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'Toofus' graffiti viewed both as iconic and nuisance

 

 

 

William Browning

 

For more than a year a mysterious face has been appearing on spaces in the heart of downtown Columbus. 

 

It has been drawn on meter boxes, dumpsters, traffic control boxes and signs. It is presumably created at night and most likely with a Sharpie. 

 

The face has a big jaw. The eyes are troubled and sometimes Xs are drawn through them. The face's most prominent feature, though, is big teeth. They do not fit, proportionately, with anything else. Beneath the chin the words, "Toofus the Doofus," are sometimes written. 

 

The person who draws the face is unknown to The Dispatch. Several people contacted for this story suggested a specific person. When reached on the telephone last week that person would not verify if he or she was responsible for creating the face. He or she only said, "I think I can help with that. What's your phone number?" and then never called back. 

 

Maybe the person did not call back because drawing on other peoples' property without permission is illegal. 

 

It could be considered malicious mischief, according to Latasha Key, secretary with the Columbus Police Department's criminal investigations division. 

 

It is a felony if more than $500 worth of damage is done. The maximum penalty is five years in prison, Key added. 

 

However, authorities say no one in Columbus has complained about the face and no arrests have been made in connection with it. 

 

But it's out there. 

 

A dumpster that sits behind Penny Bowen Designs on College Street has been a canvas for the face. So has an electrical box on the east side of The Dispatch offices on Main Street. And between Rae's Jewelry and the law offices of Gawyn Mitchell on South Fifth Street, along a paved path known as Coggin's Alleyway, the face has appeared on a meter box. 

 

People notice it. 

 

"I have walked past it many times," Ian Childers, an assistant professor of art at Mississippi University for Women, said when shown a photograph of the face last week. 

 

Todd Gale, general manager of Columbus Light & Water, was shown the same photograph. He recognized it, too. 

 

"The traffic control box at Main Street and Fifth Street had it at one time," he said. 

 

Childers, who has studied the culture and history of graffiti for more than two decades, said several Columbus artists work in street art. He does not know who creates the face, though. 

 

Still, he said, "this face is one of my favorite local pieces." 

 

One of the reasons he likes the face is because it is easy to walk along a downtown Columbus sidewalk, pass beside the face and not notice it. In other words, the face seems comfortable in its space, "like it was meant to be there all along," Childers said. 

 

He added that the face seems influenced by the pop culture of the 1980s -- think skateboard culture and "Pee-wee's Playhouse" -- and has a comical air. 

 

"I like street art that isn't too serious," he said. "It's just about the artist being out in the streets and having a good time...It's nice to know that someone is enjoying that space, not just ignoring it like the rest of us." 

 

Childers admitted that the act of creating the face on private property could be illegal. In fact, that may be part of the inspiration that drives the face's creator. 

 

"Being illegal makes it dangerous, fun, worth doing," Childers said. "The artist isn't as concerned with getting paid for the work as they are getting it out there to be seen." 

 

Most times, though, not long after the face appears, it is painted over, either by city crews or private citizens. 

 

Transformer enclosures and cabinets belonging to CLW around downtown have graffiti like the face put on them frequently, according to Gale. 

 

"We try to keep it painted," he said, "but it's hard to keep up." 

 

Even on the spaces where the face has been painted over you can still make it out, if only barely.

 

 

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