A Message of Mystery: Graffiti Abuse


My goal in creating this blog is to document creative pursuits. I’m interested in any form of expression. Graffiti keeps sneaking in as subject matter because it’s everywhere and hard to ignore. I worry that in bringing attention to an art form rooted in vandalism, I’m encouraging these efforts, but really, it’s hard to imagine anything that could stop it. The more I live with graffiti and see examples of it that I appreciate, the more tolerant I become.

I’m partial to graffiti that’s clear and easy to understand whether it’s in legible lettering or words that make sense. If you’re dropping Cy Twombly-like scribbles I end up with a giant question mark in my brain. Letters from the English alphabet allow me to consider the message behind the spray painted designs. Often interpretations are based more on my imagination than anything else.

A case for the Abuse graffiti would start with that word. It’s a powerful word that could mean anything depending on the context. Abuse graffiti is usually paired with a second word that compounds the message. The lettering, big, bold and round, is hard to miss. The message seems be spotlighting the world’s wrongs.


Words like deep, mutant and “antsi,” a play on the word antsy, maybe?, add a layer of mystery. These feel like brief poetic phrases that point to an underlying unease. I find it refreshing. Give me something to think about graffiti artists! If you want to shout, get to it. Wake me up with your message and watch me wax Walt Whitman style! These efforts are also appreciated for keeping it clean, not that there’s that much profanity in the graffiti I see.


The abuse graffiti tends to be done in a large format. That takes space and explains why one paint job hijacked a billboard. This earned points for effort and climbing skills. Billboard advertising is often annoying so a bit of “abuse” breaks up the monotony. I noticed the billboard was advertising a health care program. This led me to wonder if our artist is making a political statement or if the billboard represented an opportunistic canvas with better visibility.


Abuse is declared on a variety of surfaces, a fence by the railroad tracks that run along Lombard/Hwy 30, an old warehouse building, another feat of daring in what looks like a medium other than spray paint and the one that bummed me out, the Exotica Strip Club. It was reported (can the Portland Orbit use that word?) on this blog that Exotica was planning to reopen after some renovation. A giant splash of paint, no matter how decorative or even intriguing, is sure to delay those efforts.


In the end depictions of abuse, however intended, can be found graffiti style for those observant folks drawn to street art. Sometimes it’s in more prominent places while other times you have to look for it on the other side of the tracks. Someone out there has a message. The need for people to express themselves against a dark force like abuse gives power to art in any form it takes.


21 thoughts on “A Message of Mystery: Graffiti Abuse

    • davidc5033 says:

      I’m still exploring this in many ways I guess each tagger takes on a persona and gives it a name. I feel clueless about this. I was clued into the idea that Abuse and antsi are two different individuals.


    • Jenee Johnson says:

      So just today on my way to where I was headed I saw the acronym ANTSI the entire way!! Maybe like 6-7 times in the 12 minute drive. I’m currently going through some major life changes and thought it was really strange that I kept seeing this word. So I googled it and found some extremely interesting info. It’s basically the representation of the life path # 9 in which I am!!! Google the astrological meaning of ANTSI.


  1. Sara says:

    I am obsessed with graffiti art. There is something beyond magical about this form of art that gives me the chills. I find myself getting giddy when I come across the ever prevalent graffiti around PDX. I have the utmost respect for this artist and find myself photographing any works that I come across. Thank you for your blog and being open minded to this amazing form of expression. I think Art should not be judged no matter what form it is.


    • davidc5033 says:

      I try not to judge but I can find myself getting cranky about graffiti. That tends to have more to do with what I consider quality and placement. When I document it I do find myself a bit ambivalent and wishy-washy about it. I’m really focused on writing about my immediate environment and graffiti is everywhere. I had something change my perspective about it. I had received a press release for a short film called Wastedland 2. When I saw a review in the Willamette Week a quote from it changed my thinking a bit. This quote comes from the film maker, “It’s anti-everything. It’s punk. It remains outside of the system. It alludes to dysfunction and allows a public audience to see that people without a voice still have a message, and by any means necessary will get it out to you.” And I found myself bummed because on I-5 South this morning it looked like a particular squid graffiti I appreciate had been painted over.


  2. Parrish Barsh says:

    Abuse, Antsi and Mutant are some of the most up taggers in Portland, which would explain why you constantly see their names. Also look out for Hiero Rong Zenko Aplus Osab and hella other people, I find it interesting to observe every new piece done by writers I recognize


  3. Ailene Farkac says:

    ANTSI and Trbl Mkrs (HLS?) love to tag our dumpsters at my office. I’m trying to figure out how to post pictures here of it. I too love the art form of graffiti. I don’t like gang tags on the mural we worked hard to put up instead of the gang related art, but I appreciate the message, if I can understand it!


  4. davidc5033 says:

    You’d be welcome to post photos on The Portland Orbit Facebook page. There’s a fine line we’re dealing with here but it can’t be cool to paint over anyone’s mural.


    • davidc5033 says:

      I’ll admit you are right. We haven’t suffered the consequences of vandalism. We’ve been lucky. I’ve expressed some conflicting feelings about writing about graffiti but even as my inner obsessive-compulsive, curmudgeon self rages against clutter and the inanity of most of the graffiti I see, I have surrendered to the realization that it is inescapable. Would I be singing a different tune if I got paint bombed on my property? I don’t even know. What I don’t see is the stuff getting cleaned up fast enough to be a deterrent. Do we want tax dollars spent on this? Would the city make a bunch of excuses as to why this isn’t getting done? If you answer yes on the first question then you’ll probably hear a affirmative answer on the other. Your comment is much appreciated because it’s probably a good time for me to explore the other side of the graffiti issue.


      • Hohn says:

        You guys are what is wrong with Portland… P.O.S. No one wants this shit except you and your friends.
        Pick a real art form.


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