Paint Your Wagons

Avenue BColin Moynihan
East 9th Street (2)

Various forms of street art and graffiti, of course, are a familiar part of the East Village landscape, enjoyed by some, deplored by others and impossible to eradicate. Magic marker tags, murals, stickers and spray-painted shapes can be seen adorning walls, doors and sometimes even lampposts and fences in the neighborhood.

But some of the improvised canvases used by graffiti writers and painters are mobile. While roaming the streets of the neighborhood over the past few days The Local has kept an eye out for tagged vehicles. They have not been particularly difficult to find. It does turn out, though, that vans appear to be a more popular graffiti and mural target than any other type of vehicle.

Some may consider these vans to be rolling eyesores. Others may see them as works of art. While several of the designs appearing on the vans appear to have been thought out well ahead of time, there were also marking that looked more recent and spontaneous. Maybe the owners of the vans chose to ride inside illustrated vehicles because they wanted to project an artistic sensibility. Or maybe they decided that trying to keep up with sharpie-armed vandals was too much of a drain on their time.

East 9th Street
East 8th Street (2)
East 8th StreetColin MoynihanThe many colors of van graffiti.

Markings on the vans may combine the purposeful with the accidental. One Chevrolet van, parked on East Ninth Street had what looked like an intentional paint scheme of purple, pink, red and green upon which other scrawlings had been layered, covering the vehicle’s metal sides and parts of its windows and, in one area, helping to hide some rust. Legends written on the van included the arcane (“punks with cans”) the factual (“police bleed red”) and the testimonial (“Rest in Peace Rick James.”)

A block away was another van, painted in different color schemes on either side. It bore the words “while you sleep” and “smart cru,” which could be interpreted as a reference to nocturnal writings done by an intelligent group of graffiti artists.

Then a few minutes later, on Avenue B, a white van pulled up to a curb, nearly covered with black, blue and red markings. The driver switched off the motor and opened the door, presenting a chance to ask about the aesthetic vision that produced the abstract tags.

The driver, Juan Rodriguez, shrugged at the question and explained that he was not the one responsible for the markings.

“It’s the graffiti guys,” he said. “I used to clean the van off every week, but they always come back, so now I just leave it this way.”