GRAFFITI VS STREET ART

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By Sarah Wilberforce and Marianne McDade

 

Most people dream, at one time or another, about leaving their mark in the world. Whether by having their name in the history books or simply scribbled across some obscure surface, the concept of graffiti goes back thousands of years. In fact, the earliest recorded works date to ancient Egypt.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 9.15.09 amOver the years, this artistic ‘marking’ has evolved significantly. From the technology of spray cans to the expansions of the now, very diverse genre itself, graffiti has certainly left its mark on our urban landscape and Melbourne is no exception. Our city’s street art has become iconic around the world and showcases local talent such as Dlux, Stabs, Phoenix, Baby Guerrilla, Kaffeine, Civilian, Be Free, Ha-Ha, Meek, Phibs, Sync, Vexta and Rone, as well as a hoard of well-known internationals.

 

Graffiti is getting up proper, on top of buildings and having to chop your way into certain areas to get to certain spots that are revered.”

In spite of this, enthusiasts, councils and the art world alike, have struggled to define and reconcile the popular street art with its illegal and controversial alter-ego – graffiti. Opinions on the topic are surprisingly varied, and some even argue that there is no difference at all, but that the insinuated conflict between the two genres could be damaging the art form itself.

 The NORTHSIDER decided to head straight to the source and put our questions to the experts. We sat down with established local artists, Maka, Tom Civil and Mayo, to hear what they had to say on the topic.

 

MAYO
Status: Graffiti Artist

 

Graffiti is like skateboarding and street art is like rollerblading. Graffiti is cool and street art is not really that cool.

I mean I like some of the stuff that people do, but I don’t think they have the same respect that graffiti writers do – from graffiti writers. So street artists are frowned upon. It’s like rollerblading and skateboarding. Like boogie boarding and surfing. Skiing and snowboarding. One thing is just cooler than the other, that’s just the way it is.

How do you differentiate between the two?

The difference is that a graffiti writer [like] myself, I know that I am not a street artist. I don’t look for conceptual ideas to put forth a political view or anything like that. I don’t adopt a little fruity character that I draw on paper in my studio and then stick on walls in the city. I climb onto roofs and take spray paint, and break and enter and do illegal things that constitute as vandalism. So I think vandalism is graffiti. Street art is sticking up little picture and painting nice characters and using brushes. Graffiti is getting up proper, on top of buildings and having to chop your way into certain areas to get to certain spots that are revered.

Do you buy into graffiti vs street art? 

No. I just think they are two entirely different things. There are street artists who I guess, ride the back of graffiti artists, cause we were here first. We were putting it in people’s faces, and then street artists decided to make it into an art form whereas graffiti wasn’t necessarily purely an art-based practice, it’s purely an adventure and hobby. I do it because it’s romantic, it’s beautiful, it’s something special about getting away with stuff that you are not meant to do.

99.9% of the people don’t even notice it, its selfless acts in a way, I am just doing it solely because I enjoy it.”

You go in with this whole rebellious stage and after a while you sort of let go of the fact that ‘oh wow. That tag or that throw up, or that piece that I did over there, is like saying F.U. to the world’. But it’s not, 99.9% of the people don’t even notice it, its selfless acts in a way, I am just doing it solely because I enjoy it.

 

MAKATRON
Status: Painter/Mural artist

 

Graffiti stems from doing words painting your own words and your name and various forms of that – tags, pieces, and throw ups etc. Street art is so broad in what can be considered. It can go from putting sculptures in the street to yarn bombing…to painting massive murals. There are so many different forms.

Would you classify yourself as a street art of a street artist or graffiti artist?

I am a paint artist it’s hard to classify yourself when everyone who is an artist wants to be an individual as well. Definitely not a graffiti artist but I have done a lot of graffiti in my life. I never write words. I always thought it was a bit limiting writing the same word and generally in the same rectangle shape.

Even the word street art is becoming so broad and mainstream that I don’t really like it that much. It suits okay but to class someone like me as a street artist, it puts you in the same category as someone who, for example, does yarn bombing and has a very little relationship with it. Sometimes I’m making sculptures or playing piano or illustrating with pencil and charcoal in ways that have nothing to do with “display” on the street, so wouldn’t want to get locked into any labels.

What about this graffiti vs street art debate?

There is an important point about this debate and, one thing that street artists and the community, in general, don’t understand or respect, is that in the graffiti world, they do have an art form — even though a lot of it is vandalism and for most there isn’t much meaning — but it is an art form and it is something that people put effort into. It’s their world and so when people don’t have respect for it, it’s a very similar thing – back and forth that graffiti people don’t have respect for street artists and graffiti artists don’t have respect for people with shops.

I think in a lot of ways the more painters there are, the better for both of those groups. There are some, especially younger guys, who are in the graffiti world and they see street art as somewhat ‘un-tough’ or ‘un-cool’, or too cool perhaps. I guess they have shallower minds and not broad minds.

 

TOM CIVIL
Status: Street artist

 

When I started getting into street art, it wasn’t really a used term. We embraced it and pushed for it because it was a thing. We were trying to create a movement – something to band together on. Like art punks or something that sort of formed into street art.

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Now it’s all anti-street art. Now anti street art is cool. People are going out tagging street art.  All over town attacking street art.

 

What would the city be without tagging. It is the birthplace of graffiti. It leads to all sorts of future forms of art-making. It’s an empowering way to start to leave your mark on the city. It’s very hated across the board, but without tagging there wouldn’t be murals.”

 

I’m into solidarity and working across different scenes. My whole thing is working with different people bringing them together. I’m really into that. I don’t want to create any kind of war or anything.

 

What’s the deal with graffiti vs. street art debate and how did it start?

A lot of it is just media spin – something to talk about. Gossip. Bullshit. A lot of it is that the media likes to put people in neat bundles and stereotypes.

I think it’s because of this whole anti-graffiti spin that the council and government is throwing. Through the legal work which is framed as anti-graffiti. It’s anti-graffiti so of course the graffiti scenes are going to be harsh on it. I mean how can they participate in something like that if it is ant-graffiti. So, from a council stand point it has been created. But also, in an art market world, graffiti has been put to the side.

What will happen is that street art will become so uncool that it will go underground and then rise again in another form and then it will go on again.

So, what are the differences between street art and graffiti?

If you look at it how the law looks at it, street art is graffiti. It’s all graffiti. That’s what’s hilarious. It’s just the terms we use. Anything that is done illegally in the street is graffiti. Even posters are seen as graffiti. Traditionally it’s just anything on the street. Writing your name on the street.

As far as I see, we are comrades in the same conversation about changing the city that we live in. What would the city be without tagging. It is the birthplace of graffiti. It leads to all sorts of future forms of art-making. It’s an empowering way to start to leave your mark on the city. It’s very hated across the board, but without tagging there wouldn’t be murals.

There are a lot of limitations in the graffiti scene. They feel constrained by the so-called rules of what is or isn’t graffiti. Someone like Lush – he is the ultimate guy who f***s with the concept of what graffiti is. But he is one of the biggest graffiti guys around. One of the biggest taggers, but his work is also often seen as street art. He just does everything. I think its because he just doesn’t care about the rules – he loves challenging the rules of graffiti. And that’s what it’s about I reckon.

What is the main commonality?

The spirit of adventure is there. To want to go out by yourself or with friends, to explore the city and interact with the walls and break the rectangles; leaving handmade marks and to challenge the architecture of the city. So much about it, is the stories and the adventures and the myths that are created by going out and doing stuff on the street.

 

 

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