Monday, April 6, 2009

Graffiti: The Pure Artform

It is the most pure art form: Graffiti.

The night has fallen, and nothing can be herd save for the light steps of brand new sneakers clacking as only rubber soles of cracked asphalt can. An empty wall rises up in front, newly constructed by one the generic urban restructuring companies that seem to now flood the city limits.

With nothing but a dozen cans, securing held in a pack used – only hours before – to carry math textbooks and Shakespearian plays, and a pocket full of caps this wall is about to be transformed.

A light hiss, the scraping of wooden blocks, and the metallic creek of ladders left behind from the newly constructed gray-scaled architectural project are all that can be heard.

When the sun rises no one is left to be found. Ladders are toppled. Wooden skids are tossed away. And left behind is a finely crafted image on the most temporary of canvases.

Graffiti, and other street art, is created for the pure purpose of art. It is not an attempt to be known five hundred years later. Artists do not hone their craft for public appreciation and acceptance. Never will pieces find themselves hung in a respected gallery.

When an artist places his mark upon a wall she/he does so knowing it will not last the tests of time. Unlike the rock paintings thousands of years past, these pieces will not be marked as UNESCO sites, nor will they be protected by federal laws. The effort, time, and creativity that enters into the free flowing experience may not even last the week.

Graffiti artists understand that their art may be power washed away, or even painted over by another artist. And it is because of this that there is so much power, and passion, in the work.

Artists do not have the luxury of creating something universal. There is no attempt to have emerge an image that will transcend time, speaking to every generation – past, present, and future. So few will ever look upon what was theirs.

The artist can only speak to the present. What is now. This leads towards art that is painfully relevant, and comments directly upon the world surrounding its audience. Political aggression can be seen; people railing out against the government, but in an instant a government can change. And just like that, so too can the paint on the wall. Another layer added, and the space becomes representative of life in the digital age. Or a deeply macabre scene out of nightmares, or dreams.

Though they do not speak to the mass, Graffiti artists do speak to their compatriots. By reading the names and tags, one begins to see a pattern emerge. Certain artists have their locations and that – for the most part – is respected. Though one piece may, eventually, be covered by another artist it will only happen if the second piece far surpasses the first.

Save for a few stray vandals (irony, not being lost as I use the word here) who place tags and throw-ups over the most striking works, the art only improves. Becoming more and more relevant with each pass. Certain tags can be seen throughout the city, and there is a familiarity there. One of Toronto’s most visible is someone named “Tokyo!” Tokyo, with an exclamation point. I know nothing of this person, and fruitless searches has revealed little. Yet, there is some sort of comfort in seeing this in all number of locations.

When the galleries are the streets, the audience is the everyman. Not only those who would enter into the Art Gallery of Ontario, or the Royal Museum. Those walking the beat, applying for jobs, or grabbing a midday cup of coffee; teenagers on their way home from work, or businessmen done free from the office. These are who the art speaks to. These are the people to whom it should matter.

No longer is street art something to be feared, created by the lost and damned of society who have no regard for common decency. Rarely is it an indication of gang activity, and locations to best be avoided. It is art. Pure and simple. Here for the moment, relevant while it lasts; gone in an instant, its time past.


  1. Excellent post! I, too, love graffiti - not tagging, but graffiti. I think it's beautiful and free and, like you said, temporary. I'm looking forward to seeing the graffiti in S.America - apparently it is quite prevelant.

  2. If anyone knows of any good graffiti sites around the world, please let me know.

    I'm planning on making a Toronto Graffiti Map when it gets warmer, and I can get out and about taking more pictures. I know of a good four or five spots here.

    I only really found the one great site in NYC, and a bit in Tokyo.

    If anyone has any information, please let me know. I 'd be quite interested in finding them.

    Drop me an e.mail or just leave a comment here!


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