COMING FROM the Italian word for ‘scratch’ graffiti is one of the oldest forms of human expression dating back to the first cave paintings carried out on walls in animal blood. Before language was invented we were putting our thoughts and stories on cave walls so that others may learn from them.
You only have to walk around Brick Lane near the Old Street tube station in London to see the wealth and variety of street art on offer and thanks to the anonymity of the artists involved it has become a way of making the art more important than the artist, something I have always agreed with and yet the top guns such as the infamous Banksy have their work commercially available, sold from basement shops in Soho to art galleries in Los Angeles and his new guerilla show which was set up under cover and recently ran for free in the Bristol museum.
Is this not a brilliant thing where undiscovered artists can clearly make a name for themselves even if they choose not to show a face? I’m sympathetic to people who don’t want their wall’s daubed with slogans and well aware that graffiti and vandalism is illegal in this and most other countries but my simply reply is that art is not illegal and not subject to these laws. I think that as long as the pieces can be considered artistic they have as much right to stay on the walls as the occupants have to live in their own homes and if those living there don’t like or deem it offensive it they can’t paint over it can’t they? Surely this is a matter of common sense and not of the courts in any circumstances? I understand that some slogans may be interpreted differently and disagreed with so if it’s on your wall and you don’t like it then you can happily do something about it. I’m sure most artists will get the message and paint somewhere else rather than lose all of their time and effort. This system works much better than trying to set out rules and regulations for what is acceptable and what isn’t – its art and that means you don’t have to like it and it doesn’t have to play by the rules.
Maybe graffiti has finally found its time and place, with the standard being raised from unsightly ‘tags’ to bigger and better pieces that can be considered art in its own right, popular opinion towards street art is changing and as long as it looks good and brightens up an otherwise dull wall who can really complain? In fact when one of Banksy’s pieces – stencilled on a wall in Bristol came under threat, a public vote showed that 97 per cent wanted it to be kept. Still there’s always someone out to ruin the fun isn’t there?
A famous sociological theory simply named ‘Broken window theory’ dictates that run down areas containing graffiti as a sign of the degradation of the area are only going to attract a higher crime rate because people assume no one ‘cares’ about these areas whereas a lot of the new style artwork in areas like shore-ditch is actually leading to a boom in people who want to live and travel there owing to the perception of the area as fun and vibrant with expression. Isn’t it about time England was put back on the map for artwork? Times are changing and town councils and art critics alike need to move with the times or simply stand aside because it’s not going to stop now, graffiti thrives as a much needed way of expression and the social commentary contained in many pieces is now the painted voice of those who have no other means than a spray can and a blank wall to show what’s on their mind.
Graffiti and street are constantly evolving and changing aspects of social commentary and art itself masterpieces are no longer only confined to canvas and graffiti has come a long way since the back of the toilet door and this is what makes it so exciting, you can walk past a stencil on a wall of the Mona Lisa and marvel at its place here brightening up a dirty alley but by the time you’ve run home and gotten your camera it’s been changed to a picture of Osama bin laden with a rocket launcher! There is no need to stifle this kind of creativity as it will run itself and simply by looking at the walls around you in a different way you can learn to appreciate not only art but the place in which you live.
I truly believe that making things illegal gives them an air of mystique (just look at drugs) and the tale of Banksy creeping around in the night and playing an ever more daring game of cat and mouse with the powers that be calls out and inspires the part of us that loves the outlaw, the Robin Hood’s and Batman’s of this world but this is just a man with a ladder, some stencils and an idea. The only difference between most people and Robert Banks is that he goes out there and does it and because of this he has become the stuff of legend and by keeping his identity hidden (to paraphrase Batman crudely) he has become ‘more than a man.’ These are interesting times we live in now that what he does has become accepted and in interesting times the doors are opened for hundreds of others who always wanted to do something like this but were always just looking for that extra push.
Looking at the unification of the art world and the way that those who paint on walls instead of canvas are now considered ‘artists’ instead of merely ‘vandals’ is a sign of the exciting times we live in. I don’t understand how anyone could object to the rise in beautiful outlandish paintings popping up in front of you as you walk around town, I cannot stand bad graffiti, mispelt and indecipherable tags on fading walls do not appeal to anyone except the narcissism of those who painted it. Our only hope is to separate graffiti and art and let those with talent reclaim the writing on our walls.
Life should be an art gallery and the streets are ours to do as we please.
Please feel free to comment, your feedback is appreciated and it’s always going to be about getting involved. If you’ve seen any fantastic pictures or clever ideas then please leave the link for us all to enjoy.
words by Matt Turner