Social media killed the graffiti star

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The Cavaliers would hunt you down for mocking Charles’ divine right to rule. Unless you did it anonymously in a pamphlet. The KGB would rouse you from a bed you would never return to for rebutting the USSR’s steel-manufacturing statistics. Unless your rebuttal appeared on a wall. And Islamists will kill you for drawing their prophet. But they can’t kill graffitists. Graffitists are invisible. And if this were the ’70s I reckon, post-Charlie Hebdo, graffitists would have covered the walls of this town with enough images of the Prophet doing silly things to make him as ubiquitous and affable as Foo. He would be commonplace and, ultimately, gradually, inoffensive. 

Graffitists are the freest of artists. Their anonymity gives them an immunity no other artist has. You can’t put a fatwa on a ghost with a spraycan. Anonymous art, unburdened by its consequence, might be the most honest art. In the caliphate the kingdom or the collective it is the clearest voice to speak of prophets, princes and pricks. 

Driving into town – just before you cross the Westgate – look to your left and you can see a steel chimney with “MONSANTO” running down its 100-metre length and skull and crossbones beneath. The guys who did that had to plan a way in and haul 200 kilograms of paint and rope up an obsolete ladder. Is it the last activist graffiti in town?

In Fitzroy in the early ’80s, someone painted on a wall “MARTIN ARMIGER IS 30”. Martin played guitar with the Sports. Another strength of graffiti is that, as a commuter you’re forced to read it again and again, until you read it right. What at first I read as banal birthday congratulation I eventually read as a fin de siecle lament. A cry of dismay. An Australian tragedy to keep United States and British sadness in perspective. ELVIS IS DEAD. JOHN LENNON IS DEAD. Yeah, well, My My Hey Hey, it’s better to burn out than it is to rust … and MARTIN ARMIGER IS 30. As tragically oxidised as the Tin Man. So bring on hip-hop or whatever pallid devilry is to succeed rock’n’roll – our time has gone.

I met Martin Armiger once. We had written novels and were attending a writers’ festival in Byron Bay. At a party at Di Morrissey’s hilltop villa, Di was a cumulus of chiffon and blondeness and her hubby introduced himself as a Count, if I heard correctly. Twin topless musclehounds were filling flutes with Moet. Martin and I were talking in the garden alongside a statue of a cherub choking a swan when a white cat leapt from the top of a marque onto his head. It was the type of feline despised by evolution but loved by Zsa Zsa Gabor – enormous, fluffy, white, pugfaced (the cat). It scrabbled viciously for balance atop Martin’s head for a few moments before shooting off into the dark.

I was astounded. But Martin spilt no Moet, nor shrieked, nor ran. He was as unmoved as a man who’d spent a decade stoically outcooling Stephen Cummings onstage. As blood trickled down his forehead he asked, “Cat or possum, Anson?”

“Cat,” I told him. “A f—ing big white cat.”

“Thanks,” he said. “I had to know.”

Twitter: @AnsonCameron

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