Street Art: A Williamsburg Walk with Dave Meade
I met up with David Meade, who leads a street art tour of Williamsburg, on the corner of Driggs and North 7th. I know this area from my daily commute. I will not be surprised. But as I walk to the rendezvous I try to remember any outstanding graffiti and nothing comes to mind. Meade probably just chose this meeting spot because it is close to the L train. I am sure that he will just be explaining how to read the crazy arcane letters that are written on every surface imaginable. When I get there Meade confirms part of my hypothesis. He did choose this place because of its proximity to the L. But he also chose the location because it is a great place to get people in the habit of finding street art that is often hidden in plain sight, so I guess we’re not even looking at the tags.
Meade is an ex-graffer, but he is also an interesting mixture of scholar, teacher, fan boy, and tour guide. He begins his class/tour by showing us a piece I never noticed. We walk west on N. 7th to find one of Swampy’s “Swamp Donkey’s” lurking on a building top. “You have to look up,” Dave explains. “People are scared of feeling like tourists I guess.” Lesson #1: Look Up.
Then Dave takes us back east on 7th. I am dutifully looking up the whole time, hunting. I concede that Dave is the expert here. But I am taller than him and don’t wear glasses (I wear contacts). I am also much younger than Dave and my perceptive powers are certainly at their height. I am not going to let Dave pull another fast one on me. Not here–not on my home turf!
Just on the other side of Driggs, Dave stops us at a bit of spilled paint. I am pretty much standing on this mess. I look down at the paint, and I am glad that it is dry. As I correct this brief lapse in focus and redirect my attention upwards, I hear Dave begin to talk again. Apparently I am stepping on part of Lesson #2. Touché, Dave. What we are standing on is a drip painting by the UFO- 907 crew. Lesson #2: Look Down.
At this point Dave Meade is Yoda, and I am a Luke Skywalker with a beard. Needless to say, he has my attention. I will follow Yoda/Dave into a star if he said it might be fun. I want to know the secrets of the streets. Dave knows the secrets of the streets, go on the Art Walk and he will tell them to you. Lesson #3: Dave Knows. But how? I am intrigued.
I have a few theories.
Theory #1: Bespectacled Yoda/Dave must go to some sort of weekly clandestine council of street artists.
Theory #2: Maybe he receives a top-secret newsletter with a constantly updating map of the best graffiti in Williamsburg.
Theory #3: Dave is behind all of this. Certainly the man in front of me is a wildly prolific artist with multiple personality disorder. On Saturdays around 2pm, he is Dave the Street Art Walk guy. The rest of his waking hours he goes by names like Paul Richards, Swampy, C215, Bast, Judith Supin, Roa, Lunar New Year, QRST, Katsu and probably even Banksy. This is by far my strongest theory.
I now regard Dave with cocktail of suspicion, respect, and awe swirling around in my belly as we wander and zigzag through the streets of Brooklyn. I will not say how, but as we walked, an origin story for this man’s knowledge began to form in my head. *Spoiler Alert* I suck at theories–they were all wrong. And I am not Luke Skywalker, though David Meade might still be Yoda.
David Meade likes to think of himself as a street scholar. He grew up in the Bronx, where he started writing graffiti in his teens. Graffiti is fun and dangerous, a big draw for young men and women in urban environment despite its illegality. After Dave got arrested the first time, he decided that maybe graffiti wasn’t for him, but he never lost his love and respect for street art.
A bad economy left Dave with a lot of free time. He turned to his old love of street art and began taking pictures of his favorite artists around his home in Williamsburg. This is the genesis of the Street Art Walk. Dave’s pictures started to get traffic online, and he started to learn more about the artists.
Dave can do this Art Walk because he is constantly engaged in it. He tweaks his route to cater to the best art in the best spots.
Weather it’s legal walls by Roa or just a pair of stilettos Deva Feva left on a telephone wire, Dave sees art in all of it. The walk brings the walls to life. As he weaves through Williamsburg, recurring themes and artists start to jump out. I started to notice things I would have never seen without the guidance of Meade’s trained eye. That is the coolest part of the experience–Meade trains you to see the world around you in a completely new and interesting light. For tourists or native New Yorkers, the art walk is enriching and informative. David Meade transforms the street into both a gallery and a classroom. Go take the Art Walk: become a tourist, a student, a critic, and maybe even a Jedi.
Article by Scott Bunze
Photos by Dewey Frechette