Street Art and the Future of Graffiti
Street Art and the Future of Graffiti
In a recent article for The Guardian, the journalist Jonathan Jones dismissed “the vast majority of graffiti [as] ugly, stupid and vaguely threatening”. Influenced by David Lynch’s recent comments on graffiti making the planet ugly and ruining the world, Jones let loose a rant on one of the most accessible and provocative forms of art to emerge in the last hundred years.
Everyone has an opinion on graffiti. From the accusations of vandalism to the activists who seek to protect it, graffiti will always attract controversy. With its established stigma as a force of evil in the urban environment, it’s understandably problematic to see just how spray paint can be acknowledged on the same level of proficiency as the paintbrush. The government made their stance on the activity blatant in 2003 when they pronounced the activity to fall under the Anti Social Behaviour Act with the potential to be considered illegal.
When so many artists face living behind bars for experimenting with their craft, how do famous names like Banksy get away with it? As with the rest of art and its politics, it tends to depend on what is deemed conventionally “good” or “bad”. People turn their noses up at tags left on train lines, yet can’t get enough of spotting a well painted mural in Brighton.
Regardless of how people classify it, isn’t there something to be had in people finding agency and attempting to transform the world around them as opposed to mindlessly supporting the erection of more glass buildings? Instead of viewing it as a destructive force, the creative possibilities graffiti promotes must be appreciated and promoted.
One such artist who is pushing the boundaries of this art form is INSA. The anonymous London-based creative combines his alteration of city landscapes with digital mediums to produce works of art that can only be viewed as gifs. No longer merely an entertaining screengrab to send to your friends or the punchline to a listicle, gifs provide INSA with the chance to create hypnotising images that flash before you like the flicker of a neon light. These fascinating creations may only work as second-long loops, but behind them lies a painstaking amount of effort to perfectly modify each layer. Using vibrant colours, shapes and retro imagery, INSA takes methods usually associated with animation and imposes them on the natural environment, breathing fresh air into places that would otherwise remain unnoticed.
INSA takes his work around the world and has left his mark across the States, France, Brazil and even The Gambia, West Africa. This proves how far and wide graffiti can go from being rendered the ultimate fear of urban communities. Started last year, The Google Street Art Project features over 10,000 images of street art from around the world in a bid to document and share the immense number of artists who favour taking their art outside of the gallery. Just like INSA’s gifs, this project preserves street art and protects it from the clutches of locals who may seek to cover over it. Guided audio tours and interviews with the artists themselves are also featured, reinforcing the potential for graffiti to be regarded just as seriously as the latest Rubens exhibition.
Despite the increasing amount of respect it has suddenly received in the last ten years, graffiti should never lose its fight for projecting a message out into the open world. Whilst many artists are helping to create beautiful additions to their environments, those who leave embittered messages should be recognised and heard with just as much attention. It would seem that street art is being swallowed back into a process of gentrification and that residents who were once livid with the sight of it when walking to their corner shop are now proud to support it as a result of a local deli having opened and a farmer’s market being introduced every Sunday.
There will always be discussions surrounding the legitimacy of street art and whether or not it has a place in the community. Regardless, it still stands as a vital mode of communication and expression in much the same way that social media platforms, such as Twitter, continue to cause controversy. But just as a Twitter user would be held responsible for their opinions, artists are very much aware of what they are in for when they decide to use the side of a building as their canvas. In this culture of surveillance that we live in, there is something admirable and liberating about taking to the streets and leaving one’s mark. If graffiti is seen as ugly, then that is only because it highlights something ugly within society and the environment.
Written by Victoria Rodrigues O’Donnell
— Google Art Project (@googleart) January 20, 2015