Since Fred Radtke starting painting over graffiti, a battle of tagger versus blotter has escalated across the city. Photo by David Winkler-Schmit Somewhere in his crusade to rid the city of graffiti, Fred Radtke crossed the line. Instead of providing a service — blotting out the "tags" that pollute the sides of many buildings — Radtke, aka the Gray Ghost, tried to paint the town gray.
You've seen his work. It's as common as blighted housing in New Orleans, and just about as pleasing. Like the plywood covering the windows of derelict homes, his rolled-on-gray covers black-markered protests on stop signs, concert bills on telephone poles, spray-painted murals on the sides of buildings and hand-painted street signs.
Local and vocal bloggers say Radtke has made the problem worse. Wherever he slathers his battleship gray, it's become a point of pride for graffiti taggers in town to be the first to write over it. Plus, Radtke, with the help of the police, shut down the work of NoLA Rising, the group that was replacing missing street signs and placing throughout the city small folk-art decorated signs with inspirational messages like "Keep the Music Playing," and'Believe." In May, a judge levied a $200 fine against Michael Dingler, NoLA Rising's founder, and made Dingler promise to stop putting up his homemade signs.
But what about Radtke's crimes? Although he hasn't been charged yet, what about poetic justice? What would be a fitting punishment for a man who has tried to blot out some of the city's color? For answers, Gambit Weekly turned to Radtke's blogging critics.
Greg Peters, creator of Suspect Device and a blog by the same name, is against any punishment — just give Radtke what he craves.
'I think he should be forced to live in a nice gray world, bereft of color, spontaneity, joy," says Peters. "He surely would feel secure and calm in a nice gray walled box under a gray sky, with some nice boiled food left at the gray door every so often."
Dedra Johnson, aka G-Bitch, somewhat echoes Peters' sentiments although she isn't quite as "nice" when it comes to the person she refers to as "Rat Man."
'Dip him daily in gray paint and make him live his life colored in that nasty gray he puts on everything else," Johnson says.
Maitri Venkat-Ramani, who writes Maitri's Vatul Blog, and Mark Folse from www.toulousestreet.wordpress.com advocate a more pragmatic approach. Venkat-Ramani thinks Radtke should repaint his offending gray with a color match of the surface's original colors. If Radtke's work has destroyed legitimate art or a traffic sign, Venkat-Ramani says he should pay for replacements. Before tackling the colorful world of New Orleans architecture, Folse feels Radtke should be required to take a few art classes to learn about color.
You wouldn't think a guy with a moniker like Loki, named after the prankster god of Norse mythology, would have the most practical suggestion for what to do about Radtke. But he does. Loki, who maintains www.humidcity.com along with numerous other local bloggers, suggests that it's not a matter of punishing Radtke, but simply replacing him — with someone who is able to discern between what is art, what is graffiti and what is good for the city.
'The best way to deal with Fred is to find someone else more accountable to the community," Loki reasons.
Michael Dingler gets the final word when it comes to the proper penalty for a man who sees New Orleans only in shades of gray. Dingler considers himself to be the good guy in his battles against Rat Man, but he realizes that without Radtke, he would be a caped crusader without an archenemy.
'If I had a comic book antihero, he would be my Joker," Dingler says.
Dingler admits that he momentarily considered painting Radtke gray, but that wouldn't be true justice. In Dingler's mind, it isn't simply punishing Radtke; it's attempting to rehabilitate him, making him "see" the error of his ways. In order to accomplish that, Radtke would bring some splash to the longest, ghostly gray-colored structure there is in New Orleans: the Crescent City Connection. Once Radtke single-handedly repaints the bridges in the colors of a rainbow, he would be welcomed back into the fold, not just as a man who has learned his lesson, but as a folk hero in the recovery of New Orleans.
'It (Crescent City Connection) would be renamed in Fred Radtke's honor: "The Rainbow Connection,' because he rebuilt the connection between the communities," says Dingler.
If he pulls that one off, we'll stop calling him the Gray Ghost and change his nickname to Rainbow Radtke.