This week’s blog is by Gin Price, author of On Edge, a young adult mystery released last month. This week Gin talks about graffiti, an art form that leads to the solution of the murder in On Edge. Intriguing characters, a different take on an urban landscape, and the element of mystery will captivate readers.” (Kirkus Reviews)
I wonder, when the majority of people think about graffiti, do they have an image of a tagger in their mind? Maybe the jeans of the criminal responsible would be down below his buttocks, showing off his particular brand of underoos. Maybe his hair, if he had any, would be blocked by a do-rag of either red or blue or brown. A matching handkerchief might be wrapped around his mouth, brushing across the crew neckline of his white wife-beater, not because he was trying to keep the fumes from coating his nostrils, but because he’s trying to hide his identity should the blue roll up on him. Perhaps the word thug might be associated with this guy. Be honest. Is that who you envision when you see graffiti on the car of a train as it passes you by?
I’ll be straight-up. That vision isn’t too far from the truth from most of the taggers I’ve watched. Most. Not all. Even those who look exactly like you’d expect have so much depth underneath the masks. They are wearing clothes they don’t mind a little backsplash on. They are covering their mouths and hair, yes for concealment as well as safety. But these men (and women) have different stories, different reasons, different visions they want to express. The graffiti artist is young and old, diverse of race, and wicked talented.
“Talented? That runny blob of paint? That’s hardly talent, that’s graffiti fail.”
I don’t know, maybe it’s because I have kids, but when I see what others call failed graffiti, I think of it as practice for a blossoming artist. You don’t come out of the womb being able to paint a masterpiece. But wait, before you roll your eyes, let me clarify my stance. I know some taggers out there are out to promote hate for opposing gang members or factions. I don’t live with rose-colored glasses glued to my face. Like anything, graffiti can be used for evil. It can be used to harass and threaten, deface and demean. I know this…I’m real.
My problem is, I detest the ideal that all graffiti is bad. I’ve seen a lot of people stop using the term graffiti all together and say Street Art instead. More fitting perhaps, as graffiti has taken on a negative feel after years and years of turf marking. So if you’d like, use the term street art. I still prefer graffiti. When I look at what some artist painted I am in awe, whether it is called street art or graffiti, I simply don’t care. I look at the lines and see the hard work, the practice, and the view of the world they are sharing with those open-minded enough to appreciate the beauty. Until someone comes in and removes or paints over it all.
But that’s why I love graffiti. It can last for years, aging before our eyes, evolving into something profound, or it can be tragically fleeting in its majesty. I encourage everyone who reads this to look at graffiti in a different light, both figuratively and literally. Expand on what you believe graffiti is and open yourself up to what it can be. Street art is not a turf war between thugs. There’s nothing beautiful in that kind of hate. Although let’s be honest, thousands of years from now, if the archaeologists found even chicken scratch graffiti, they’d be fascinated by what it could have meant.
Who knows, maybe one day someone will find that carving I did in a rock that had my initials and the initials of a guy I adored for all of two weeks on it and find it intriguing and masterful. How sad would that be? Hopefully someone has buried that silly moment beneath layers of awesome graffiti.