Graffiti artists- social commentators, propaganda artists or vandals?
I find street art curious, as according to society, it’s not supposed to be there, and I admire the rebellion towards conformity and appreciate the cleverness. Where there is man, chances are there is advertising. And where there is advertising there is a profit. Street art offers a form of self-expression that reeks of freedom and individual thought, anti-capitalism, and if done right, communities can be a device to nurture this freedom of expression, for example funded murals. By nature, we are creative beings, our desire to express ourselves and show others how the world appears to us is one of the most personal experiences we can share. All we are doing on this planet is trying to make sense of ourselves, while hoping there is someone out there who understands us as well. Humans have been drawing on walls since the dawn of man. It’s an ancient art form, in a more complex society with new tools. The media we use have evolved, but the message has always remained the same.
When society puts a stigma on a form of self-expression, in this example graffiti, new and innovative methods of expression arise, such as Reverse Graffiti. Taking a cue from the “Wash Me” messages scrawled on the back of delivery trucks, Reverse Graffitists seek out soot covered surfaces and inscribe them with images, tags, and even advertising slogans using scrub brushes, scrapers and pressure hoses.
The UK’s Paul Curtis, better known as “Moose,” is one of the technique’s pioneers. Operating around Leeds and London, he has been commissioned by a number of brands, such as Smirnoff, who want to convey a sense of “clean” in an innovative way. On a more overtly environmental comment, Brazil’s Alexandre Orion, turned one of Sao Paolo’s transport tunnels into an eye catching mural recently. The mural, comprised of a series of skulls, very succinctly reminds drivers of the impact their emissions are having on the planet.
The practice puts authorities in an interesting moral quandary. According to Moose, “Once you do this, you make people confront whether or not they like people cleaning walls or if they really have a problem with personal expression.”
The Leeds City Council decided to lead their attack with a hilariously nonsensical position: “Leeds residents want to live in clean and attractive neighbourhoods, and expect their streets to be free of graffiti and illegal advertising. We also view this kind of rogue advertising as environmental damage and will take strong action against any advertisers carrying out such campaigns without the relevant permission.”
What action was taken against the advertisers is unknown. What is known is that Moose was charged under the very scary sounding Anti-Social Behaviour Act and ordered to clean up his clean act. I’m not exactly sure how he managed to did this. By making it dirty again? The Brazilian artist’s work came to a happier resolution. The authorities were certainly miffed but could find nothing to charge him with. They had no other recourse but to clean the tunnel — but only the parts Alexandre had already cleaned. The artist merely continued his campaign on the other side of traffic. The utterly flummoxed city officials then decided to take drastic action. Not only did they clean the entire tunnel but also every other tunnel in Sao Paulo.