Research 6 – Art or Vandalism – Graffiti
Depending on where you live, you will either be swamped in graffiti or see nothing. It tends to happen in areas with shops and more of a town or city centre vibe. Along the train tracks is another popular canvas area while any exposed walls along rivers and canals is a nice out of the way spot for some creativity.
There has been an increase in the art form recently and a number of highly skilled artists have created wall art that is astonishing. In the past, the origins of graffiti were linked to New York, delinquency, and hip-hop music. It was a form of expression and invention of a new way of speaking and communicating.
Martha Cooper, a documentary photographer for the New York Times in the late 1970’s, documented the vernacular architectural art in the area. Her extensive work was published in a book and became a ‘bible’ for graffiti artists around the world. She documented work on the artform emerging from the Bronx during this time and observed through her lens, the birth of hip-hop.
From these humble origins, the influence of that era can be seen expressed through all graffiti sprayed on the walls in my town. The lettering is unique, and artists push to ensure that their signature line is expressed and understood as their ‘tag’. Some of them are unsightly, while others clearly express thoughtful consideration and composition.
In the past there was an annual graffiti competition held under the Bridge of Peace in Drogheda. It hosted an international list of artists and they competed for best image under the bridge. The walls beside the bridge are also covered in graffiti and it gained a lot of prestige over the years.
It’s colourful, inclusive, creative and extremely positive. However, more recently vandalism in the name of graffiti has been occurring around the town and it has ominous threats attached to it.
The difficulty comes when the subculture of graffiti gets overlapped with political issues and gang related violence. Tags and statements were common in the 1980’s from the I.R.A. so there are swathes of areas that were immersed in this form of graffiti. It wasn’t necessarily vandalism either, and in more recent years there are murals that have been presented on the sides of homes as a way to signify the crossing from conflict to resolution.
Words are powerful, and when merged with images they make powerful statements about the subculture or the political landscape of an area. Context is everything, so there are many that will see all forms of graffiti as vandalism if they’re threatened by the form and there are others who find the expression of the form invaluable as a form on insight into the cultural climate at that time.
Street art is now a tourist attraction for many countries so in my own opinion, I find the form powerful and beautiful for the most part and the fact that the landscape changes and it can be gone at short notice just adds to the beauty of finding it. Most of the street art in the city centre in the main streets is a collaboration of art with the local council. It doesn’t stop people from tagging walls or shops and shutters however, but it does create diversity and is a healthy merge of the art form with the street it’s on.
Tagging however, for me is the lowest form of graffiti. It is a claim on a part of the place you walk through, it’s a dog marking its territory and that isn’t art.
Ganz,N (2004); Street Art from five continents: Graffiti World, 1st edition.
UK Thames and Hudson, C.S. Graphics Singapore.
Graffiti festival (2012) Drogheda
Martha Cooper (2021) biography urban-nation.com