, blondes whose flowing locks tranform into tigers, all of it the only spot of color in an otherwise gray, dusty and hopeless landscape.
Even the local farmer's market, where Ian is attempting to start a gallery and some local artists have loft studios, is basically from hunger. At night we had ribs and salad in the local hotspot (the three restaurant-coffee houses in town, all called Jake's Place, are owned by the same entrepreneur) and I enjoyed talking about art a lot more than I ever do in Chelsea. I mean, this bunch is the truest of believers.
I am working on some projects there with the Rochester team, just in the infancy stage, so I am returning to town frequently. My late mother was from Rochester and went back to her hometown all her life. Time to do what she did, as well.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).