Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Street Art and Graffiti as Public Dialogue

We have long advocated that street art and Graffiti are a particularly potent force for public dialogue about issues facing our urban spaces. A recent post on Arrested Motion on the interaction between Pixadores and commercial street artists in Sao Paolo helps prove the point. According to the post, some Paolistas are angry that the city is funding beautification projects while the cities poor are overlooked. Taking this issue to the streets they defaced a city funded mural project with the following sentence. “R$ 200,000 in makeup, and the city is in calamity.” In doing so they have created an important dialogue about who the city looks after in a very visible way. Sadly their commentary was removed immediately as it was clearly not to the cities liking. I do hate to see such beautiful work buffed like this but I am happy to see that conversations through public works continue to push important social issues.

VIA Arrested Motion

Proving that tensions between graffiti artists and street artists are not just a phenomena of the western world (see banksy vs. robbo),Pixacao artists in Sao Paulo have defaced a mural by Os Gemeos, NUNCA, NINA, Finok, and Zefix. They are probably angry that the mayor of Sao Paulo, after creating the project “Clean City” in 2006 (which erased much of the illegal graffiti) is using public funds for commissioning legal writers and famous street artists. This all at a time when the government is perceived by them as doing nothing to help the poor communities that were flooded after 30 days of non-stop rain, yet the mural was all cleaned in the same night, by a huge team of City Hall by using sponges and hydraulic cranes. [More Here]

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

The World Has Gone Mad And We Couldn't Be Happier

photo from Unurth

It seems these days residents are taking back their walls in growing numbers. In the past few weeks we have seen NPA's illegal ads in LA targeted by Eddie Colla, and unidentified residents resulting in the removal of over 20 billboards for public communications. And then there was this pinwheel project by an unknown artist in New York not more than a week ago. And now this recent image comes to us from Unurth with no one to lay praise on. Has the world gone mad or has the public taken its responsibility more seriously? It would seem the latter as NPA's illegal signage is being targeted ferociously. Now if only we would see the city respond to these actions in the appropriate manner and begin the removal of all NPA ad frames, or even better, their conversion to public messaging boards!

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interview For Student Dissertation

After finding me through Poster Boy, this interview was given to an artist and student at the University of Brighton who wishes to remain anonymous. They told me that they are finishing their last year of study in graphic design, and are writing a dissertation on the theme 'is street art reclaiming public space?' Having interviewed Ron English, Dr. D, and Poster Boy about this already, I look forward to reading the final paper. If they are okay with us disseminating the final piece, we will post it here.

Do you think street art in itself is a political act or does the content or message of the piece need to have a clear political message?

Until Street Art and Graffiti production on unsolicited walls is legalized, these acts will continue to be political even if the content is not. Whether or not the practitioner admits it, putting work up on the street illegally is a demand for a public space that is conducive to public curation and participation. Street artists and graffiti artists, or property outlaws, as they are referred to by some lawyers, express a "willingness to break the law that signals the intensity of his or her dissenting position" on how public space is used. I think this is a very important social health issue in our modern cities that must be resolved for the public environment to reach its full potential. Being able to interact with public space on your own terms is an important part of realizing your potential as a public citizen. When you produce something visual in public space that you care about it is like leaving a piece of your self behind. Once work in the public is created, a permanent connection to that space develops which endures beyond your leaving. In this way, street artists and graffiti artists' works are a way of connecting people with the spaces they live in.

Are you inspired by any particular political or artistic movement? What would you say is the main message behind the stuff you do?

I am inspired by social justice movements, public space reclamation projects, and the tireless work of non permission based public art practitioners who create unauthorized moments of serendipity in our cities every day. There are many aspects to the PublicAdCampaign project but the most important is the promotion of public participation in the creation of our shared spaces. Anyone who goes out and creates in public without permission is expressing their desire for a public space which appreciates their individuality and their voice. One of the forces preventing this type of behavior is outdoor advertising and the supremacy of the commercial message over the individual message. In this way I am inspired by the uninspiring state of public space and its tendency to give credence to the commercial over the public. We must understand that public space is one of the last spaces in which we can demand a non privatized arena for dialogue. Most other forums, including print, television and recently the internet have become controlled by corporate interest and therefor do not allow meaningful democratic thought. If our public spaces are to function well for our society then we must prevent them from falling prey to the same corporate control and allow them to be the last vestiges of our democracy.

What part do you think the internet has played in the growing popularity of street art?

The internet has obviously facilitated the spread of this international movement. Most of us are informed daily of new and innovative street actions through the web. This online community is an important part of the street art movement particularly for those practicing this art form in smaller cities which might not have a flourishing scene already in place. The one thing that the internet cannot relay is the experience of street art which is an incredibly important part of the art form. The one on one interaction between viewer and creator holds much of the power behind the work. It is the experience of finding, being given a gift by someone which asks little of the viewer, that invests the work with such power and makes a trivial moment into a deep felt connection to the city space and the community at large. Street art is a way of creating dialogue in a physical environment, and without the viewer finding the piece, or interacting with the work, the art falls short of its potential. If street art was only experienced through the internet its affect would be greatly diminished.

How do you feel about the fact that some companies use street art as their advertising, both by using the aesthetics of it in regular advertising and sometimes using the methods of street artists (‘guerilla advertising’, street installations, stickers, clever stuff and so on)? Is there any danger in this?

