Winding my way one recent evening through Interlaken, Seattle's wooded, Olmsted brothers-designed park, my eye was startled by flashes of orange spraypaint dashed across asphalt, grass, plants and logs in a trail of neon.
Although I knew about Greenix, the lawn-painting art movement originating in Arizona, it took me a minute to register that what I was seeing was a brand new twist on this brand new art movement. The idea of painting grass has finally made it's way to the Pacific Northwest but here, where there is an abundance of water as well as a different aesthetic relationship to lushness than in a conservative desert city, it's no longer about making brown grass look green.
With the thrill of an archaeologist stubbing her toe on a shard of ancient pottery I realized I was witnessing my first Punkgrass. While the name is the same as the musical genre that combines punk and bluegrass and whose populist, genre-bending spirit it shares, in the visual world it's become a catchall term for the kind of street art in which real grass but also other plants, logs, and surrounding road surfaces are tagged with splashes of spraypaint in neon colors.
The thing I find so remarkable about this instance of Punkgrass is how rapidly it's found its way into the creative lexicon of Seattle's aesthetically adventurous Department of Transportation. While many art movements start out at the (ahem) grassroots level and gradually get co-opted by the mainstream - the most obvious and related example being graffiti, with "outlaw" artists now being fêted in flashy shows at LACMA - it's nothing short of stunning that SDOT is so quick to pick up on the very latest trends and co-opt them as part of their program to bring art to obscure corners of the city.
Unlike the expansive Greenix pieces which are a kind of color field painting using lawns as canvases, here a few leaves and blades of grass are dashed with small linear marks, with paint often originating on the asphalt and climbing onto the plants in a kind of conceptual earthwork tagging. The hits of color highlight the forms of individual leaves while making the surrounding green appear even greener.
On the one hand the paintings make a playful visual statement. Not unlike punk hairdos in unnatural hues of purple and pink, Punkgrass calls attention to otherwise unremarkable natural growth by shocking our expectations of what color it should be.
But as with Greenix, the paintings also comment on the ecological and psychological need for green, uneasily calling to mind rising temperatures and the crucial role plants play in the absorption of carbon dioxide. "Attention!" The colorfully martyred plants say. "Do not take my greenness for granted."