During my holiday I read Jennifer Toth’s ‘The Mole People’, a terrific book published in 1993 about the urban legend of homeless people living in the huge system of (mostly abandoned) interconnected subway and train tunnels beneath the busy streets of New York City. When doing research for her book, Toth found out about more than 5,000 people living underground, down to seven (!) stories below surface. She discovered organised communities, even with political systems, and smaller groups, ranging from homosexuals to entire families.
In a chapter about art in the tunnels, Toth describes the work of graffiti artist Chris ‘Freedom’ Pape in the Amtrak tunnel under Riverside Park in Manhattan, which is also called the ‘Freedom Tunnel’ by urban explorers, graffiti artists and homeless people. Started painting in 1974, Pape used “most of the available wall space along thirty underground blocks”, turning the tunnel into an extraordinary personal art gallery.
“He cleverly capitalises on whatever sunlight penetrates to the underground and incorporates it into his works along with the natural breaks and textures of the wall themselves.”
Pape almost made it to the the Museum of Modern Art. However, the museum chose not to display a photograph of his artwork ‘High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture’ “for fear it would alienate trustees and donors who might interpret it as an endorsement of graffiti” at that time. Click here for more pictures of the Freedom Tunnel, posted last year. On this page you’ll find an interview with Pape himself about his artworks.