Advertising's co-opting of street arts tactics is extremely problematic. Advertising is notorious for stealing artistic innovations in aesthetics and design. It can only be expected that this would happen with graffiti and street art. Despite this, what gives these two forms their power is not their aesthetics, but their tactics. The emotional connection that is a response to stumbling upon a beautiful piece of artwork, placed unassumingly in our public space is at the heart of this practice. This connection is made more powerful by the fact that the viewer is asked to give nothing in return to the artist. In fact the work opens up a space for contemplation and communication that is more akin to a concert experience than a gallery experience in my mind. One may ponder the motivations, messages, placement, and context of the artworks, and in doing so engages in a two way conversation with the artist and the space in which it was created. Advertising has as its singular motivation the trapping of your attention to deliver a very specific message or a simple brand recognition. By using the incredibly selfless tactics of street art, advertising tricks the public into engaging it as one would street art, as a gift, with an innocence that is a result of two minds finding each other in the anonymous public arena. Once the fact that the viewer is looking at an advertisement with selfish motivations is revealed, the viewer feels betrayed and this then separates the public from public space. I find myself walking the city streets looking for moments created by street artists and graffiti, knowing they will enrich my experience of the city. If you ask the average citizen how they interact with outdoor advertising on a daily basis, they will tell you that they try to ignore it. The two create completely opposing forms of participation and interaction with the city. When a viewer is tricked by advertising that poses as street art it removes one more reason to engage your environment which separates the average citizen even further from the space that they live in.

What kind of reactions do you get regarding your work? Why do you think people react that way?

As I said before, most people attempt to ignore commercial messages in the public environment. This causes them to categorically ignore the spaces in which advertisements are placed. Because my work reclaims these commercial spaces, I am often battling peoples inherent interest in avoiding them. This causes the work to take on attributes that advertising would not employ like physicality/texture, lack of text, over simplified graphics, and no clear message or meaning. When people do notice my work they are extremely happy to have the moment of pause created by my art and are relieved that they are not being solicited as they move through their public environment. The public's attempt to ignore advertising is a result of its tendency to take from the viewer while my work asks nothing of the viewer but to reflect on its existence, placement, and origin of creation. That said my work is often misunderstood. When my work manifests itself in large scale organizational projects, it is much easier to understand because the execution is much more visible. The execution, or act of creation, holds much of the meaning behind my work and when this is visible it is more clearly understood. The larger organizational projects are the result of the incredible dedication and participation of many like minded individuals intent on bringing this issue to the forefront of people consciousness and this in turn creates a wider audience and therefor clearer objective.

What does the term ‘public space’ mean to you? Who has the right to public space? Is street art a way of reclaiming public space?

Public spaces are those places where we all share an equal voice and right to the city. To me this means not only the streets, but the walls that surround us which impose a multitude of visual conversations. Everyone has the right to public space, so long as they are acting upon it as individuals. In this way, commercial use of public space is an improper use of our public environment because corporations are using money to increase their influence beyond an individual level. Each person should be allowed to impose their own interests on public space, creating a level of noise equivalent to their own means. By paying to disseminate their messages more broadly, commercial entities break this rule and overwhelm the individual, ultimately monopolizing the dialogue that is so important to a healthy engaged public. Beyond this, the commercialization of public spaces ultimately prevents individual usage of public space because we cannot afford to do so. Street art only reclaims public space in that it is illegal for artists to impose their individual voice on the public environment, unless they can afford to do so. The proper use of public space would include the visual articulations of invested parties and therefore accept street art's use of our shared environment as a normal form of public dialogue. For this reason, street art is non-violent political protest attempting to alter what is an acceptable use of our neighborhoods and communities.

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Friday, January 29, 2010


1997 was 13 years ago which reminds me I've been working on PublicAdCampaign for 10 years, doing my first subway station takeover in December of 2000. Yikes! 2010 is setting up to be a great year for us and we look forward to working with everyone in the months to come.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Should OAC's Be Subject To The Same Penalties Grafitti Writers Face?

BC Biermann, a PhD Assistant Professor of Film/Media Studies California Baptist University – Riverside has recently published a paper on "Spatial Distributions of Power: Illegal Billboards as Graffiti in Los Angeles." In it he argues...
"While graffiti has regularly been prosecuted as form of vandalism, illegal billboards have not. Illegal billboards are generally defined as panels for the display of advertisements in public places (such as alongside highways or on the sides of buildings) that have not received the legal permits and safety inspections; panels that display ads not related to structure or property they are affixed to may also quality as “unlawful.” It is my contention that illegal billboards are a form of graffiti and, as a result, should be prosecuted as a form of vandalism."
In this paper, Mr. Biermann comes to some conclusions that have informed our practice here at PublicAdCampaign for years. In fact, he calls upon the NYSAT project (without credit) as an example of civil disobedience that attempts to challenge commercial control of public messages while promoting a more just public arena, interested in promoting individual identity and citizen directed spatial control.

I highly suggest reading the paper, but if you don't have the time, ill leave you with the final 2 sentences.
In this way, via a constant bombardment of a hegemonic truth, corpo-political regimes control the means by which individuals seek to know, decipher, and act on themselves. Acting as if they were free in within a liberal, democratic system of rule, the good consumer citizen is calculatedly and spatially constructed.
Indeed, this is truly about who we are and who we want to be as people and a society. When our influences come from the corporate machine, we have a hard time defining for ourselves the truths with which we would like to live.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Graffiti, Billboards, and Reclaiming Public Space Appropriated by Illegal Advertising

The most recent post written by Dennis on Ban Billboard blight asks what the difference is between illegal advertising and graffiti, or what I would refer to as scrawl since I know many extremely talented graffiti artists. After citing LA Municipal code's definition of graffiti he comes to the conclusion that they are indeed very similar despite one being a serious crime punishable by serious jail time, while the other often seems to be quietly tolerated by most cities in our country.

