“Traditionally artists have been considered soft and mellow people, a little bit kooky. Maybe we’re a little bit more like pirates that way. We defend our territory, whatever space we steal to paint on, we defend it fiercely.”
Sandra “Lady Pink” Fabara in Chang, Jeff (2005). Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press. p. 124.
Anyone who has visited Williamsburg, Brooklyn knows that graffiti art is a notable feature of the environment. Whether you consider it vandalism or art, graffiti has been around a long time. Ancient graffiti has been found on Egyptian monuments, at Pompeii, at the citadel of Sigirlya in Sri Lanka, at Tikal, and in the Catacombs of Rome.
Most ancient graffiti was scratched into the surface. Today most urban graffiti is done with marker and spray paint. In most countries, it is considered vandalism if done to public or private property without permission. Graffiti is often used to mark territory or make a social statement.
Graffiti art plays an important role in my upcoming novel Beneath the Skin. Near the beginning of the story, Aristides Stavros, a renowned fine artist, meets a young graffiti artist who challenges him to an art contest. El Toro is the leader of a graffiti “crew” called T-Crew. Here is an excerpt from that scene:
Twenty some odd blocks south, Ari found himself in graffiti wonderland. Plywood fences covered in Full Monty murals stretched block after block. He stopped and reread the note El Toro stuck to his door.
“Right place, hombre,” El Toro said, slipping up beside him. He waved his hand. “Meet the judges.”
Ari stared at the bunch of young men wearing baggy pants, sweatshirts, and multi-pocketed vests. There were four of them. A tall black kid, skinny as a lamp post, with a shaved head, called Fur Tree; two mixed-race twins with Hispanic accents and matching black T-shirts reading “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” who went by Neto and Solo; and someone’s hyperactive teenage brother. The kid, introduced as Hanger On, swung back and forth from a stair railing, his too-large pants threatening to slip off at any second.
Ari gave them his best scowl, and when they didn’t flinch, turned it to a smile. “So where’s the wall?”
How do you feel about graffiti? Is it vandalism? Is it art?
Please share your thoughts