In the building there I work there is a cinderblock staircase painted a very bright, very penetrating shade of yellow. The concrete steps are painted grey; there are no windows, and for a number of turns and landings between the fifth and third floors there are no doors, either, so for a long stretch you circle around and around as you descend, and there’s no way out. This makes me, at least, think existential thoughts.
The upper flowers are solid yellow, with only a few calligraphic flourishes here and there, graffitied in black marker. Drawings and words start to collect between the fifth and fourth, and by the time you’ve descended to the third the walls are full of images and words.
There are official-looking murals on a few walls, part of the Yellow Staircase Project,I assume. There are also a lot of Very Inspiring Quotes Meant to Inspire Students. That’s okay.
What’s better is the drawing. A lot of these are small and look spontaneous, and sometimes they overlap and clutter up the more official, well-planned murals. Whole stretches of the wall look sketchpads, or like the doodles I do while I’m on the phone, except better. I can imagine a student with a marker crouching in the corner, possessed with the desire to draw giraffes before they go off to do something else.
These walls fill up with images. One of my students told me that they’re repainted regularly, though I don’t know how often.
Some don’t like that part, and write their frustration on the wall, like this:
tuition to paint over
But while I understand the statement, I feel differently, probably because I’m not an artist. All those other drawings are there, even if we can’t see them. I imagine there’re layers of drawings and yellow paint and more drawings on the cinderblock, and if you could separate them you’d find all the images, packed up tight, one against the other, and each layer of yellow paint like clean paper, ready for some new layer, some fresh, spontaneous moment.
As I said, I’m not an artist. But I imagine I’d like to contemplate a new yellow wall, and think about what to draw, and draw it, and then leave it behind, knowing I don’t have to make any claim for permanence. It will last for a few months, or a year, and then it will be buried in paint. Part of the pleasure, I imagine, is that it’s ephemeral. Maybe I’d draw a giraffe.