Mixed Feelings Over Borf Guilty Plea

There’s a little flame war going on over over at the Logan Circle Blog’s comments for the post describing the arrest of Borf, a local DC graffiti artist/vandal, and it’s compelled me to post.

To give a brief overview to those not in the know, his tags started showing up in and around the DC metro area about a year ago. Unlike the typical graffiti, his art was neither vulgar nor incomprehensible; and, indeed, in most cases took jabs at our culture, our politics, and the wave of selective gentrification currently sweeping across The District. His vandalism ranged from complex stencils to simple tags, with perhaps his most impressive work a tag of the as-good-as-trademarked Borf face over the Roosevelt Bridge. The DCist has a good overview, and Flikr has a lot of examples of Borf’s work.

After many months of both enthralling and confounding the area with his enigmatic scrawlings, he was caught and arrested. He plead guilty to the charges against him on Monday.

And therein lies my cognitive dissonance. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t enjoy his often not-so-subtle anti-culture jabs. Hedda and I would smile whenever we saw one of his tags, and we spent many walks down up and down 14th Street and P Street pontificating on the cultural questions his stencils would evoke. I even seem to recall actually stating, “I hope he never gets caught.”

At the same time, though I’ve never had to clean up any of his work, I empathize with may of the commenters on the Logan blog. Like them, I pick up condoms, beer cans, liquor bottles, trash, and sticky bun wrappers on an almost daily basis. I’ve had to call 311 more since I’ve moved to DC than ever before in my life, and I never knew what a real prostitute looked like until I saw one a few blocks south of my home a few weeks after moving in. While I expect such things to occur when living in a large city, especially one as “in transition” as DC, I certainly don’t appreciate them.

And yet Borf is somehow different to me. I cannot justify it, but I won’t apologize for it. Perhaps it is the recognition that such Dadaist-esque work cannot always fall within the confines of our legal strictures. Indeed, it draws much of its power by that very act of wilful and contemptous misdemeanor.

As fervently as the consumer-crazed culture surrounding me whispers that Borf is merely a common criminal, I cannot help but see his work as art, and thus comend him as an artist. Perhaps some day we might appreciate that the lack of smile on his Mona Lisa is what makes it so wonderful.