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Thursday, May 24, 2012


there was a time when graffiti was simply seen as vandalism. pure and simple.
mostly it consisted of tags, slogans (pleasant and horrid) and variations on kilroy was 'ere.
then can street art, or urban art, and graffiti is all the rage.

many graf artists have moved from the street into the gallery. some of them getting astounding sums of money for work that is easily reproduced and replicated (me being under the impression that the value of a piece is partly dependent on its rarity/ uniqueness - if you can reproduce it multiple times it moves from being a genuine one of piece of work into the realms of prints and portfolios.
yet i have seen painting by street artists that vary just in the colour used - fetch silly money.

my feelings about graf are mixed. i love it but i can also see that it can be easily seen as vandalism as some youngster tags that name on a door or a wall in an illegible script that makes sense to him and his three mates and them alone.
i have spent a lot of time take photos of the works of graffiti that have gone up around the city. some of works of art, some are thought provoking, some are clever, some of are funny and some are just plain shit (and some used to be stenciled over with 'your tag is shit').

a few years back at a gallery called 'stolen space' was a short film about the tension between the 'freedom' of graffiti and the responsibility of local councils to keep their locality as clean and safe as possible. a spokesperson for tower hamlets said it didn't make judgements about artistic merits - it just cleared up the graffiti because it was seen as a public nuisance.
the artists argued that they were not defacing property they were making art.
which leaves the council in a bit of a bind - which pieces of graf is art and which is just spoiling the area? who chooses? hence the councils blanket approach.

my own personal gripe against the graffiti artists point of view is that if i were to go to one of their pieces in a gallery and draw glasses and a tache on a piece of work they would get upset - but i could just as easily use their argument against them - except they wouldn't sit still for it as i would have destroyed (well in may cases enhanced and improved) their work and brought the value down.

when graffiti is done well i happen to think it falls into that nice category of public art and a good piece can brighten up an area and bring a smile to your face.

roa is one such artist.
he has a unique style and various pieces of his work adorn walls around the east end, as you can see from this video.

in the film you can see an image of a squirrel on a wall at club row. that has recently been partially painted over by a tagger. it could be seen as artistic vandalism. the evening standard didn't mention it.

they are, however, accusing the local mayor's office of vandalism because they have covered another of roa's pieces with a very very large sign proclaiming brick lane as 'curry capital'. this sign covers the graffiti it does not destroy it.

the evening standard run a piece about this criticising the council for their action.if i am honest i suspect much of the reason behind their piece has little to do with the wonders of the piece, but more to do with the fact that they do not like tower hamlet's mayor, lutfer rahman.

the good news is (at least for now) the banner is done. it may go up again later. a triumph for the locals who gathered a ton of signatures protesting against the banner. also a victory for the council for showing that it can respond quickly to local concerns.

here is the wall with just graffiti and with the banner. 

note that the gates to the yard area display another fact about graffiti - it is supposed to be transient, it is supposed to get covered over with new ideas appearing (on the left you can see a figure by stik, i am not sure who has done the gates on the left).

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