I would add that there is another huge difference which I think is often overlooked and which makes graffiti the lesser crime, or at least the one done out of neccessity or survival, while advertising is done for pure profit. Many sociological looks at graffiti practitioners, including several wonderful books by Jeff Ferrell, make the point that graffiti is an outlet of expression for many youth which find themselves unable to assert their identity in our society. Constantly bombarded by corporate iconography and invisible in a cities of millions flying from one place to the next, tagging your surroundings becomes a way to integrate yourself into the city's fabric. Tagging may not be the best way to do so but we have to admit that there might be a social failure at work here, instead of seeing it as an aggressive act of destruction at the hands of deranged youth, that so often describes graffiti practice.

In fact here at PublicAdCampaign we have come to believe that actively altering your public space has enormous psychological benefits for those participating in the act. The act of altering your public space creates a link between the person who made the alteration and the space in which that alteration was made. This bond engenders a sense of responsibility for that space. Someone who feels responsibility for parts of the city will protect that space because in fact that space is now a representation of yourself.

Graffiti may not be the best or most appreciated way for individuals to create psychic connections with their public environment but we think it is just that. If we accept this fact then we might do better spending our tax dollars on programs which allow youth to create meaningful bonds with their city environment instead of hunting them down and throwing them in jail. If we do this we might even find our city beautified by public mural projects, community gardens, neighborhood festivities and a more lively public space that pleases the senses instead of insulting our intelligence.

VIA Ban Billboard Blight

What is the difference between those who spray paint gang slogans and other kinds of graffiti on public walls and companies that put up illegal billboards and supergraphic signs? What is the difference, fundamentally, between graffiti and illegal outdoor advertising? Both make a claim on public space, saying “Look at this!” without observing any laws or considering that citizens might deserve a voice in what they’re forced to see when they drive, walk, or otherwise experience their urban environment.[MORE]

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gender Bending Hotties Invade Chelsea at 300 West 22nd Street

Just when I thought Streetscapes had been abandoned by outdoor advertisers in NYC, or at least in Chelsea, a new one shows up right in the hood. Now I like Rupaul just the same as the next guy but I don't want to indulge her, and her gender bending buddies, first thing in the morning at 15 feet tall. Having grown up in Chelsea I can enjoy a beautiful man like the next, but let's keep it legal people.

One would assume this immense illegal Streetscape advertisement had its initial complaint # 1274075 called in by the same person who posted the above sign. It reads...
This is illegal corporate graffiti

This is an Environmental Control Board (ECB) Violation.

The Department of Buildings has been contacted, please remove this abomination IMMEDIATELY, this is not Times Square.

Building owners who lease ads on their premises are considered outdoor advertising companies. As such, they can be fined a maximum of 25,000 dollars

Call 311 to add your complaint

status number is 1274075
I obviously called this "abomination" in as well given that the recent equinox billboard removal in Greenwich Village came after huge public outcry made it a newsworthy issue. When I went to check complaint # 1274098 that I made at 9:00am this morning there was already a 3rd complaint filed by another party.

I find it interesting that this concerned New Yorker complains "this is not Times Square". Many New Yorkers you talk to have no problem with the theme park being run in midtown. In fact many New Yorkers rarely pass through that part of town unless out of necessity. As is evidenced in this public response, this does not mean New Yorkers want to live in Times Square. Although New York, and particularly Manhattan, feels less like somewhere we live and more like somewhere the world visits, this is simply not the case. Our neighborhoods and communities are just that. Using them as sites of commercial interruption, especially when done illegally, harms the people that live in this city and the sense of control over their environment that is needed to feel invested in ones community. Streetscapes like this and the others we have kept track of are particularly insulting because of their scale and placement which is meant to overwhelm the viewer.

I also find it interesting that this resident makes the comparison between advertising and traditional graffiti. When outdoor advertising is illegal, you can often find this comment being made. I am inclined to disagree slightly because it would seem graffiti artists often become incredibly productive parts of our society working in design, the arts, and ironically advertising, as well as many other fields. People who hang advertising and particularly illegal postings like this, continue a long and drawn out career of violating our streets in new and more insidious ways. This says nothing about the fact that graffiti or marking ones environment as a way to find ones identity in a city of 8 million people, might actually be a important avenue of expression for our youth.

I have added this location to our Streetscape map where you can find more illegal ads posted by companies like InWindow and Blue Outdoor. We will report back when this Streetscape is removed.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

NPA Has No Respect For Chico, Pete, Or You For That Matter

I was looking through some old images of NPA's illegal street level billboards in NYC and realized I hadn't noticed their complete lack of respect for New York's public mural works. Like the Conor Harrington mural that they so callously covered and Dick Chicken and I then liberated, NPA seems to seek out Chico and Pete's work in order to cover it. These artists are not only NYC legends, but true community members and invested urban citizens, painting messages of hope and inclusion on the streets for all of us to enjoy.

Houston Street Between A+B North
6th Street & Avenue C SWC
Norfolk & Delancey NEC

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Making a Name for Himself, With Just 3 Letters

I'm not a lover of graffiti in the same way I am street art, mainly because its use of public space can sometimes be abusive and neglectful. (although in my opinion this is often not the case) I have however thought that it is a symptom of a larger problem facing major urban centers that must be taken seriously. The problem is simply, how do we express our personal identity in a population of millions while simultaneously being bombarded by commercial identity at every turn. A recent article in the New York Times about graffiti artist BNE has some interesting quotes by the artist which I think are worthwhile noting as they explain the reasoning behind why some graffiti artists feel it is their right to take over a city with their scrawl despite it being highly illegal.
“This is my voice, and if you try to remove it, you’re shutting me up,” he said.
“I don’t see other graffiti writers as my competition anymore,” B.N.E. said. “Now I’m going up against the Tommy Hilfigers, Starbucks, Pepsi. You have these billion-dollar companies, and I’ve got to look at their logos every day. Why can’t I put mine up?”
Verifying that in fact BNE was competing on a similar level as multi-national brands, Mother had this to say...
“B.N.E. has single-handedly created a globally recognized and valued brand in the new social economy,” Mother officials said in a news release. “His presence in Flickr photo galleries and YouTube pages dwarfs that of many multinationals.”
NY Times Article: [Here]

