Happy Holidays to all of you charming and sparkling BSA readers!
It’s been a raucous sleigh ride with you and we thank everyone most sincerely for your support and participation this year. A sort of tradition for us at the end of this December we are marking the year with “14 from 2014”. We asked photographers and curators from various perspectives of street culture to share a gem with all of us that means something to them. Join us as we collectively say goodbye and thank you to ’14.
We feel lucky to present Lord Jim to you because he knows how to tell a tale and turn a phrase. He also knows a little bit about Street Art and graffiti history and has a razor sharp ability to detect false posers on the scene, so no frontin’. Aside from those street skillz the Los Angeles based photographer intrepidly tracks down his intended and gets his shot. This year he had the great fortune of finding an art world near-legend. Okay, maybe a legend. True story.
“My shot of the year is not a very flashy one. It’s not even a good photo but a simple shot of a great and rather profound personal find that threw me back about 30 years:
This is one of a few pieces by Harald Naegeli, AKA the “Zurich Sprayer”, that I found in Duesseldorf , Germany a couple of weeks ago.
It was the first that I’ve ever seen in the wild too, even though I knew all about him and his style since, well…about 1980.
This find seemed completely implausible, but these were his fast, lanky stick figures; the crude curvy lines, sparsely added simple geometric shapes hinting torsos, heads, eyes, boobs, etc. They were all sprayed in one swig from the bottle that I had discovered and that were, at least in my mind, completely out of time and out of place there.
Naegeli had disappeared from the public eye in the late 1980s and I had all but relegated him to a footnote, granted – a seminal one, in the graffiti time line. You may call him the Cornbread of Germany.
Turns out Naegeli still lives in Duesseldorf, just celebrated his 75th birthday and…he gets up. Again. This piece was actually his and it was fresh!
Harald Naegeli, AKA “The Zurich Sprayer”. Dusseldorf, Germany. November 2014. (photo © Lord Jim)
Naegeli is one of those characters of graff legend and lore who has really seen things through.
His graffiti in Zurich created a massive controversy in the art world in the late 70s; “vandalism is not art”, “private vs communal property”… nothing you have not heard before. This was probably the first art discourse that I could relate to and among my earliest flirts with graffiti and public uncommissioned art.
In his prime his wiry figures were everywhere in Zurich, tallying up to a thousand. Naegeli was a wanted man but he managed to stay up and anonymous, known only as “The Zurich Sprayer” until he was arrested there in ’79.
Neageli did the sensible thing; he fled to Germany and in 1981 he was sentenced to 9 month jail and a hefty fine in absentia.
This only fueled the conversation about the value of his art and set the stage for a spectacle in which the Swiss had issued an international warrant and demanded that Germany would extradite him. Art world heavyweights like Joseph Beuys and Klaus Staeck rallied to his defense but, alas, in 1984 Naegeli turned himself in and served the sentence that hundreds of artists and authors had petitioned the Swiss Supreme Court to commute.
That’s were I had left him standing. This was a time when Graffiti in Germany was mostly just daft slogans, when it was fresh only in America, when Street Art meant dreadful mimes, musicians and someone doodling old masters in chalk on the sidewalk.
Naegeli forced the hand of the art establishment at a time when the public was considered safe and exempt from art, when art was reserved for the academies, temples and ivory-tower collections. We were commanded to take sides in that great controversy about the sprayer, the vandal, the artist, his rage, revolt and work. I ran with the underdog and never looked back.
30 years later these few sprayed lines reminded me of that, and not just as an afterthought but in paint, there on the wall, here and now. Hard to beat.
Glad I found these, glad you’re still out and about, Harald Naegeli!”
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