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Grand Rapids Painted in Secret

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/Ryan Hipp

I drive by it everyday. Each time, I think, “I need to capture this before the trains move again.” For brief periods of time, a moving art gallery comes to Grand Rapids at the train yard alongside US-131. I keep putting it off – mostly because the conditions are never quite right, but that really just means when I can best elude the security guards.

I don't deliberately mean to glamorize it, but the truth is, I really love it. To me, there is a clear delineation of what is just territorial scribbling and what is an amazing piece of guerrilla art. I separate these concepts in my head, perhaps to justify the difference. Others will even argue a gray area on canvasing the “public space” versus private property. In this case, I know these trains belong to companies who are surely unhappy about this expressive augmentation. I know vandalism is wrong whether malice is present or not. Right and wrong are constants regardless of excuses and opinions; so without condemning or condoning, and at risk of criticism, I will admit to all, there is a bigger part of me that disregards contemplating right and wrong in situations when I am in awe of the skill of the criminal artist under duress. It taps into a boundary-pushing definition of what expression is, and I think I like the danger. When it is done well, it is beautiful and thrilling. With that said, I am also not condoning destruction of property. After all, I would be pretty upset if someone painted anything on my house, even if it was a pretty picture. But often when I see this stuff in scenarios that do not appear to directly hinder another, I tip my hat to the unknown soldier.

Even cataloging these images felt dangerous. And it was. I knew Sundays were the only real day I could get away with getting close enough to get the shots I needed, and this was the first real “sunny Sunday” in a month or so. I knew it had to be today. It was quite a risk – it isn't exactly public property I was treading on, (I'm sorry Casey Jones and John Henry). I knew I needed to be fast and get end-to-end of a half a mile length of train cars then back. The signs warned me it was a bad idea, and I hadn't counted on the snow - the drifts were actually quite deep, over 2 feet and almost up to my knees. Not the best conditions when speed was of the essence.

In short, these photos are the result of that chillingly-long, rushed walk. I hope it is the beginning of a series of sharing other Grand Rapids “art crimes” that I find.

Ryan Hipp is a Grand Rapids opinionist and adventurer.

Disclosure: Some may consider this subject controversial.

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 I have always been facinated with the different artwork that is on traincars. When I sit and watch the cars go by at the railroad crossing I always wonder what little stories and people are behind the artwork. I don't see it as much as a crime if it is on the train cars. I would rather their then on the sides of respectable businesses.

People who like this series of photos might also want to check out the website EQUALIZED: Grand Rapids Graffiti and Street Art. It has photos of all sorts of graffiti and street art that has been done in the Grand Rapids area over the past seven years.