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Date Minted: November 23, 2019

Artist Description: She hid her cash under the mattress. That was back in the day when cash still had value. Now it was just trash; ripped graffiti. But she liked to feel the comfort of lying on cash.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Such power that collage is able to create. Looking too long at Cash Graffiti reveals it’s Microsoft Paint-inspired visuals, but does nothing to diminish the overwhelming impression of flame, rage, and annihilation conjured by the colors, construction, and contrasts on display in AL Simpson’s masterful piece critiquing modern society’s reluctance to give up long disintegrated values of Fiat currency, and how that affects the minds which feel this way. Being beholden to the past, that’s what Cash Graffiti so elegantly has on its own mind, exploring the appeal but ultimate futility of nostalgia for that which is long-gone. Classical ideas of financial safety, extrapolated outward to its least sexy and most paranoid form, are literally and metaphorically torched. Can you feel the burn? It consumes Cash Graffiti, and it consumes the character therein, and it consumes us in equal measure.

Central to this piece are fire and women and money, a series of themes which would be at home in a Scorsese film. Along the very top edge of the image is a kind of indigo-leaning blue, a pleasant color which gives itself over to the nascent shape of a woman’s body, her black hair clearly painted on and outlined crudely, as are her features. Most striking are the woman’s two baby blue eyes, piercing out from the piece and brighter than any other color here, drawing our attention to her smoldering gaze. Her body is not as outlined as her face, is bright red, and conjoins itself with a huge smattering of phoenix red which descends downward throughout the right side of the frame. Beside it, a wall of orange, a wall of flame, pushing inward towards the woman, towards her colors, towards the black markings like cigarette burns, towards the lower third of the image, where a graffitied image of the USD 1-Dollar Bill is slowly being engulfed by the color above it. 

What’s really happening here, however, is we as observers are imposing our understanding of certain color dynamics onto the piece. We’re almost being dared to do it. Cash Graffiti, in all but a few spots, allows color itself to rule its functions. If we cease imparting meaning upon the color schema here, we’re left with a purely-aesthetic collage of color, oranges and reds and blues, a few quasi-pop images, and no overarching narrative. But Simpson is deft in the piece’s construction, knows that observers will approach the piece with their own presuppositions about what certain colors symbolize, and from that a narrative will grow. It’s art that deeply understands its audiences, deeply understands the community in which it will be seen, and manages to convey an impressive amount of information without expressing any incredibly technical artistry. 

The presuppositions are not obvious either, and they play upon certain old-world-of-banking stereotypes. We have all seen depicted in popular media the idea of people distrusting of banking institutions keeping cash in their mattress, stuffed in wads between mattress and bed spring, or placed carefully in a hidden slit underneath it. That stems from a depression-era mistrust of financial institutions stemming from an enormous run on banks, one which left banks literally dry, without money enough to honor the amount of cash that was deposited with them, and meaning that many were left without access to their savings; they had simply vanished. This led to the creation of the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which ensures that deposited amounts of up to $250,000 USD insurable by a backup financial institution, thus preventing such a situation from happening again. However, the societal disdain for banks stayed. It remained mostly dormant until the 2008 financial crisis, however, which itself spurred the creation of Bitcoin, the spark of cryptocurrency, and by extension, the crypto art movement.

A burning bed implies a burning house, and a burning house implies the equal loss of all those funds supposedly safe underneath the mattress. “She hid her cash under the mattress. That was back in the day when cash still had value. Now it was just trash; ripped graffiti. But she liked to feel the comfort of lying on cash,” reads the Artist Description. The proposition is that even in a world in which cash is completely obsolete, a world often portrayed or hinted at or expected via Crypto Art, there will be souls who cannot give up on their old world attachment to physical currency, no matter the risk. It’s a symptom of deeply-ingrained societal values, like Scrooge McDuck diving into a bathtub of money, or rappers letting dollars bills rain down upon them, images perpetuated by pop culture. It all contributes to the depicted woman’s pain when the physical currency she was told to hold dear is, here, valueless. Yet she cannot rid herself of attachment to it. “She liked to feel the comfort of lying on cash.” She’s in denial, opting to take refuge from a frightening future by engulfing herself in comforting, but worthless, money. It’s a sorrowful image, that one would not be able to move out from the ancient stores of value even when they are quite literally burning around her. It’s a captain going down with their ship, something noble only in poems but misguided in practice. It’s quite literally someone remaining in a burning building so as to remain close to cash which is, here, depicted turning to cinders, in the process of losing its physical worth just as it is implied to have lost its symbolic worth as well. 

And all of this communicated in just a few colors, a couple of sad blue eyes, and an irreverent picture of George Washington. Displaying that kind of sociocultural understanding is impressive, borderline ingenious. We are tempted to believe that we’ve arrived at the aforementioned conclusion ourselves. But no. We are following Simpson’s cool, tremendously creative hand. The artist has carved out a path for us in a forest, gliding between trees and over ravines, but has made us believe we blazed it ourself. 

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