On graffiti in the urban space

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The question of graffiti is an easy one for many working in council maintenance departments. It is a public nuisance, and to be prevented or removed as quickly as possible. This is an important requirement for many organisations, loking at the industry for anti-graffiti paints and coatings, and graffiti removal products and machinery.

The culture and politics of graffiti art is discussed at Graffiti.org, but since bookmarking the site I can’t now view it, as our firewall blocks it due to ‘criminal activity’. Tagging and offensive slogans are an eyesore for most people, other those that write them, and it’s hard to argue against this sort of graffiti as anything other than criminal vandalism.

However, there is a grey area with graffiti artists who put considerable time, effort and materials into their pieces. The work below, painted on derelict buildings in Brick lane, arguably brightens up the area. Whether it is a pleasure or an eyesore is a matter of aesthetics and taste.

sweet toof / tek / cyclops

The artist known as Banksy, specialising in temporary pieces painted in public areas and often making innovative use of the urban environment as part of the work, has risen to international acclaim in recent years, with soaring book sales, works selling for hundreds of thousands, and an Oscar-nominated documentary about him.

In some cases, urban maintenance work has clearly been carried out under instruction to leave his artwork intact:
Retaining Banksy
Image courtesy of Michael Reeve

His reach and popularity is such that fans will document when one of his pieces is removed (click through to see discussion about the removal of the piece).
Banksy Rat - Gone

Paste-ups further blur the lines- more temporary and easier to remove than sprayed graffiti art, they comprise works painted or stencilled onto paper and pasted onto walls or other urban areas. The ‘Banksyesque’ theme of relating or involving the art with the location is also prevalent as can be seen in the work below by Jef Aerosol.
Fashion Street

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s ‘Broken windows theory‘, prevalent of the 80s and 90s in New York, states that “monitoring and maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition may prevent further vandalism as well as an escalation into more serious crime.” (wikipedia)

However the inverse idea also exists when it comes to graffiti: commissioning graffiti art and integrating it into the urban landscape can involve youth and counter-cultures with their local area, increasing feelings of civic pride and respect for ones self and the urban invironment. Duncan Cumming‘s website discusses this in more detail.

Fountainbridge underpass
Commissioned graffiti art on an underpass in Edinburgh

Further reading can be found in this university thesis on graffiti in urban space – another link that is now blocked for me by our firewall due to ‘criminal activity’.

I found it interesting that searching the internet to research graffiti in urban environments threw up many more documents and resources that seemed to be in favour of graffiti, than material discussing the negative effect it could have on residents and users of public space. That is not to say that idle tagging, the writing of schoolyard slogans or mindless vulgarity are not an eyesore and shouldn’t be removed.

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