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Council Curtails Stores’ Use of Roll-Down Security Gates

So it seems Mr. Vallone thinks that getting rid of all the solid roll down gates in NY will curb our rampant graffiti problem by 80%. How he comes up with that number, I do not know. One thing I do know is that it will prevent some of the most recent efforts to use these gates as spaces for mural projects. Alas it will also prevent Michael Gitter and the Mediacy group from going ahead with plans to begin installing street level Gatescapes the legality of which is still to be determined. Unsure of how I feel about this new law, I will leave the criticism up to you. Read about it in the NY Times article below.

VIA The New York Times

Citing high rates of graffiti, the City Council voted unanimously on Monday to gradually ban the use of roll-down metal security gates, a move that would eliminate what has been an enduring if forbidding feature of the urban streetscape. [MORE]

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tilt Bus Stop Piece

A friend of mine just sent me this image of a Tilt bus stop takeover. I'm not sure when or where this is from but any public ad takeover is a good photo to us.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

L.A. Considers Anti-Graffiti Coating for Every Building, Paint-Matching Program Begins in Santa Clarita

Photo by northwestgangs via Flickr

Today the Los Angeles City Council will consider a new city ordinance that would require all buildings--yes, residential homes, too--to be anti-graffiti coated from the ground to at least nine feet. However, owners may choose to skip the requirement as long as they sign an agreement that any graffiti on their building will be removed within seven days, according to the Daily News. That's a good exception because the coating can discolor a surface or are not always environmentally friendly. And not to mention the burden of time and money on families.

Meanwhile, the city of Santa Clarita is set to unveil a Paint Matching Trailer to be used by the Graffiti Task Force. "The City’s Graffiti Ordinance states that property owners must remove graffiti on businesses and residences within seven days from the date when properties are tagged," according to a city advisory. "The City’s new Paint Matching Trailer will enable the Graffiti Task Force to provide paint matching services to local property owners, which will expedite the required removal of graffiti on private property."

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Do We Think About Graffiti In A Modern City?

I've always had a tenuous relationship with tagging, with those who use/abuse the public by writing their names on the walls of our shared public spaces. Depending on who you ask, the scrawl is a rich texture of social networks and base level social communication, or simply the wanton destruction of public and private property by citizens hellbent on reaping havoc on our city and culture. I must say my views lie somewhere in the middle and at least in theory favor those striving to create a signifier which represents themselves in a vast network of individual, and corporate iconography. After all the city can be an incredibly complex environment in which to define ones identity and ideas, especially for those whose identity is perhaps forming for the first, but probably not the last, time.

It would seem that as a public we are fighting this scrawl to the best of our ability. Two examples of this counter initiative are the Anti-Vandal squad wing of the NYPD as well as the private maintenance crews employed by local BID's to paint over graffiti as fast as it can crop up. While doing our best to control this aggressive form of mark making, I think it is important to take notice of some of the interesting scrawl that exemplifies a more concerned individual armed with a spray can. Not all graffiti is intent on destruction and when it is, sometimes it is indicative of a social fabric rich with differing opinions and interests. Some graffiti goes beyond the name and enters into the realm of conversation. Is this form of urban writing worth preserving and even fighting for? And how, or should, we distinguish between the mundane and the exciting?

This photo was removed. It was a picture of one of the public art works at the LMCC's newest Lentspace project after having been vandalized with the words "This is not art". It seems there has been a mistake and the kind people at LMCC think I might have been responsible for this act of vandalism. I most assuredly was not and do not condone the destruction of public art. I apologize to anyone who might have gotten the wrong idea.

Take for example the recent vandalism of the LMCC's newest public art project. It appears someone took it upon themselves to make a commentary about the use of the term "art" to describe several works presented by the LMCC in their newest sculpture park, a public/private collaboration between the LMCC and the Trinity Real Estate Development Corporation. If you know this location, you know the high risk involved for the individual who made this commentary. I do not necessarily agree with the statement, but one cannot deny the fact that this was not your typical tagging so much as it was social commentary, whether you agree with the vandal or not. Again, graffiti is being used here as a form of communication, and not in an arbitrary way, something I think we should take notice of before we simply denounce all graffiti as vandalism. The question then becomes, do we want this sort of visual commentary/vandalism to be a part of our public experience?

photo by Jake Dobkin

Another instance of graffiti I think we would be quick to call vandalism is the work of Booker. Often you can see his work around town in the form of simple scrawl and stickers, albeit more interesting than most in my opinion. His graffiti employs the word "read" and "book" over and over again in many different iterations, "read more", "reader", "read more books", etc. As far as I'm concerned these statements defy the typical egocentric nature of street level name tagging by incorporating a beneficent slogan into the tag. True to form, one of the more recent works by Booker that I have seen takes this to another level, getting rid of the reader name all together, simply asking viewer to "Open Your Eyes".

How then do we qualify graffiti in our shared public spaces? is it vandalism? is it a simple nuisance? or is it something more that a city with such a widely varied set of opinions must embrace as a form of public communication? I still don't know but I think we must all think harder about what and who graffiti is for before we shut down our minds and cover the entire form in a blanket of illegality.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Brad Downey "Making Illegal Permanent" in Sweden

Via Wooster Collective

I love this project. Simple graffiti and cheap throw ups have become a part of our common urban experience. This can be attributed to the criminalization of graffiti and yet that really doesn't even matter. The fact is these simple tags are an integral part of any city dwellers regular routine. By solidifying these images, this project realizes the reality of our common urban landscape. It admits these tags are a part of our common public experience and raises them up despite the general public's sentiments. If we choose to decry this kind of mark making without addressing the motivations behind them, then they will continue to be a part of our urban experience. This project understands that fact and sets in stone the scrawl we choose to ignore.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vandalism or An Illegal Labor of Love?

