The graffiti revolution
Have you ever noticed images or lettering, scratched or painted on public property? We could call it street art but it’s more commonly known as graffiti. Graffiti is the plural form of the Egyptian word Grafficar which signifies drawings, patterns or messages. History records that Graffiti art can be traced back to ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Graffiti has been found on ancient Egyptian monuments and was also preserved on the walls of Pompeii. The Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka proves that graffiti art existed in the island from ancient times. The Mirror Wall covered with graffiti dates back to the 7th to the 10th century AD.
In recent decades, this form of art was mainly used to mark territories by the less privileged in the urban cityscape and became associated with gangs. In the 1980’s graffiti merged with the hip-hop culture and has been gaining recognition rapidly for two very different motives: one being as an art form and the other, unfortunately, being vandalism.
Graffiti art has been shown in New York and London art galleries. Graffiti artists have gained a position in the industry and are now commissioned to paint legal murals. Some leading brands in the world use graffiti as a marketing medium. The artwork is considered vandalism only if it is painted on private or public property without permission. Most people are opposed to graffiti because of the location it is chosen to be painted on and the bold sometimes rude messages graffiti conveys. Graffiti vandals can create an eyesore in a neighbourhood. Places with excessive graffiti are considered as bad neighbourhoods in developed countries, because they are seen as being related to crime and violence. Large cities in the U.S. set aside a budget every year just for graffiti removal.
Graffiti art like ‘Tags’ where the artist’s name is written in spray paint. ‘Throw-ups’ are usually painted in two or three colours and done very quickly. The ‘Wild style’ is a complex art form where the alphabets merge into one another and make it difficult for a non-graffiti artist to read. The ‘Wild style’ art may take up to two days to complete. ‘Pieces’ have more artistic composition involved in it. Stickers are the most time saving form where stencils are used to paint the piece. Spray paint and markers are some vital tools for graffiti.
New styles are emerging all the time in the world of graffiti. Reverse Graffiti is the collecting of dirt in places like the city train station and forming a design to give out a message. Technology too has brought something new to graffiti where magnets taped to small LED lights are thrown to a side of a huge building to form a design. This is called the Laser Tag.
While laws prohibit graffiti painted without permission on private or public property, graffiti has been gaining acceptance even in our country’s traditional society. Da Cruz (a French street art graffiti artist) visited the country to attend the French Spring Festival 2013. Kanishka Devinda, a graffiti artist, speaking about the prevalence of graffiti art in Sri Lanka, said that Sri Lanka has many blossoming artists who specialise in graffiti. “Artists come up with the most unique ideas and the best way to relate it to others, in my opinion, is drawing on a wall.” The equipment used for graffiti is expensive and it is difficult for young artists to grasp the concept of graffiti without proper traininghe feels. A few institutions do teach the subject of graffiti but such courses can be expensive.
“It’s illegal to draw graffiti on the streets but I think we can use graffiti art for so many things like interior design. Sri Lanka is full of talented people especially in the stream of arts without a place they deserve. If we could give a chance to people who are willing to do graffiti it’ll turn out to be a good investment as well,” says Aravinda Marley Perera, another artist who finds expression in graffiti.
Graffiti art can communicate feelings and ideas to the audience. Just like any other form of art, graffitists infuse their individuality with their signature style which carries a message. A picture speaks a thousand words; whether on paper, canvas or a wall.