Monday, January 12, 2009

Potty Talk


This may very well be the most unconventional topic I've ever blogged, but hey, inspiration rarely follows convention, now does it?

However, the story does begin at the high school:

It was the last day of classes before winter break, and the mood throughout Max Hayes was festive. There was a little extra spring in my step as I made my way past the knot of students gathered next to the door of the building construction shop on the third floor. I smiled at my colleagues, Jim and Bill, and they waved me inside.

"What are you doing after school?"

It was agreed that a celebratory drink would be in order, but the question of where to imbibe remained open to suggestion.

"How about the Barking Spider?" Bill suggested. None of the West side teachers would be joining us that afternoon, so we were free to venture outside the typical staff comfort zone of the Near West Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. University Circle is on the other side of the river, and on the way home for us Eastsiders.

"Boy, I haven't been there for a couple of years. I'll meet you guys at about 2:45."

The Barking Spider Tavern has been a popular Cleveland watering hole since 1986. Cold pitchers of draft beer and free entertainment make it a favorite of the Case Western Reserve University crowd who are, for the most part, a rather brainy clientele. It is just this combination of alcohol, intellect, and creativity, that brings me to the subject of my post. Add a magic marker to that trifecta, and what you get are the most intriguing restrooms I have ever needed to spend time in.


Graffiti covers every surface. The legacy of thousands of women scribbled, stamped, and smeared on the doors, walls, and ceiling. Proclamations of love, political diatribes, cartoon drawings, poetry, jokes, famous quotations, and angry rants demand the attention of the occupant.

That Friday afternoon I found myself alone in the ladies room, and being in no hurry, I began to read. With no one to hear me I laughed out loud. Written in green, an elitist insult : "Your pants are easier to get into than community college!"

Remembering the camera in my purse, I began to photograph the layers of text.

Although the walls apparently get scrubbed, permanent marker stains the paint, leaving the ghost images of ancient tags and soliloquies until, before long, new patrons add their thoughts to the walls, doors, and fixtures.

What began as vandalism has, over time, been allowed to become art, although I'm not sure if proprietor, Martin Juredine, shares my philosophical perspective.

"You call this Art?" Certainly some conservatives would scream, "That's just wrong!"

And I reply "Look again...think."

I teach Art as concept, ideas, expression, and most importantly; art as visual communication. What has evolved over time here in the restrooms of the Barking Spider Tavern is an amalgamation of thoughts and feelings. Text and drawings, ranging from raunchy inebriated scrawls to pithy remarks and profundities, record the anonymous ruminations of the countless women who ventured into the ladies room over the years. Like bacteria in a petri dish, creative expression grows in this lavatory. The visitor who pauses to read will get a provocative glimpse of the feminine spirit in it's myriad manifestations.

In my opinion, the experience rivals the conceptual works in many gallery installations I've viewed.

When I returned, my colleagues, too polite to ask what took me so long, did give the camera in my hand a second glance. I wasn't surprised.

I do admit it is just a little strange to be taking photos in a restroom.


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9 comments:

Peter N. DeWolfe said...

Thank You!!!

There are some portions of our world(s) that never see the light of day.

I believe Simon & Garfunkle refered to some such writings as "Poems On The Underground Wall"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6dJdf_Vjt4

There was a time, (years ago), when I collected these bits of art and re-wrote them on my bathroom wall, for the occational visitor to enjoy.

"Jesus Saves... Moses Invests" is the only one that comes to mind at thie time.

marybeth said...

Et tu, Pete? Why doesn't this surprise me?

Kathy G said...

Very interesting post, and even more interesting pictures.

I wonder if the men's bathroom is equally decorated?

Russ said...

The men's room is equally decorated.

locksmith mesa said...

no..no..no. men never do like that.. =p horrible..

Heidi Cool said...

Martin passed away yesterday and I found your post when searching for mentions of him that I could use in a post I'm working on now.

I think Martin would agree with your observations, for in this case the graffiti didn't begin as vandalism after all. When the Barking Spider built the downstairs bathrooms, Martin placed several pens on the sinks of each and encouraged everyone to share their thoughts on the walls. Over the years it has evolved into this unique compilation of art, nonsense and philosophy. Thanks for sharing your insights!

Claudia said...

The bathroom at The Spider is my favorite bathroom of any place. haha. I always spot something new each time I go in there. I too have photographed some of the walls. I often wonder what the men's room there looks like. I think we should get a guy to go in there and take some pictures!

Anonymous said...

Stain as is sometimes seen as art as well.

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Anonymous said...

Nice "Potty Talk" =)

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