Photos by the author.
The subject of the avocado was smashed to oblivion (and then spread on toast) a long time ago. Usually in headlines for its fluctuating prices, or as a cause of untold injuries or a vessel for lattes—or, of course, for being the reason millennials will never be able to own homes, it's long since passed the point of becoming a cultural icon. Which might explain why someone is tagging avocados all over New York City.
To be clear, someone is not taking a Sharpie to innocent fruits laid out in the grocery store, but rather tagging their unmistakable oblong outline (complete with almond-shaped pit) across walls and so far at least one truck in New York City.
“I mean there's millions and millions of reasons why people write graffiti, mostly because it's fun,” says Greg Snyder, sociology professor at Baruch College and author of Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New York's Urban Underground. “The answer for avocados is that it doesn't matter what you create as long as you create some sort of icon that can be recognized.”
And they’re certainly recognizable. People on Instagram have only just started to notice them; there are five accounts that have pictures of the avocado graffiti only dating as far back as May 5, 2017. East Village Today, a local and optimistic blog documenting random stuff in the village, has a post cataloging six sightings right after my friend sent me that text. A Reddit post from last year notes that avocados have been popping up over the city, with others chiming in to pitch theories ranging from “vegans” to “millennials” on why they’re up.“I'm in sales so I'm all over the city all the time, I see them in Queens, I see them on bridges, I see them all over the place, a lot on the Upper East Side,” says Drew Johnsen, who lives in Bushwick, “And I kind of think there might even be a copycat, because there's another avocado tag that looks similar but not quite the same, but I'm like, that looks like a different person doing it.”
As it turns out, it’s not vegans or millennials, though “vegans” is slightly closer. I talked to the artist, who requested anonymity, on why they’re spray-painting avocados around New York.I've been drawing in a lot of ideas of like why someone would pick an avocado as their symbol and obviously you’ve got the answer to that, so: why?Well that's an easy one—growing up vegetarian. Avocado was always like a staple in the household.Can I ask if you fall into that “avocado-millennial” group?See that's why I stopped writing it for a while, because of the misconception—like, it got gentrified or something. I'm from South America, so we have the best fruits in the world, and I'm basically recalling our roots and nature in this Babylon. In this heart of civilization, I like to just remember where we come from. It's kind of a sacred symbol for me. It resembles a vagina, which is the source of all things. And it's my favorite food.Is this your first tag? Have you been using this tag for years, did you have a different tag before?I wouldn't call myself a graffiti writer. I just really enjoy the activity of it. And the avocado has been my symbol for years.So in other artwork as well? Are you an artist?I am. It is basically just an extension into the streets. It's my way of thinking and growing. Spreading it.How do you feel about people noticing this?Yeah like I said, I'm glad people are recognizing it. I did not expect to get any sort of like…love. I feel I'm just a soul painter. You know, I just enjoy doing it, and then people started picking up. And I'm happy to hear that, because it's going to keep me out there. Like I said, I stopped painting it for a while because of its misconceptions—people call it hipster or millennial, but before those words even were a thing, I was just about it, you know? I was a very picky eater until I found my love for avocados and for nature.
How long have you been doing avocado graffiti?
Couple years. It seems like life is just taking me there. I just keep meeting writers, not even trying. That's New York for you!I've seen them near a few Whole Foods, is there any reason for that?I hope I'm getting people hungry! That's the idea—divine reminder.I've seen a couple of other avocado graffitis that definitely don't mimic yours at all, but how do you feel about other people's avocado-themed graffiti?Oh I haven't seen any other avocado stuff, but I like the emoji art.Oh yeah they did make a new one!I like the characters, wrapped up in the names, in the streets. Not that it's better or worse, but it's just a natural evolution coming to, like it transcends language.