A while back it was suggested that I look into the etymology of the word Vandal. I never found a good enough reason to post my findings until now.

The word Vandal originates from the name of the Germanic tribe "Wandal" or "Wanderer." It seems they were held responsible for the sacking of Rome in 455 A.D., "and were notorious for destroying the monuments of art and literature." As with much of history, this isn't the only accepted view. In fact it seems some attribute the fall of Rome at this time to economic troubles and less to wanton destruction caused by roaming tribes.

Some believe the Wandal tribe was integrated knowingly into the social fabric of Rome as the city became less powerful and unable to keep others outside of the city walls. Ultimately, "Although they were not notably more destructive than others, the high regard which later European cultures held for ancient Rome led to the association of the name of the tribe with persons who cause senseless destruction, particularly in diminution of aesthetic appeal or destruction of objects that were completed with great effort." [source]

The word Vandal has changed over the years and today has less to do with the destruction of our sacred cultural objects and more with defacement of public and private property. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law defining the noun as "a person who willfully destroys, damages, or defaces property belonging to another or to the public."

Graffiti is often regarded as vandalism and I have been confronted with many occasions where this was the case. Just the other night I was on Grand street in Williamsburg when I came across an Atlantic Maintenance crew buffing graffiti one door at a time as they made their way through the Grand Street Business Improvement District. Clearly local shop owners as well as residents had agreed to the large scale removal, a clear indication of their feelings on the subject. No more than two blocks away I came across a man on a ladder outside his house spray painting the side of his house white, trying to cover a large black throw up. Not really knowing what to say, I asked what he was doing and he answered very quickly "Removing this fucking graffiti and I'm fucking pissed."

An act of vandalism is destructive, not constructive and yet despite little evidence otherwise, I can't say graffiti is vandalism. I started testing my notion of this by paying a lot more attention to the scrawl on the streets. What I have begun noticing is a lot of tags which I can only describe as heartfelt attempts to communicate feelings of sincerity. Below are some images I have found to support this notion.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Know Hope In My Neighborhood

It's rare that I simply post street art on this site that doesn't in some way address outdoor advertising, but I couldn't resist myself in this case. The few times I do post street art are meant to illustrate more healthy uses of our shared spaces, and juxtapose the nature of public communication versus private advertising in our public environment.

That said, I just met Know Hope this past Sunday working on a project I'm not at liberty to talk about. He is currently showing at the Carmichael Gallery in L.A. Though he is originally from out west, he has lived in Israel since he was very young. An incredibly talented artist as well as poet, the combination of his characters and text leave me somber but hopeful. It is just this sort of poetry and communication that grounds me in the moment, and allows me to step back from the wonderful mind bending insanity that is New York City.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Zevs-Outdoor Advertising Takeovers

I was made aware of Zevs' updated site through a recent Wooster Collective post. I didn't realize he had hit so much outdoor advertising. As per usual, the work which removes the ad as opposed to working over it, is my favorite.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

And we love for everything they have ever done for the cause and then all those things that you don't know they did for the cause, and then all those things that they will do for the cause that you cant even imagine yet. Read a recent Interview we did with them [Here]

And then there is still Walker Tieser.

This guy put his life on the line and then put it on show again after the cops told him to move on. He might be a new fav, cause it takes a few to do what he do.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Walker Teiser Gets Arrested, But Not Before He Creates Something Amazing For You & Me

This video is all that remains of a huge piece Walker Teiser was working on for an alleged 4 hrs at the corner of 19th street and 10th avenue on the 25th of April. What I have gathered from him after he was released on the 26th, having spent 25hrs in custody, is that he had been approached multiple times by the authorities. His brazen attitude and young spirit told him to continue to work in broad daylight, despite what I hope his better judgment was telling him. Notice the care he took not to damage the city sidewalk and properly create his mural.

Initially it was two undercover officers that approached him, upon which he brandished the letter artists were allowed to carry describing their activities. This seemed to suffice, and the police quickly moved on after taking some interest in what he was doing artistically. The second time he was approached it was by two plain clothes officers who were much more difficult with him, but ultimately allowed him to continue painting. They questioned the letters authenticity, which was smart of them given there were no signatures on it, a dead giveaway that the work order was illegitimate.

The third time Walker was stopped, it was under the direction of the same man who had had the initial two whitewashers arrested. Both Walker and the initial two arrested described the man who had called the cops as "a tall man, with a large beer belly, in a tight white polo collared shirt". It was this same man that I sat next to in the 9th precinct while the two whitewashers were being processed. I was able to see him pass his business card to the detective assigned the case, and sure enough he was from NPA City Outdoor. From what I gathered through snippets of his cell phone conversations I overheard while siting next to him in the station, we ruined his day at the marina.

It seems NPA caught on to the whole affair quite early, having threatened team 13 within a half hour of their start. Team 13 called me early and said they could not continue whitewashing as the NPA employees were very aggressive and they were actually frightened and worried about thier physical safety. I asked them to meet me at a rendezvous point where by chance they happened to watch another team calmly paint their way paste them. When I met them an hour after their initial call, they had realized that the had been unnerved by the NPA employees, but were more than willing to continue to paint provided I joined them. This was good because it gave me a chance to get my hands dirty.

