Whilst searching for a place to live in Madrid (which, admittedly, in my price range involves small backstreets and the lesser known corners on the map) it is amazing how much influence graffiti has on my impression of a place. Not only does it make the area look dingy, it also seems to reflect something of its character: unruly youths, lack of security, unwillingness of the authorities to invest in clearing it up.
Despite this, my attitude to graffiti changed a lot last summer after visiting an exhibition on it in Paris. The exhibition showed work of graffiti artists in America on the sides of trains – whole carriages transformed during the night into a great tableau of protest. They work rapidly in the dark, using spray cans from about ½ metre away from the train, yet somehow manage to get the entire picture in correct perspective. Actually very impressive.
In the UK Banksy has recently brought graffiti into fashion with his comic images sprayed around Britain’s streets. Of course, his work is still illegal, so despite its popularity with the public, this world famous artist is supposedly still on the run from the police!
Modern art is about making a statement about society or culture, often in protest, which is surely the very essence of graffiti: a protest against authority. In most cases, the “statement” sprayed onto walls and alleys consists of no more than the name of the artist, but it is an attempt none the less of self-expression.
So when we see children in school sketching their names in graffiti style on scraps of paper, are we seeing emerging future criminals or aspiring artists?
After all, Vincent van Gogh wasn’t appreciated in his era... (Jokes!)