Correction to This Article
A July 14 article on the graffiti artist known as Borf incorrectly described the site of his arrest. Police identified the location as Seventh and V streets NW, but Seventh Street becomes Georgia Avenue a block south, so the intersection is Georgia Avenue and V Street. The article also misspelled the last name of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who said, "Property is theft."
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The Mark Of Borf

The graffitist himself, albeit disguised, next to one of his tags on U Street.
The graffitist himself, albeit disguised, next to one of his tags on U Street. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

If you followed Borf graffiti carefully, and there are those in this city who did, you'd have noticed that he sort of disappeared in the last few months. That's because, according to Borf himself in past interviews, as well as his mother yesterday, he was traveling in Europe, stopping off in Scotland to protest the G-8 summit. He returned to the Washington area Monday, his mother says.

Reached at home, Murphy said she didn't know her son had been arrested until a reporter called. She said he graduated from Langley High School in McLean in three years, and went to the Corcoran College of Art + Design last year before taking some time off. She said he had been avidly involved in peace marches and other protest efforts, and his graffiti appeared to be an outgrowth of that. She said she appreciated his artistic effort, though she told him that it wasn't right to deface property.

In the spring, Borf said in an interview that he was aware many people didn't understand why he'd been defacing buildings, signs and newspaper boxes all over this city. It's clear he liked being enigmatic, but he didn't like being misunderstood. That's why, on that particular day, he said he was mulling some sort of public explanation, perhaps in the form of a poster campaign.

"I've got plans," he said ominously, sitting out on U Street, eating a vegetarian burger from Ben's Chili Bowl. "Maybe like a manifesto."

He wiped veggie-chili-covered fingers on his jeans, which were dotted with flecks of colored paint, then pulled out a silver paint pen and wrote EL BORFISMO on the rim of a garbage can.

Borf would often tag things like that as he walked through the city, in broad daylight on busy streets. Because he did it openly and casually, passersby seemed not to notice. He cultivated the air of being everywhere but nowhere.

He said he liked listening to people talk about the Borf phenomenon. One time, he was in a computer lab when the women behind him started Googling "Borf." It made him feel quite powerful.

"I feel like Batman or something," he said.

If you've seen Borf's graffiti -- the stencil of the little girl who holds a sign saying "Grownups are Obsolete" or the impish face that appears throughout the city -- you, too, might be wondering what Borf's message is. Once upon a time, Borf said, he was "just, like, some liberal, like anybody," but then he started reading, and found out he really wanted to be an anarchist. He decided he doesn't believe in the state, capitalism, private property, globalization. Most of all, he doesn't believe in adulthood, which he considers "boring" and "selling out."

"Growing up is giving up," he said. "I think some band said it."

Borf recently turned 18, a fact he revealed with hesitation because "I'm against age. It's just another way of dividing people." At least until recently, he lived at home -- where exactly he would never say -- and cut cardboard stencils on his parents' living room floor. He spoke sneeringly of "rich people," though sometimes when he parked in the city his parents gave him $14 for the garage.

Borf's graffiti appeared in unexpected places -- the base of the Key Bridge, or a brick wall along a lonely, glass-strewn alley by the 9:30 club.


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