NPA, un-prepared to deal with something like this must have gone into a small panic. Sometime before 3pm our white Polo shirt aggressor took it upon himself to roam the city streets looking for perpetrators. He is responsible for calling the cops to both scenes and pressing charges. I am in talks with my friends about how we should deal with these arrests, which were unwarranted and possibly illegal. As of now we are dealing with finding a time lapse video the cops took from walker and his co-defendant which proves his co-defendants innocence, as well as dealing with the disorderly conduct charges which remain on the two whitewashers. Until then enjoy this video.

Walker we thank you for your dedication to the production of public space by public individuals. Keep up the good work.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

KID & PK Tags Gone Forever

On the way to my studio is the Highline. This abandoned track has recently been converted to a public park championed by the Friends of the Highline organization. In the process of dressing up this dilapidated track, they have begun painting portions of wall along certain sections. Two recent casualties of this action were a PK throwup and a KID throwup. I wrestle with graffiti's place in our public spaces, but I can definitively say these two pieces had grown on me over the years, and I mourn the loss of these woks. I know the Friends of the Highline are trying to clean and beautify this public space but their mistake was thinking these tags detracted from the visual landscape when in fact they added a rich texture and history to the wall that only becomes apparent through the grafitti's patina, the age of the spray paint, and the history of writing culture. What a shame.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cause This Fits In Nicely

Not only does this urban scrawl attack the product being sold, but it addresses one of my concerns with public advertising. Outdoor advertising in public spaces transforms those locations into environments intended for commerce and thus for private agendas. Maybe the subway was once a transportation system, but today it is a carefully crafted advertising distribution system with a controlled target audience. These NPA City Outdoor ads turn our city streets into private messaging boards sold off to the highest bidder. In the process, my interest in painting political messages about the failure of our city government is criminalized and my public voice silenced.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Faith47 Paints For All the Right Reasons

Recently Faith 47 sent me an email which included a petition to sign regarding a Graffiti by-law in Cape town that would prevent her from being able to legally make her public murals. I signed it and then emailed her immediately to ask a few brief questions about her work in relation to this possible new by-law.

Do you ask permission from landlords before you paint a mural?
sometimes... mostly - depending where... but in the townships it really wouldnt go down with out some communication with the community.

the community power is pretty strong there. and especially where people are very poor its important to maintain a level of respect on all levels.

Are murals done for free?
yip... the larger ones i need to source funding for... mostly i fund them myself.... its just paint and time really.

If so why do you paint for free?
the best things in life are free. money is a dirty dirty thing.
of course we all need it.... but essentially the artwork on the streets is free. in the philosophy that life is free. that communication should be free. its not work its love. and you shouldnt pay for that. doing things for free is working against the grain of the capitalist system that sais everything has a financial value. stocks. land. culture. people. were questioning that. throwing it out the window. were saying everything has value and its not financial. were not for sale. not commodoties. were people. with feelings and complexities. and thoughts and emotions that the imf. the world bank and advertising industries cannot have vested interests in. its idealistic yes... beautiful!

What is the communities involvement in what you do?
involvement. - not much. its you painting... maybe sharing a beer or two with the house owner or your mates. but mostly the communities are not very aware of the value of art and people tend to think your doing an advert... you have to really explain that its not an advert and why anyone in their right mind would spend their time and energy on something that might not last or is not getting paid for...

How are the murals received by the community?
one gets mostly positive reactions. besides the rich conservative in his 4x4 who wants to critisize.... the average man on the street is interested and engages with you....of course its the youth are influenced the most.....

thanks again


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Monday, March 30, 2009

I received the following email from Faith 47, an amazing artist working in Cape Town. A lot of her work is community oriented and made for the public rather than herself. If this anti-graffiti by-law were to pass, it would prevent her from creating her work and enhancing what might otherwise be a bleak environment. Please sign the petition.

hi there....

we are facing a new anti-graffiti by-law in cape town which takes away the house owners rights to give permission for any artworks on their walls besides a house number.

The new, proposed graffiti by-law makes no distinction between vandalism and public art that is done with the permission of the owner of the property.

Please can you assist us in our efforts to amend this by-law by signing the petition and forwarding it on...
As we need to present it to the council during the public participation process.

thank you, here is the link and below are the details of the two points in the by-law that we would like to amend.

To: The City of Cape Town

The new, proposed graffiti by-law criminalizes all forms of public art and violates our personal right to freedom of expression on private property.
It makes no distinction between vandalism and public art that is done with the permission of the owner of the property.
The by-law will soon be presented for public discussion and these are the two main issues that we feel need to be addressed:

1. The definition of ‘graffiti’ under the by-law is too broad. It classifies ‘graffiti’ as any inscription, word, figure, letter, sign, symbol, sketch, picture or drawing. There should be a clear differentiation between ‘graffiti vandalism’ [e.g. gang tags, scratchings] and public art that is done with permission from the owner [murals, colourful characters and positive, inspiring messages].

2. The by- law removes the legal right of the private property owner to paint anything other than a house number on his/her wall. We strongly believe that the private property owner should maintain the right to determine what to paint on to his/her property without permission from the City.

if you agree with these two amendments please sign the petition on the link above
and hopefully we can adjust the by-law to become a more inclusive one and thus limit the damage it can potentially do to the creative growth of our city.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

“Graffiti” to be legalized in Brazil?

I knew it was a forced to be reckoned with but didn't know it was straight up legal.

VIA OtherThings

Last week a law was passed in Brazil legalizing graffiti. But this doesn’t mean exactly what you may think. In Brazil, “graffiti” (grafite in Portuguese) refers not so much to the entire hip hop tradition of writing, but more specifically to colorful pieces, characters, abstractions, and other painted street art. In everyday speech, it’s often contrasted against pichação, which is Brazil’s home-grown style of tagging, so named because its first practicioners used tar (piche) stolen from construction sites. The semantic distinction echoes a sentiment I often hear here in the US: “I like the artistic stuff, but not, you know, those ugly scribbles.”

