By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
The work of graffiti artists may get scrubbed clean from our cities' walls and trains, but at the Art Crimes website their efforts live on. Susan Farrell, the curator at Art Crimes, has created both a comprehensive archive of some of the world's best graffiti and an international forum for graffiti artists (or writers as they are called) and their devotees.
The sheer volume of work catalogued here is impressive. The City Walls section features works from over 20 states and as many countries, ranging from predictable places like New York and L.A. to more surprising locales like Nashville and Helsinki. The Trains section is equally expansive, and contains some breathtaking work from Europe, where writers still create enormous Old School pieces that cover entire rail cars. The Featured Artists area contains interviews and profiles of more than 30 writers, accompanied by showcases of their work. One of the highlights is a feature on Ron English, an East Coast agit-prop artist who specializes in commandeering outdoor billboard space for his own satirical purposes. The pictures of his large-scale billboard parodies of the Joe Camel campaign are reason enough to pay Art Crimes a visit.
Various links and pages give the uninitiated enough background and context to enjoy the work. There's also insider information like a full list of Krylon spray-paint colors (complete with product code numbers) and tips on how to best photograph your work for digital archiving. Most remarkable, however, is the art. Now, thanks to the Web, you can take part in the dangerous beauty of graffiti without ever leaving your chair. (Dennis Cass)
Crowning the Queen of Love
Coffee House Press
A woman on a tour of Egypt is about to get her period. She enters King Tut's tomb alone: "She leaned on a wooden railing, trying to concentrate on the profundity of it all, but the headache stung again behind her eyes, and she felt for her pad: King Tut, riding on a donkey, King Tut was my favorite honky. Suddenly the lights went out." In this collection of short stories by local writer Susan Welch, we're often transported--to a blackjack table in Reno, to the snack bar at Auschwitz, to the private universe between two lovers during a Minnesota winter. But this is no lighthearted adventure book. Each story deals with a woman alone, traveling through isolation toward some secret, often false vision of contentment. And for the most part, we feel pulled downward: into the characters' pasts, into their present obsessions, and into the inevitable collision when the twain meet.
Welch's technique is polished--she's elegant, never effusive. She holds back facts, chooses powerful details, and rarely instructs the reader about how to view her characters. Still, it's easy to end up feeling too distanced from them. The occasional lapses into cliché don't help, nor does the sometimes lifeless third-person voice. But perhaps it's a generational matter: These are stories of baby-boom middle age, of life after the divorce, and they betray a quiet but deep mistrust of men. Crowning the Queen of Love is a tough, uncomfortable read, and allergic to romance--much like, say, Virginia Woolf is. And like Woolf's work, this book seems to want respect more than to be liked. On that count, it succeeds completely. (Kate Sullivan)
The Autobiography of Leroi Jones
Lawrence Hill Books
Too often autobiographies are short on material of legitimate interest to folks who aren't a lover, ex-lover, family member, comrade, or nemesis of the author. This newly revised volume--a full-length version of Baraka's abridged 1984 book--fires off its share of pot shots and praises at his ex-lovers, family members, comrades, and nemeses. What makes it worth the read is that these characters make up the central cast of urban, bohemian, left-wing, and, above all, black intellectual figures in the U.S. since World War II.
In the late '50s and early '60s, Leroi Jones (now Amiri Baraka) was one of the only black critics reviewing African American music--mainly jazz and blues. As such, he had a singular hand in navigating for a mass audience the social and political veins running through the genres (as in how R&B scales "got up inside your body, and made you do and feel revolutionary things"). Politically and artistically, Baraka, now 63, was a pivotal player in what could be called the renaissance of the Harlem Renaissance. With his savvy side always showing, he's joined and parted forces with dozens of personalities from the Black Power movement and its residue--people like Ron Karenga of the US organization, Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers, and Stokely Carmichael. For better or worse, his associates have also included Allen Ginsberg and a host of other assorted beatniks, whose scene he pretty much split in 1965.
Somewhere around 1974, between the kindred volumes The Autobiography of Malcolm X (which the cover not-so-subtly resembles) and Miles Davis's collaborative memoir with Quincy Troupe, Baraka's tale of Leroi Jones ends--a drag, since so much has happened to him since, including an American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, the current Spoken Word uprising of which he's a sometime presence, and his great, late book Transbluesency. Still, what's here is a frank and righteous account of a life deliberately lived. If you've seen Baraka read live, then you know his fire, and his genius for timing and rhythm. The same provocative energy burns through his poetry, essays, plays, and life stories. (Mark Aamot)