Brighton-based writer Andrew Finch discusses the subtleties of graffiti in the fourth and final part of his forthcoming zine “WRITING ON THE WALLS OF PUBLIC PROPERTY IS NEITHER DONE FOR CRITICAL ACCLAIM NOR FINANCIAL REWARD – IT IS THEREFORE THE PUREST FORM OF ART. DISCUSS”.
Graffiti is the ‘everyman’s’ art, accessible to almost everyone, everywhere, made using the cheapest materials – a pen, a brush, a stolen can of paint. It is the most dangerous art, not just because of its negative media attention, but because each night artists will risk their lives to reach ‘heaven spots’ across their cities. They will risk arrest and criminal charges to do what they love, to see something created, not just for themselves but for people around them, for the people who share their city with them.
Graffiti artists work under a system of control and fear (much to try and overthrow control and fear), with no protection of a studio, no financial reward waiting for them at the end of their work. But this also entails that there are no barriers to their work, no gross trappings of the art world because it remains entirely in a world of its own. The element of fear is used everywhere in society, and nowhere is it used more in the form of police control in threatening the artist. Already establishing that graffiti is only a crime because someone somewhere once decided to make it one, the artist must first understand that the primary purpose of legislation and policing is for the citizen to know what they exist. Their very existence, let alone action, is often enough to suppress the desires and will of the artist of the most amateur kind. A few hours venturing out into the night where alertness and paranoia are heightened for the first time when spraying up a piece of art onto a wall is overwhelming, and many are put off doing it again into the future, fearing that their face may have been caught on CCTV images or that they could only be a few moments away from being busted.
The city is the artist’s studio and if something goes wrong, if the artist begins their practice and see’s it going nowhere then they leave it, for all the world to see. Once an artist took on an apprenticeship from a very established practitioner. At the end of the day when the apprentice left to go home, his mentor went through the bins surrounding his work space and salvaged the work he deemed of a bad quality earlier. Year later when the mentor presented his now highly respected student with the salvaged work, it became known as some of his best. Often, you see graffiti art unfinished in car parks, on rooftops and of course – on the sides of walls. This tells a story to the observer, and whether the artist abandoned the work halfway through and left to find another location to re-start a piece, or whether halfway through he heard a police car siren ringing suspiciously close – you never really know. But that’s the beauty of it; it tells the stories of the cities. Of all the wild midnight police chases through the alleys and avenues, of all the wild adventures into unknown territory for the sake of creation rather than destruction. Trespassing to create, not to destroy.
Graffiti holds no promise of financial reward either. In art college your practice must be applied to something practical, in order for you to pursue to the level you see fit that will support you in the future, as this is what you are told and encouraged to do. Less and less are you taught that you can create for the sake of creating (primarily), because what’s time spent without the potential or financial reward in the 20th century with technology to buy. Graffiti holds almost no promise of financial reward unless you take your skills and talent of designing and writing graffiti and applying it to product design, illustration, graphic or product design. But it is wrong to think that while graffiti holds almost no financial rewards, that it doesn’t hold an intrinsic reward in itself. The main reward has always been, from the very beginning, the process of it and the reaction. The process and the reaction. Years ago before the market for graffiti opened and a man named Banksy began selling his stencil work for millions of pounds the graffiti done of the streets belonged to the streets. The artist leaves his mark and it is no longer his own once he walks away from it. And that was the best thing about it. It defined a city, a town or a neighbourhood. It gives the character and colour to an otherwise blank void of nothingness, of lack of imagination and mendacity. And what is graffiti without a reaction? What’s anything if nothing stirs within someone who is exposed to it? Whether it’s negative or positive, it doesn’t matter, as long as it challenged you and demanded you to think, to see beyond the ‘art’ that is given to you for the sake of knowing what it is for conversations sake or for the sake of covering a wall in a house.