This distinction is part of what’s being put into law. What’s interesting about this law is that it appears to recognize the artistic and cultural value of the graffiti itself, not just the monetary value of the property it’s painted on. How will this play out in practice, I wonder?

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Brazil, graffiti is being taught in schools, recognized in an International Biennial, and receiving special protection from the buff. Sounds like a pretty civilized country to me.

Props and muito obrigado to Raquel Rabbit for the link, and for helping me out with the subtleties of Brazilian Portuguese. Read on for my poor (but better than Google’s) English translation of the first article above:

Magela seeks approval of the law that decriminalizes graffiti

Author of the draft law 706/07, which decriminalizes graffiti, Mr. Geraldo Magela (Workers’ Party, Federal District) yet ruled on the request of the groups, Task Force FT Cruz and Recanto das Emas Crew who asked the mayor, Mr Arlindo Chinaglia (Workers’ Party, São Paulo) that the project be voted on as soon as possible.

Magela wants to see achieved this dream of young people connected to graffiti and recalls the need to separate grafite (graffiti) from what is a crime, pichação (tagging). “Graffiti is one of the elements of great importance for the Hip-Hop movement, whose actions raise the consciousness of many young people today,” he said.

The proposition amends Article 65 of Federal Law 9.605/98, which provides for punishment, without distinction, for whoever tags, paints graffiti on, or by other means harms facades of buildings or city monuments. In drafting proposed by Magela, the punishment will be increased in the case of crime against monuments that have landmark status due to their artistic value. Manufacturers of spray paint will have 180 days after the sanction of the bill to make changes in packaging, indicating the sale only for people over 18 years.

Another important point is the distinction Magela makes between tagging and graffiti. Graffiti will be recognized as “artistic expression” that seeks to enhance public or private property, as long as it’s done with the consent of the property owner, explained Magela.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

All are welcome to express themselves in the box below

This is an interesting way for private landlords and shop owners to allow, and at the same time control, graffiti and public use of our shared public walls. Not only does a gesture like this garner respect from local artists for the wall they are painting and thus the individual behind it, but it creates an environment where public use of public space is acceptable despite local laws prohibiting this kind of activity.

VIA Boing Boing

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gregory Snyder-Graffiti Lives

On the first page of Graffiti Lives-Beyond the Tag in New York's Urban Underground, Gregory Snyder articulates why I think public interaction with the visual environment is such an important public health issue. It not only engages those individuals who physically alter the space they live in, but also those who consume that alteration (happily or not), creating a participatory interaction in public space. This is by no means a small achievement and one of the achievements of a properly functioning city and residency.

He writes, "I lived in New York for three years, but suddenly I was in an entirely different city; it felt like the walls around me had burst to life. I began to explore my city looking at graffiti, and this gave me a greater appreciation of the diversity of its architecture and it's people. I learned to take photographs, improved my penmanship, and got into lots of fascinating conversations."

Somewhat related, later in the book he writes, "Graffiti writing incites stories, and the desire to write graffiti in part comes from the need to be part of the story." "Stories are an essential part of city life, and the way that graffiti animates spaces is an enjoyable, fascinating aspect of the urban experience. French architecture critic Michele de Certeau agrees with this notion, arguing that graffiti is in line with a collection of urban activities in which we make our own stories and produce the memories that make space habitable. This lived space is the space of everyday experience, in contrast to the planned, ordered city that seeks to impose a metanarrative on space. This may be more than just enjoyement; the author of the reknowned Marxist text The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre, believes that transforming space in this fashion is potentialy radical, and that the reevaluation of space is as critical to social change as economic and political restructuring."

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To the Anti Vandal Squad: I Got One!

Walking 21st street between Park avenue south and 5th avenue, I came across some graffiti. Sprayed directly on the city street these vandals has audaciously stenciled their messages directly onto our public space.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Graffiti's Still Not Your Friend?

Graffiti can often be seen at the lower edge of outdoor billboards as artists attempt to reuse the prime real estate the advertising industry has paid handsomely for. This image in particular works nicely, the play on who is watching who as well as the complete erasure of the movies opening dates as well as other pertinent information transforms the ad into a unified piece. Courtesy of, REVOK at at at

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Sociologist’s Look at Graffiti

Ill read this book and get back to you on it, but until then I like this quote the NY Times got in an interview with the author.

“I’m not trying to make an argument that graffiti is art and not vandalism,” Professor Snyder said in a phone interview. “I hope I’ve made it clear that it’s both.”

By linking the two words art and vandalism through graffiti, the meaning of vandalism is transformed. Vandalism can no longer only be considered wanton destruction and must now be viewed in regards to what its artistic and activist intentions might be. This bodes well for all those moments of civil disobedience we have been tracking lately through this site and should be considered when arguing what we are doing here is merely destroying private property.

VIA The New York Times

By Sewell Chan

EspolandEspo/Stephen J. Powers The graffiti writer Espo created a satirical advertisement about quality-of-life crimes at Bedford Avenue and South Fifth Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1996.

Gregory J. Snyder, a Baruch College sociologist, spent years hanging out with graffiti writers, earning their trust and conducting scores of interviews.

The new book based on his studies, “Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New York’s Urban Underground,” reveals that he became more than an observer in that decade and a half: On very few occasions he wrote graffiti himself, scrawling his tag perhaps seven times.

Graffiti writers, the book argues, cannot be understood merely as practitioners of vandalism and social disorder, but also as members of a diverse subculture who, in many cases, have used their experiences to build legitimate careers.

