Not the usual kind! This graffiti is found scratched on the back of choir stalls in the church of St. Nicholas in Salthouse on the Norfolk coast. No doubt these were drawn during particularly long and onerous sermons defacing what was once smoothly painted woodwork.
Although there is the usual rash of dated initials, some spectacularly from the early 1600’s, the graffiti mainly consists of masted sailing ships, some complete with flags, anchors and rigging. These must hail back to the days when Salthouse was a port and these ships were a regular sight for the choristers to get their inspiration from.
It is amazing that these etched doodles have survived the centuries, withstanding any erroneous, but well meaning, person redecorating, sanding down, and painting over these drawings so that they would be lost to eternity.
The scratched lines of the ships somehow remind me of the skeletal remains of boats and ships you find on Britain’s shorelines and estuaries. Entrenched in the sand and mudflats you see the ribs poking up forlornly to the skies. They are both reminders of the times when these vessels would be out on the open waves. Outlines of something that once was.
I get the feeling that one of my favourite artists, Alfred Wallis, would have loved these images, and I think he would have been entirely at home, if he was amongst these choristers creating this graffiti art.
Defacing of a different and more literal kind is also evident in the wooden screens of this church, now moved to a more prominent position. Reformation sackers have been here, and literally de-faced, and more besides, the figures of the saints that once adorned these screens. But I like them as they are, wearing the mantles of the historic past in full splendour, and giving you pause for thought at what has been enacted in this church in the past. As Picasso once said, “Every act of creation, is first an act of destruction.”