Graffiti: Vandalism Or Street Art?
History Of Graffiti
Graffiti has frustrated city officials for decades. In large cities around the world abandoned buildings, tunnels and outdoor walls have become the graffiti writer's canvas.
The word graffiti comes from the Latin word grafiato which means scratched. In this sense graffiti has been around for thousands of years. Cavemen, using bones and pigments,etched marks with meanings on cave walls.
The first known example of modern day graffiti can still be seen in the Greek city of Ephesus, which is now modern day Turkey. A hand-like heart and footprint along with a number, it is thought to have indicated directions to a brothel.
- tagging: spray paint, done in one color. the graffiti writer's signature, gang or crew name sometimes added. sometimes done over someone else's graffiti.
- throw up: a little more elaborate than a tag. 2-3 colors. often uses a bubble letter font. sometimes in one color and outlined in another.
- wild style: complicated, hard to read form of writing that includes arrows, spikes and curves. has a 3D look.
- 'piece: short for masterpiece. harder, more complex. more like true art and often commissioned from people who recognize graffiti as a true art form.
- blockbuster: large block letters done to cover a large area in little time. uses paint roller, 2-3 colors. usually done to keep someone else from using that area.
- heaven: put up in hard to reach locations such as rooftops, freeway signs or towers, rock cliffs on mountainsides. gets respect from other artists because of the danger involved.
Street, Or Urban Art
The latter part of the twentieth century saw a rise in subversive messages in graffiti writing. Activists for social, political, economic and environmental change began expressing opinions and criticizing government policy through graffiti. The terms street art, or urban art may distinguishe it from vandalism; however, graffiti is still considered vandalism if done on a building without the consent from the owner of the building. Tunnels, concrete overpasses and similar structures fall under the jurisdiction of local government and graffiti here is also considered vandalism. Whether considered graffiti writing or street art , the perpetrators have to take care not to get caught.
"Going out bombing" became an expression to describe the graffiti writer or street artist's activity. They use pseudonyms as names and paint them on their work like calling cards. In graffiti circles "getting up" is having your work seen. Crews are groups of associated street artists; their activity has become a world wide subculture. They communicate through the internet, connecting and sharing their work via blogs and websites.
Different Types Of Graffiti Art
Traditionally, graffiti writers have used aerosol spray paint cans to produce their work. A simple name, gang sign or an elaborate painting can be produced. It depends on the method used and varies from writer to writer. The hierarchy of graffiti writing begins with "tagging" and moves up to " 'piece "-short for masterpiece.
The majority of graffiti writing and street art is done without approval from building owners or city officials. There are methods perfected by true street artists that help them to create " 'pieces" that gain them respect in the art world. These methods help them to create high quality art work that can be displayed quickly.
The artist creates stencils from cardboard or other materials. They take the stencils and hold them against the wall, spray painting inside the stencils. True artistic talent can then be shown by the quality of stencils, use of colors, and placement of stencils to show depth.
The artist creates work on stickers such as "hello my name is" stickers or address labels. Time can be taken to produce quality work elsewhere and then later slapped on site quickly.
The artist works at leisure on pieces of plywood. He then takes it out to mount somewhere, taking care to use nails or screws that are not easily removed.
Again, the artist can work at leisure elsewhere. A paste of wheat flour and water or mashed rice is used to quickly mount previously made posters.
Mosaics, sculptures and street installations:
Art work done on a 3D object that can be moved.is a street installation. The true street artist may be commissioned to create elaborate sculptures and mosaics. This is true art and involves no vandalism.
Three "Known" Street Artists
Although street artists post their work at night or in disguise they have managed to become "known" in the art world through their distinctive work. They label their work with a chosen pseudonym. Some street artists have had their work displayed at museums such as the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Images and prints of their work are available on-line.
- Bansky is a talented British graffiti artist. The son of a photocopier technician, he trained to be a butcher. He uses a stenciling technique that combines satirical street art, subversive epigrams and dark humor. He filmed Exit Through The Gift Shop, a documentary on street art. The documentary, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2011, was initiated by a French immigrant living in Los Angeles who was obsessed with street art. As he was attempting to film Bansky and other street artists, Banksy took over the camera.
- Jef Aerosol, a French stencil Graffiti artist, became popular after spray painting his first stencil in 1982 in Tours.His work has been presented by several art galleries around the world. He designed the cover of the first book ever published about street stencils titled Vite Fait, Bien Fait.
- Blek le Rat, another French street artist, is considered the "Father of Stencil Graffiti". His identity, Xavier prou, was revealed to French authorities when he was arrested in 1991 while stenciling. He is known for painting rats on the walls of Paris and declaring the rat as "the only free animal in the city."
The Difference Between Street Art And Vandalism
Where is the line drawn between street art and vandalism? Imagery and color to create a message through a work of art on an abandoned building on the dark side of town may not be considered vandalism by many. But a "tag" or "throw up" done by a crew or gang member is ugly destruction. Even on an ugly building, this level of graffiti writing just makes the building uglier. Perhaps we should answer the questions where and what. Where is the graffiti done and what is the quality of the work? This can help distinguish street art from vandalism.