It was as a graduate student at the New School that Professor Snyder built relationships with graffiti writers, carrying around a hardbound sketchbook. At the bottom of each page he wrote a word, which he then asked graffiti writers to represent visually in the space above.

Professor Snyder, 40, argues that while graffiti culture emerged around the same time as hip-hop, in the early 1970s, graffiti in fact comes from a variety of cultural sources:

Whatever their class, race, ethnicity, religion, or age, writers define themselves not by what they look like, or what language they speak, or what clothes they wear, but by what they do. Their identities are as writers first, and as members of ethnic, religious, and other subgroups second.

He adds, “In its purest form, graffiti is a democratic art form that revels in the American Dream.”

The book, just published by New York University Press, argues that graffiti culture has, in some ways, been uniquely democratic. “What is lost sometimes in the cacophony of the debate over whether graffiti is art or vandalism is that when it’s art, it is free art,” he writes. “You don’t need money, or special knowledge, or the right outfit, or a car, or an ID to see it. This is why the graffiti subculture has inspired such a diversity of young people.”

Even so, Professor Snyder notes that graffiti has been associated with crime and disorder ever since the social scientists George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson introduced their “broken windows theory,” which holds that low-level and petty crimes, if not addressed, create an atmosphere conducive to more serious and violent crimes.

While some scholars have questioned the theory’s validity, Professor Snyder acknowledges that it has become highly influential. It was embraced by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor, and by Raymond W. Kelly, the former and current police commissioner.

“I’m not trying to make an argument that graffiti is art and not vandalism,” Professor Snyder said in a phone interview. “I hope I’ve made it clear that it’s both.”

For many New Yorkers who lived through the period, the word graffiti connotes the giant murals that covered subway cars and stations from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s.

A 1971 article in The New York Times, “‘Taki 183’ Spawns Pen Pals,” took note of the fairly new phenomenon. Mayors John V. Lindsay and Edward I. Koch, among others, made the train graffiti a key target. Graffiti came to be “construed as an urban problem,” a point Joe Austin, a historian at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, made in “Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City” (Columbia University Press, 2001).

Yellow Rat BastardGregory J. Snyder The clothing store Yellow Rat Bastard, in SoHo, has encouraged graffiti taggers to leave their marks.

The era of subway graffiti “officially came to a close in 1989, when city officials began refusing to put painted trains into service,” Professor Snyder writes. But efforts to crack down continue. In 2006, the City Council passed a law banning the sale of graffiti instruments — including aerosol paint and broad-tipped markers — to anyone under 21. The law was later challenged for being too broad.

A provocative map in the book points out that unlike other “quality of life” crimes, graffiti does not tend to be focused in poor neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime. Professor Snyder writes:

Graffiti writers write in order to get fame and respect for their deeds, and therefore they write in places where their work is more likely to be seen by their intended demographic. It is not the amount of disorder that determines a good spot to write graffiti, but the number of potential viewers and the unlikelihood that the graffiti will be painted over. These spots tends to be where young people from all over the city are likely to congregate, and thus the East Village, the Lower East Side, and SoHo are the places where most of the illegal New York City graffiti can be found. These are not poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Indeed, he adds, “Despite all of the negativity associated with graffiti, it remains one of SoHo’s selling points, literally.”

Still, Professor Snyder does not deny that graffiti culture is filled with confrontation. “Beef results in crossing out other writers’ names, going over pieces, lots of stories about violence, and sometimes actual violence,” he writes.

“Contemporary post-subway graffiti,” he writes, takes three forms: the tag, a writer’s signature, rendered in marker or paint; the throw-up (or “fill-in”), usually painted with an outline color and a fill-in color; and the piece (short for masterpiece), a colorful mural.

KezamKezamA “piece,” or large work, of graffiti created with the property owner’s permission, by Kezam, a writer from Australia who lives in Brooklyn and is a graduate student in sociology at Yale.

In contrast to the dangerous environments in graffiti’s beginnings — the old Amtrak tunnel from 72nd to 125th Streets under Riverside Drive, for example — large graffiti works today are often produced legally, in broad daylight, on storefronts or in public parks with the consent of property owners or nonprofit groups.

In another step forward, “Many writers have taken their illegal youthful pursuits and turned them into legal adult careers,” Professor Snyder says.

One of the most fleshed-out characters in the book is Espo, a graffiti writer Professor Snyder met in 1996. As editor and publisher of On the Go magazine, which was dedicated to graffiti culture, Espo produced a satirical billboard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a subversive slogan: “Greetings from Espoland, Where the Quality of Life Is Offensive.”

Espo was eventually embraced by property owners who saw his style — with large, neat letters, quite separate from the spray-painted bold colors and complicated letter styles that are more common in graffiti — as a useful ornamentation for their storefronts.

By 1999, Espo had become “an acronym for Exterior Surface Painting Outreach,” a volunteer organization. That year, Espo shed his anonymity, and St. Martin’s Press published his book “The Art of Getting Over: Graffiti at the Millennium,” under his real name, Stephen J. Powers. He also cooperated for a profile published that August in The New York Times.

That did not go over well with the Giuliani administration, however, which had Mr. Powers arrested in December 1999 for his previous illegal graffiti writing. Eventually, he pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal mischief.

Espo was not the only graffiti writer to go legit: Others went to college; started magazines, Web sites and real estate businesses; opened tattoo parlors; and pursued careers in art and marketing.

“These kids refused the meager options presented to them by the larger society, and instead perfected extremely risky cultural pursuits,” Professor Snyder writes. “Their success in this form eventually opened up other opportunities, and today those efforts are paying off, literally.”

8-Day WeekEspo/Stephen J. Powers The graffiti writer Espo revealed his identity, Stephen J. Powers, in 1999 and has become an exhibited artist. His 2007 work, “8-Day Week,” was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

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