Graffartists are not people

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Macaulay mural on wall near Saints Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Church. (Providence Journal)

Okay, if Brutalist architects are people (see previous post), then I must admit graffartists are, too.

Yet how sad and appalling to read in today’s Providence Journal that David Macaulay’s delightful mural near the State Offices exit from Route 95 has been painted over by state road crews to create a new blank canvas for the regrettable creatures who tagged the mural in the first place. That is called surrender. The perps should be shot and the mural repainted.

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Detail of Macaulay mural. (Providence Journal)

Of course, I hasten to assert that I speak with my tongue halfway in my cheek. Still, a well-placed machine-gun nest is an alluring response. But no, it would probably be too expensive and too dangerous to innocent people, and you can’t cover all the places the graffartists might want to tag.

Macaulay’s mural showed a lovely rusticated Greco- Roman stone wall with a line of niches, each containing a statue of a famous Rhode Islander – abolitionist Moses Brown, Civil War general (U.S. senator and first president of the National Rifle Association) Ambrose Burnside, and four others, including one waggishly toppled by a pooch chasing a pigeon. It was a brilliant work that brought beauty and joy into the lives of thousands every day.

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Recently, mural was tagged so hard that repair was deemed impossible. (Journal)

To erase the mural is to throw in the towel. The cost of repainting it should come out of the hide of the perps. Your money or your life sentence – or however many years justice demands. Or something like that. Aren’t there public funds for helping prisoners pay for cable TV or stock more barbells? Take it out of that, and let their stricken jailmates punish the the vandals in turn. No violence, of course. Or maybe Joe Paolino can find some unemployed denizens of Kennedy Plaza to do this work.

It is tempting to blame “society” for what these cretins inflict on buildings, walls – even on other art, as in this case – in any event, on every law-abiding citizen. But I must say, Kate Bramson’s Journal story, “Tagged for last time, Macaulay mural is gone,” offers a secondary target at whom to point the finger – even while keeping in mind that the chief owner of responsibility for a crime is the criminal.

David Macaulay, in addition to being a fine artist and author, is a member of this world and no doubt eager to be considered a nice as well as a good person. Only this can explain the line in the article that reads: “The other artists have now won, Macaulay said Monday as he talked good-naturedly about ‘the endless story’ of the beleaguered mural.”

This is not a direct quote of Macaulay’s own words but Bramson paraphrasing the artist. Still, she would not have used the term “artists” in place of “taggers” unless Macaulay had already used the term himself in the interview. Tagger is, however, Macaulay’s usual term. Either way, equating a tagger with an artist encourages vandals to assume somehow that their graffiti has society’s sanction. Not that I expect this is what they desire!

These are not artists and they do not create art. When they tag their own neighborhood or their own city, they are defecating in their own nests. They almost always damage or destroy architecture that may be a work of art. They often tag over the garbage of their fellow taggers. (Now and then the quality of a tag approaches the quality of art – but its hurtful intention leaves a vast gap between any graffiti and actual art.)

The loss of Macaulay’s mural recalls a mural nearby, along an exit ramp off Route 10 to Federal Hill. It is similar to Macauley’s – an aqueduct with frames for portraits (never executed) between its arches, whereas Macaulay’s has statues within its arched niches. But it has lasted since the Rhode Island artist Ronald Dabelle painted it in 1994. Maybe graffartists fear that people eating al-fresco at DePasquale Plaza will see them and call 911. I could not find Dabelle’s mural online, and it was too difficult to try to shoot it from across the highway (and of course I must not drive while operating a hand- held camera), so below is a photo of a photo from a column I wrote in the Journal on Aug. 18, 1994, entitled “Art out-of-doors in Providence.”

Since these miscreants sign their own vandalism (or “leave their mark”), you’d think they would be easy for the police to catch, even if nobody is watching. If only!


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Commenter’s Street View shot of Dabelle’s mural beneath Depasquale Square.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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7 Responses to Graffartists are not people

  1. Teric Par says:

    I agree with all my heart, slow execution for all these morons.
    No type of torture is too painful (or long lasting) for these idiots.
    Graffiti criminals should be stopped at any cost.
    I will settle for quick public beheadings (because deep inside I’m a nice guy).
    And this reply is not tongue-in-cheek.


  2. mielniczuk says:

    Ron Dabelle passes away last week. Thanks for this post. Ron was a gentle and humble soul. Even though I knew him, I did not know of this work. Many of his works honoured Providence. Now Providence and your article honours him.


  3. A Subscriber says:

    There’s art and there’s fart. There are artists and there are fartists. You’re completely correct, Dave, and I share your desire to see fart criminals lined up against a wall and shot with paintballs. Make it a public event. Charge admission. Use the proceeds towards cleaning up fartistic fart and display the photos of the now paintballed fartists on local billboards for all to enjoy.

    I went poking around Street View and found Ronald Dabelle’s mural below DePasquale Square. Here’s the linky:


  4. will says:

    This artwork had an anti graffiti coating now common in public murals that require a simple power washing to erase illegally applied enamels. It was the State road crew’s failure to keep up with standard mural practice that brought the return of flat gray to the face of that retaining wall. This article plays into a deflection of responsibility from salaried state employees to faceless criminals.


    • Will, I agree that the state (be it workers or officials) is partly responsible for the result of eliminating the artwork. But the primary responsibility lies with those who destroyed it, or tried to, rather than those who failed to use every effort to clean it up. The criminal is always primarily at fault for the crime.


  5. Steve says:

    “…graffartists are, too.” This is a case of CRIMINAL behavior by criminals. Period.


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