Archive for the ‘graffiti and freedom’ Category

(Keep your bunk!)

Graffiti is not the lowest form of art. Despite having to creep about at night and lie to your mum it’s actually the most honest artform available. There is no elitism of hype, it exhibits on some of the best walls a town has to offer, and nobody is put off by the price of admission.

A wall has always been the best place to publish your work.

The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit…(Banksy, graffiti artist, qtd. from Banksy)

I was watching an art 21 program with my parter last night. Two artists were featured, a husband and wife team named Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen. The program centered on the fact that both of these artists were highly influenced by street art or graffiti art. Both artists were shown working on large installation pieces, but they made it clear that, while these larger projects paid the bills, they would not abandon the different blends of urban and folk art that inspired them. At one point in the video they went to some train tracks (presumably in San Francisco) and drew some images on the train cars there and looked around at what other artists were throwing up (that’s a graffiti art term…just learned it from here in a paper by Timothy Werwath).

Watching the show inspired me to go out and skulk around the train yards here in Eugene and see what folks have been up to:

After that heart thumping late night excursion, I was then further inspired to go the the Eugene Public Library and check out some books on graffiti art. I checked out the book Banksy by Banksy (see above quote), Stencil Nation by Russell Howze, and Obey by Shepard Fairey. All three books are full of examples of street art that made me feel like laughing and crying at the same time.

(stencil art by Banksy)

(Barry McGee aka Twist Graffiti Mural, Photo by Bixby)

Why do people make graffiti art? Why do other people paint over it? Why is graffiti art so intriguing? All of these questions and more are about to be answered (at least partially…)

Why do people make graffiti? There are lots of reasons…a couple of  the top contenders (in my opinion) are 1.) graffiti is a cheap and effective way of saying “I was here,” as well as “fuck you” in a world where most people are considered to be expendable by the authority. 2.) There’s nothing like a stripe of paint to break up the monochromity of the world, i.e., graffiti is a way of disrupting and discrediting the rule bound, constricted and sterile world of apathetic and consumptive citizenry. 3.) Graffiti is interesting to look at. It’s creative and, some would say, way better than a plain brick wall. 4.) It’s free and exciting, as long as you don’t get caught.

Why do people paint over grafitti? Here is a beautiful quote from Banksy:

Criminologists James Q Wilson and George Kelling developed a theory of criminal behavior in the 1980’s that became known as the ‘Broken Window Theory.’ They argued crime was the inevitable result of disorder and that if a window in a building is smashed but not repaired people walking by will think no-one cares. Then more windows will be broken, graffiti will appear and rubbish get dumped. The likelihood of serious crime being committed then increases dramatically as neglect becomes visible. The researchers believed there was a direct link between vandalism, street violence and the general decline of society.

So, people who are in authority paint over graffiti in order to ensure that more graffiti doesn’t pop up. A trickle will certainly become a rushing brook will certainly become a raging torrent. At least as far as criminal behavior is concerned. And graffiti is, apparently, the gateway drug to the degeneration of society.

Which, moving onto the next question, is, in my humble opine, the reason graffiti is so intriguing. It’s edgy. It reminds us that there are people in the world who are willing to spend the night in jail in order to make a point. The tagger might be from a city far away down the track, or she might be sitting next to you on the bench at Saturday Market. Graffiti is a constant visual reminder that there are other people in the world, different from you, who stood in the same place you are standing (or possibly sitting…some of the greatest graffiti I’ve seen has been in bathrooms). They may agree with you, they may disagree with you, but, it is clear that you are not alone here on this planet. It’s easy to forget.


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