Thursday, August 16, 2007

Graffiti on the brain and around the world

An odd confluence of events has left me thinking a great deal recently about graffiti its causes, and solutions.

Obviously graffiti is a global, urban, problem, not just something we're dealing with in Texas. I've noticed several recent out of state stories that I think offer interesting perspectives for a public policy discussion about graffiti.

Graff artists never know who might dig their stuff
Musician Eric Clapton paid $140,000 for 12 paintings by Lee Quinones, an artist who first became known through illegal graffiti. The series depicts albums he shoplifted while he was an unemployed graff artist in the '70s. (One of Quinones' paintings depicted at left via Rolling Stone.)

LA tragedy attributed by media to graffiti instead of murderer
In Los Angeles, a grandmother who tried to intervene to stop a teenage tagger was murdered by two of his friends in another vehicle. I think these kind of horror stories, mostly coming out of Los Angeles, have a lot to do with public attitudes about graffiti.

It's absurd to equate graff artists with murderers, but because of how these incidents are reported (focused on the sensational rather than more useful explorations), that's how the public comes to view them. The guys who murdered this woman are guilty of far worse crimes, obviously, but the LA Times headline read, "A life lost to graffiti." I'd have said a life was lost to gangbanging killers, but I guess you can blame the spray paint if you want. When's the last time you heard of somebody shot over a card game and somebody blamed poker, the game, as the culprit?

Taggers forced to relinquish street names to keep paid OH gig
In Columbus Ohio, store owners hired local graffiti artists to paint a mural, then relented to pressure from local officials to remove it and start over because graffiti crews had signed it with "tags" that also appeared on illegal graffiti all over town. This was viewed by some as an endorsement of criminality, reported the OSU student paper, The Lantern ("Hired Graffiti Disapproved," Aug. 16):
Dominic Petrozzi and Ryan Jones, owners of the store, hired the individuals to create the mural.

"It's a very large, visible wall,"Petrozzi said. Before the mural, it was plain blue and really ugly."

Although the owners liked the piece, some university-area commissioners did not and wanted to see it taken down. The commission did not officially take a stance on the piece because it was painted in between monthly meetings; however, individual commissioners had their own opinions about the mural.

Catherine Girves, director of the University Area Enrichment Association, said the biggest problem with the piece was it was painted by people who participate in vandalism graffiti, tagging things such as stop signs and personal property. She said the mural was painted by the well-known PBJ Crew, whose graffiti names can be seen adorning several buildings and properties in the Columbus area.

"The artistic components of the piece were not a problem at all for me, but when those same tags show up on someone's garage door, that's a problem," she said.

Joaquin Serantes, a commissioner, said he agreed. He said in an e-mail the graffiti crew's tags, which are all over the city, are not only illegal, they are expensive as well.

"The cleaning of the graffiti is estimated to have cost somewhere in the six-figure range," he said.

A new mural, painted by the same individuals, is currently underway on the wall, but lacks the tags. Petrozzi said he wants people to know he thinks the individuals who painted the first mural are intelligent, hard-working people with jobs and an education - not simply criminals.

"The same people who were labeled as criminals by the commission are now creating something really beautiful," Petrozzi said.

Some students in the area say they liked the mural, even though it contained the graffiti gang tags. Dustin Ehrmantraut, an undecided junior, said the piece showed artistic talent.

"I thought it looked good and was done in a tasteful way, and the tags are going to still show up all over the place anyway," he said.

The mural will continue to change from month to month, reflecting the activity in the store and the surrounding area and will continue to be painted by the original artists.
I particularly like this idea because by offering them a) pay and b) an ongoing gig changing the mural every month, they're contributing to keeping busy with gainful employment a tagging crew that apparently has been very active in the area. Perhaps that's a way business owners can contribute to reducing uninvited graffiti. After all, some business owners already spend a fair amount cleaning graffiti off, anyway. Why not spend that money more constructively?

Canadians try carrots in lieu of sticks to discourage vandalism
In Quebec, local officials held a meet and greet with about 30 local graff artists similar to an event that took place in Houston not long ago, though it sounds like the Candadian version was perhaps more productive, perhaps in part because they offered an incentive for participation: An art contest that would decide who received a contract to do a mural for the city. This was wrapped in with an effort to simultaneously draw out a broader discussion of illegal graffiti and what could be done to discourage it. Reported The (8/15)
The artwork from the event is now on display at the skate park (which is located off Beaconsfield Blvd. on City Lane.)

Isa (the female tagger depicted in the photo above with her artwork) called the gathering “interesting.

“I didn’t really speak to the other kids painting, but I found it interesting to see park workers really being like, ‘We don’t know anything about this,’ but trying [to understand.] I have no problem telling everything I know, if it’s going to make graffiti look good, I have no problem with it. To see young people push for it, and make things happen out of it... It makes me feel really good,” Isa said.

Miller said several artists at the event expressed interest in working with the cities to curb vandalism.

“[At Stewart Hall], we’ll have a display where [their art] can be showcased for the public, and therefore they’ll be able to be seen... It’s one of the major goals of being a graffiti tagger, and it was very eye-opening and interesting for us [to learn],” Miller said.

Miller added that the possibility of designating certain places around the West Island as legal graffiti areas could deter some teens from vandalizing, but it hasn’t been easy to coordinate.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds, but its something that... we would like to work towards, we think that would help,” Miller said.
I agree, I think it would help. In fact I think reclaiming public spaces for artists may be a key, missing factor to making graffiti enforcement work (as I'll discuss in more detail tomorrow).

London, England goes for tuff approach toward graff writers
In London, spray paint and markers can no longer be sold to minors and new laws allow parents of youth caught wall painting to be sued by property owners, including the government which is pursuing its claims. They're also boosting criminal penalties to crack down on tagging. The London Free Press reports that the city of London spends $380,000 per year cleaning up graffiti, but that actually doesn't seem that much to me in a city that size compared to what it would cost to incarcerate every young tagger engaging in it.

Who you gonna call? Graffitibusters
Glendale Arizona appears to have a much more mature graffitibusters program than the one I described in Corpus Christi that's just starting up.

Teen graffiti offenders team up with CA artist for mural
In Livermore, CA, youth who've been arrested for graffiti violations were teamed up with a local mural artist to paint portions of a community center According to (8/14):

the city of Livermore is recognizing graffiti artists for their talent and putting that ability to good use.

The "Vandals 2 Vermeer" program is a collaboration of the city, Horizons Family Counseling and the Livermore Police Department. The name for the program comes from the artist Johannes Vermeer, a Dutch painter in the 17th century.

Horizons Family Counseling helped select teenagers ages 13 to 16 who have gotten in trouble with either their school or the police for graffiti.

Oakland artist Andrew Johnstone, originally from Scotland, was already working on a project to restore the city's Multiservice Center and thought letting these "at-risk" youth paint a mural for the center would be appropriate. The center itself houses various nonprofit and government agencies that help low-income families.

"I haven't met a bad kid yet," Johnstone said last week as he guided six teenagers' work on a three-piece mural. "They're all great kids. They just had some tough breaks."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great posts on the graffiti. If you really want so see some amazing art of Lee's, check out the books Subway Art, and Spraycan Art with photos by Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant. Clapton got a steal on his artwork. Lee is an amazing part of graf history.

Yes, I'm a Texas DWI lawyer, but I grew up in Miami...