Two little boys no older than ten stand in front of a Casco Viejo souvenir shop corralled by three uncommonly large SPI officers with .45 caliber handguns and red berets.
The cops are talking among themselves.
And the two boys, shadowed by such towering men, look paralyzed with fear as if they are about to cry.
Locals and tourists alike meander past “the situation” in droves and each of them looks over, wondering what crime could possibly be the catalyst for this strange but intriguing state of affairs. After all, it’s 3:00 in the afternoon and after-school programs just got out.
I would later come to learn that the boys had been attempting – very genuinely – to create artwork (in the form of spray paint) on both public and private surfaces (in the form of parked cars and storefronts), which is both tremendously cute and transparently illegal at the very same time.
Here is some of their work:
What followed was an internal debate between the right side of my brain (the aspiring artist) and the left side of my brain (the annoyed pragmatist) about the merits of unauthorized graffiti.
This is an interesting topic because for any and all of its suggested downfalls, illegal graffiti is one of Casco Viejo’s strongest, most authentic allures.
Some friends visiting from New York City recently commented to me that Casco Viejo’s graffiti was among the best they had ever seen in any of their travels.
And I agree…
The rough and harsh edges of Casco Viejo architecture lend themselves to irregular art work (whether it’s sanctioned or not).
Most (if not all) photos of Casco Viejo in major magazines and newspapers feature some element of illegal street art.
Most (if not all) tourists who visit Casco Viejo are drawn to some element of illegal street art.
Most (if not all) people who live here find it commonplace and (in most cases) wonderful.
Banksy is perhaps the world’s most famous living artist — his work goes for hundreds of thousands of dollars — and yet his work is almost exclusively identical, in intent, to that of our aspiring two small criminals.
And while this is clearly not a Casco Viejo-specific debate (it is the very nature of illegal grafitti everywhere), Casco seems to have the topic in a neat and consolidated frame for examination. I mean CHECK OUT the absurd amount of awesome artwork we have in this tiny little historic district!
What do we tell children who want to impersonate illegal graffiti artists in Casco Viejo?