Now that local graffiti artists been deterred from Beech Hill, I’ve been looking elsewhere for signs of spray-can artistry. With a couple cans of spray paint being infinitely cheaper than a professional paint job, creative types can assure they’ll always be able to find their vehicle in a large parking lot.

Keene’s earthy-crunchy enough to sport not one but two spray-painted vehicles, wheels that presumably express the nonconformist urges of their owners. I’ve already suggested that you can tell something about a place by the kind of cars parked on its streets, so perhaps the relative popularity of spray-painted vehicles tells you something about Keene. Even if you don’t understand the urge to decorate a vehicle with several shades of spray paint, you have to admit that painting your own car is self-expression, not vandalism. Where things get murky, though, is when creative types take their paint cans beyond their own driveway.

After posting various pictures of graffiti “tags” in public spaces, I’ve finally captured a local spray-painter in-the-act. In search of summer shade, yesterday Gary and I hiked the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway to the Eliza Adams Gorge, where we found this youngster expressing his creative urges on the dam there. (Although I have a shot in which said painter is looking straight into my camera, I chose to post this privacy-protecting pose instead.) Using red and white spray-paint, this fellow inscribed a tapering tag on one of the dam’s vertical walls and a similar emblem on the “floor” below, a complete design that was visible (but not easily photographed) from above.

When I think “graffiti vandal,” the stereotypical image that comes to mind is that of a punk who quickly sprays or carves his and/or his girl’s initials on a tree or wall and then flees for cover. (Yes, my stereotypical tagger is male.) This fellow, though, wasn’t at all bashful about his work, neither stopping nor hiding when he saw Gary and me snapping photos from across the gorge. Instead, Tagger worked slowly and methodically, occasionally stepping back to consider his handiwork. In short, he didn’t look like a vandal much less a criminal: he looked like an artist pausing and squinting before an easel, someone who had a definite idea in mind and was stopping to check what he had painted against what he had envisioned.

So, is this tag vandalism or is it art? Before you accuse Tagger of defacing a natural scene, keep in mind that the dam upon which he painted is a manmade phenomenon as is the gorge to which Gary and I were hiking (and the wooden bridge we used to cross it). Is adding a manmade touch of color to an already artificial edifice an act of “defacement”? Does a red-and-white tag in the middle of a spring-green forest detract from the idyllic beauty of the scene? Before you, the jury, decide whether or not this tagger’s handiwork is criminal, perhaps you should consider how large a space it occupies in the larger landscape:

So, you tell me: is this Vandalism, the act of a destructive mind, or creative expression, another unstoppering of Art from a Can?