The bathroom walls in my high school were covered in white, one-inch square tiles. There were four stalls containing stools. Though all of these stalls had a back to the tile wall, only one had a side wall made of tile. There was frequently a line at that stall even when none of the others were filled. One might suspect teen-age boys to be up to no good in such circumstances, but the stall's popularity stemmed from nothing cruder than the quality graffiti that always appeared on the tile wall.
It was one of my favorite occupations to settle myself on the seat provided and peruse the adolescent offerings. The art work would periodically be wiped away by the janitor's rag and a healthy spray of Lysol, yet the work was always replaced by a new exhibition. My fondest memory of this room and its graffiti art involves a series of puns on the word "tile".
It started with a budding artist making a miniature drawing of an alligator within the limits of a tile. Below was penciled, "rep-tile". Next appeared a depiction of a babe-in-arms representing the infant-tile. Soon various artists went to work, creating such masterpieces as a mink stole-tile and a missile-tile. I made my own contribution with a drawing of a horse. My horse could have been mistaken for a cow, so I felt compelled to write "hos-tile" in tiny letters on the grout beneath it. In a fine display of one-upmanship, the original tile artist drew a cowboy mounting my horse and called it "Tex-tile."
This engaging toilet pastime ended when our "folk-art" was destroyed by the janitor who pitilessly got around to doing his weekly bathroom-wall-scrub-down. It was just as well. We were running out of tiles and would soon have been writing on and about cracks, which would have dramatically reduced the elevated tone of our work.
As a medium for graffiti, as well as tile mosaics and geometric patterns, tile has worked its way into the fabric of our psyches. Although its artistic function is important, building experts insist that tile is also good as a waterproof covering in baths and showers, even as flooring in the laundry room and the kitchen.