The other day as I was walking down the sidewalk in front of the Broadway Tower, I noticed what looked like a man painted on one of the electrical boxes on the corner. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was, indeed, a man and he was holding a sign that read, “I (heart) downtown!” I chuckled and thought, wow, even our graffiti in Enid is friendly.
Over the next few days, every time I walked by the piece, I would find myself smiling and finally, I took a picture of it. I put the picture on the I Love Enid Facebook page and as it turns out, even though no one wanted to openly condone graffiti, everyone had to admit they really enjoyed this little guy. One friend dubbed him “The Builder” because he is, after all, a Lego Man.
That evening, I received an anonymous email from The Builder:
“First off, thank you for liking my art. I also dig you using the photo for your Facebook profile picture. I want to say when I painted as one called “the builder” I did it in all respect to our city. I love downtown and enjoy it very much. I want Downtown to grow and prosper. First Fridays are great and I enjoy them very much. If LegoMan shows up again he will not be spray painted on walls or “vandalizing” anything. The Builder/LegoMan will come temporarily and come off with water. I don’t want to make our city ugly. Maybe he will bring “friends” and appear all over Enid or Oklahoma. We need to build and beautify Oklahoma, Enid and our hearts.”
The Builder and I began corresponding and while remaining anonymous, agreed to answer some questions. The Builder explained that what they’re doing has been called “guerilla art” which is defined as the surreptitious, and often sudden, creation or installation of unauthorized public art, often with the purpose of making an overt political statement. The term is often used interchangably with “street art.”
Why a Lego Man? “Because it is an iconic image that mostly everybody knows. It also isn’t something that most people would get offended by. He is a builder, and that is what our city needs. Builders to make it even better, to grow downtown, increase culture and make people proud of our city.”
The second Lego Man appeared on a building on the corner of Broadway and Independence – his sign reads, “Love this City!” The subsequent pieces have been made of paper, put up with organic water soluble paste that will dissipate without a trace. “The first builder I put up I spray painted and regretted it real fast. I don’t want to be seen as a menace or destroyer. I want to be known as an artist.”
The latest are a series of spacemen on Owen K. Garriott Road. “I just put up about seven Owen K Garriotts down his street; I did this because I asked about eight random people who Owen was and about half said, “I don’t know,” so I made him in his space suit and papered the street.”
Bansky – whose real identity is a mystery – is a well known British graffiti artist whose subversive satirical works have been seen all over the world. While Bansky is known for his contempt of the governent, The Builder is completely the opposite – their contempt for the apathy of the Enid citizens. “My main motivation in doing this is to open the eyes of Enid residents. There is so much this city has to offer and so much E-towners don’t take part of. I have heard alot of people say this city is crap and I ask why and never get a good answer. We have a symphony, the Gaslight, museums, local musicians and A LOT of history. I have never done anything like this before. It is my first attempt and I hope I am succeeding in making people think and not making any enemies of Enid. I hope to keep doing my art. I hope Enid understands it and appreciates it.”
The Builder went on to explain, “I know some will praise what I am doing and I also know some would love to throw me to the EPD. Some see it as art while other see it as vandalism.”
Of course defacing public property is not something one should condone, but where do you draw the line between street art and vandalism? The consensus seems to be that it’s essentially in the eye of the beholder. According to Virginia artist Jim Bell, since street art occurs in predominanatly public places, some believe it should be left up to the public to determine whether something stays or goes. Bell states, “Some street art truly is just vandalism and desrves to be treated as such. We draw the line when an artist truly creates something that is either aesthetically pleasing or offers such a compelling statement that it cannot be ignored and wins public sentiment.”
The reaction to The Builder’s art has thus far been positive. People have stated they like it, that a city without graffiti is boring, and one Enid citizen said, “We need to track them down and say… thank you?”
Enid is going through a bit of a transition as of late – there is an almost palpable line drawn between the old guard and those who are gung ho for change, so the sentiment of The Builder is timely indeed. Maybe some people really do need you to draw them a picture.