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)