We hate it if is tagging, or bad, or on our place (unless it is worth a mint).
So many strands of thought come out of this for me, about art and censorship, and who gets to make choices (not to mention the fact that some people will be disagreeing with the two statements above) – and maybe I will write about this another time.
In the 1970’s there were books about clever witty graffiti, and I used to pore over them, loving the badinage and repartee, but most of all appreciating the compulsion to react to the environment and to engage with the future audience/community. OK I was 10 so that’s a retrospective analysis of my appreciation.
All the in-jokes, political reference, social comment, off the wall/close to the bone humour attracted me then in the same way that the colour, individual style, graphic quality and dare-deveil placement interest me now.
Strangely I never felt the need to join in with either of these formats – lexical or graphic. I was (still am), content to consume them. This may have been my parental influences, Mum and Dad would have been horrified had I been caught defacing property in this way.
I am volunteering in Hackney Wick at the moment and so graffiti looms large in my consciousness. However it is something that I have wondered about for years. The thing is, it is illegal, so it is not regulated, it is creative and expressive and not intended to damage but to adorn. The artists are sharing their art freely in a generous and proud act. Some of it even finds popular favour. Yet when the Olympic Games come to town buildings are whitewashed as if it is something to be ashamed of.
Even stranger to me is that the whitewashed graffiti in the Wick has been overpainted with pastel motifs that look like soap ads from the 1930’s. I have walked past them numerous times and haven’t taken in what they say, just that they represent clean, orderly, approved writings.
So back to street art in general - I used to watch a program focusing on Julian Beever, who specialises in anamorphic pavement art, and who operates with permission (mostly). He would also showcase other forms of street art, around the world. Some countries had a zero tolerance of street art and had teams of cleaners to remove, clean and decorate any area that was defaced (mostly Scandinavian countries). Others would take a view that it could stay providing it didn’t pose a threat to public health and traffic safety (Germany I believe). Yet others decided to dedicate walls to community art (Mexico, San Francisco) and while they didn’t censor what was on the walls they organised where the art would go. This last approach appeals to my own sense of civic order, don’t ban it, don’t censor it but don’t inflict it either.
As a final point street artists have to be inventive to get their work up where they want it, they also have to be committed, they work antisocial hours, for nothing, providing their own tools and materials. So they mean it, have a passion for it and it seems churlish to reject it out of hand.
There will be more on this topic from me I am sure ...
Hackney Wick Reflections 2009-2012
at A-L-L-O-T-M-E-N-T-S, Schwartz Gallery until 18 August 2012