coffee + cre8tive {sept 28 ’06}

September 28, 2006

coffee + cre8tive {sept 28 '06}

Since the beginning of time, people have tried to communicate through drawings on walls. Fast forward to the 1960’s, and east coast American cities (mainly Philly + NYC) started to show signs of a new trend – urban expressionism on walls which mostly consisted of the name of the person with spray can in hand. As pictureesque as European cities may be, there exists a historic graffiti problem here, too. Urban youth, who were once content to simply spray their names to mark their territory or that of their gang, are now creating colorful, imaginative works of art. As time marches forward, graffiti continues to grow into much more than simply spray painting a name, and certainly isn’t all about gangs, drugs, and crime… Many talented young artists use it to make a public statement, a way to express themselves. Some are selective about location and others simply are not, using private residences, government buildings, train stations, etc. to leave their mark, ruining the facades of many a beautiful building. This is where the problem lies, at least in my opinion.

As is the case for most cities worldwide, there often exists a greater need of preservation than of rebuilding, especially when a building is in good overall condition and simply needs the facade renovated (painted, cleaned, blasted, etc.) In New York and Boston, you see scaffolding on many buildings, owners work hard to preserve their precious real estate (and for good reason). In cases where buildings fall under the protection of a historical society*, the pressure to preserve a building is of upmost importance of both the owner and the city. Here in Europe, where most buildings you see date to over 150+ years old, seeing a building become a canvas for graffiti raises the blood pressure of many.

On one side, I think graffiti can be interesting and even attractive if done on the right “canvas”, but on the flipside I’m a bit upset by it, especially when the selected wall is a historical building or monument with a porous surface, like brick or stone (hard to clean). It can be quite a process (and expense) to remove it, and can result in the artist returning to leave his mark all over again.

The goal here in Hannover has always been graffiti eradication, but the reality is that it will most likely be a problem for many years to come, or until law breakers suffer more extreme penalties. Either that, or when graffiti is no longer dubbed as cool or being independant. But I doubt that will happen anytime soon.

As someone who works hard to create positive and aethetically pleasing interiors, I am bothered when buildings aren’t shown due respect. A defaced building looks lonely, unloved, and messy. So many great minds poured their energy and resources into a structure, only to have the facade ruined by a stranger calling their creation art, giving a crime a dose of prestige. Placing the moral bit aside however, when a great display of creativity is shown, either through color, detail, or the expression of social and economic issues, I can’t deny that graffiti is somewhat appealing and of interest to me if in a designated area, perhaps a section of town that is otherwise boring and ugly (an overpass or near train tracks). A city could even designate a zone especially for graffiti artists to do their thing. I think that would be fair. Question is, where to draw the line?

Since we talk a lot about design here, I wondered if you cared to explore this topic a bit with me. What is your position on graffiti?

* In Germany the protection of historical buildings, districts and monuments is the responsibility of the states.

(image from decor8)


  • Reply Di Overton September 28, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    I have friends who own a very old farmhouse in Northumberland, UK and they have the oldest piece of graffiti I have ever seen right in their living room. It is a fabulous old stone lintel that someone 400 years ago chose to carve their name and a rude comment on. I suppose graffiti is as old as man. When it comes to defacing a building today it is invariably done with spray cans and can look unsightly but what will people in the future think of it?

  • Reply thaniya September 29, 2006 at 2:48 am

    i once saw a documentary about graffitti in new york city. the show followed a couple of teenagers (who were reknown in their own rights) along the inner tunnels of the subway system to explore graffiti art. ever since i’ve been facinated. to me, graffiti art isnt just about the artwork itself, but it also involves a journey. it tells a story of what that location mean to the artist and what the artist wants to leave behind as his/her message. i love the element of surprise when i see a great graffiti artwork along side an alleyway or a random building that would otherwise be boring. i think it adds an urban feel to the character of a neigborhood. my favorite artist is probably swoon.

  • Reply PSD September 29, 2006 at 4:28 am

    i think some graffiti is actually beautiful and tells real stories..i am completely against defacing others property. here in chicago, they tag peoples garages all the time and as of late, i notice that nothing is safe..brand new construction is marked and not with statements of value but silly things like initials or the name of groups, etc…this i think is a shame.

  • Reply dinshaw September 29, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    Why was it called graffiti in the first place. “graffiti” were voices of people who were unheard and who were suppressed. Most of them were being sank into the depths of poverty and did not have forums where they could enter. So the marginalised version said – ok who is going to come and stop me if i am going to say i am here in the form of color in the middle of the night. These people had feelings and emotions and creations so much like the rest of us but because they were “colored” they did not get a forum in the white man’s world who by might or force or manipulation took away everything and tossed them away. So they used ” color” to express themselves. I am sure they did not even think that way.

    Graffiti represents a state in history, a statement of those class of people who did not have resources to leave behind their legacies such as the rich “live” (leave) behind in terms of buildings and burgeonistic architecture so that it will stand even after they are long gone.
    So graffiti can be called a pieces of architecture on buildings. The people who had made graffiti made sure that they ride upon these architectural elements who put others down or tossed them away.

    With a design point of view – if these graffiti can be organized it can become one of the most beautiful canvases. Just like architecture, graffiti is a statement of expression – colorful and expressive and screams so much that nobody can ignore not to notice them.

  • Reply Marilyn October 1, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    I love seeing graffiti on the outside of trains that are so boring otherwise as they pass at a crossing. BUt on venerable old buildings it seems like a sin.

    Graffiti is an art form that deserves a place, but make it one where the art doesn’t destroy another art…namely good architecture.

  • Reply Anonymous October 4, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    I grew up in the Bronx back in the early 60’s. When I was a kid graffiti was said to represent turfs. Others called it tags regardless these works of art were emerging mostly on the subways. Many of these tags represented an individual some portraying artform others simply names with a street # and the year it was made. In the late 60’s early 70’s graffiti covered trains buildings; most which were abandoned or burned down by their own owners, representing a signature and quite often statement. Many of these grafitti artists, some belonging to gangs, were expressing their hate toward poverty, politics, and outsider gangs. The streets were dirty, as well as many NYPD officers and life was anything but pleasant. Graffiti is an art. And if a statement needs to get made and not being heard, well you have to convert to means that others will take notice. And others do notice, as a matter of fact the world takes notice. People sometimes don’t care about spray painting a historic place it’s obvious a cry that something is not quite right. Doesn’t matter if graffiti is an eyesore in parts of Spain, Berlin, or some city in the U.S. there is a problem and graffiti grows as much as the problem. That’s until someone takes notice and cares enough to take care of the problem.

  • Reply Anonymous October 4, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    I posted a comment earlier and it states on the bottom of the comment box that “comment box has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author.” Can you let me know exactly what this means?

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