Ann Knickerbocker
We were driving through southwestern Germany. The winter days were unusually mild, and mists hung over orchards, newly-ploughed fields, small castles, and distant mountains. We climbed into those mountains and found ourselves in the dark shadows of the Black Forest, snow all around us, the rear tires of our Citroen stuck, spinning, in the ice outside a closed resort. Tourists were welcome in summer; it was January, and we were not welcome. When we broke free, we wound along twisted roads, saw waterfalls, huge tree roots growing from rock cliffs, and realized that the landscape invited notions of dragons. We downloaded Grimm’s Fairy Tales and read them in the evenings, little stories filled with foreboding, regret, and terrible deaths.

The situation called for dragons, I thought, but painted dragons are decorative, not frightening. The un-formed dragon that comes in the night, that cannot be seen, underlies it all. We drove down out of the mountains and came into big European cities. The monuments and public buildings were imposing and yet, in so many places, the foundations, the plaques, even hand-built stone walls were disfigured by graffiti. And graffiti became, for me, the tangible evidence of the modern dragon. The destructive act announces a presence, a presence that is just as foreboding as those sudden blows in fairy tales. Illustrated fairy tales would later be published with new happy endings; out of this same kind of helplessness, present-day vandalism is frequently covered by a crude patch of paint. This layer of paint often does little to cover the tags and doesn’t even match the wall’s original color. And then ... a new graffiti signature might arrive to cover the covering.

So, instead of trying to paint dragons, I am painting city walls. I might begin with a weathered mural, or pasted-up ads, or simply paint that approximates marbled or brick or stucco walls. I hand-paint my graffiti and layer paint, papers, photographs and sometimes, over that, the “happy ending” layer of paint that doesn’t quite match. By understanding the dragon, by painting this incarnation of the dragon, I somehow come into a living, breathing response to night terrors.