The plan was to attend a massive Memorial Day parade in Queens, but the directions I’d received were incomplete and left me stranded in a sketchy neighborhood where there was no sign of a celebration. The store fronts on the street were closed, few people were out, and those I found knew nothing about a parade. Feeling discouraged, it seemed the best recourse would be to return to Brooklyn and head for the beach.
Back onto the train, Brooklyn-bound, I noticed a brightly painted building in the far distance. I’d spotted it before, of course, while traveling through Queens (it was impossible to miss), and had always intended to explore it, but I’d never had the time. On this day, however, time was unlimited. I got off and just followed the colorful splashes of paint until I arrived at the place known as 5 Pointz.
Located in an industrial complex that houses artists’ studios and several garment factories, the building serves as a gallery of aerosol art. With the enthusiastic approval of the building’s owner, graffiti artist Meres One is the curator and absolute ruler, deciding who may paint here, where, and how long their work will remain before it is painted over by another.
Graffiti aficionados from around the world regard 5 Pointz as a mecca, arriving with “black books” of sketches, bags of paint, ladders, and cameras to immortalize the work they hope to produce here. Everything that happens on these walls (and floors, fire escapes, and roofs) is up to Meres, who grants permission to photograph or add to the display.
It was a clear, sunny day, a national holiday, and dozens of graffiti writers were arrayed around the building, spraying the walls with intricate, colorful, sometimes beautiful designs. I circled the enormous building, wishing that I had a better camera with me (I had an unreliable old cheap-y that I’d found in a thrift store for $5.00), admiring the skill and probably annoying the painters with my questions, until I arrived at the main entrance/loading dock.
There, amidst the paint and dumpsters of discarded fabric, a group had gathered for a great American tradition: a Memorial Day barbeque. They greeted me as though I was an expected guest, presented me with food and drink, and urged me to return. And, when I get a new camera, I certainly will.