The rattling of the metal bearings is the only sound as a lone figure, hood drawn far over his head, stands admiring the large brick wall in front of him. Beside him lays a dark backpack, its contents lined up neatly inside, the bright caps marking each can’s color. A can of black spray paint in his hand, he takes one last look before stepping forward, raising his arm and beginning the night’s work.
Graffiti has been around since in the Egyptian pyramids, but only recently took off as a recognizable art form in the 1980s when artists roaming big cities like New York and Chicago would paint their names on subway cars and street corners. The movement included artists like Dondi and Duro, both pioneers in graffiti when they started one of the first and largest graffiti crews in 1978, Crazy Inside Artists.
In the world of Graffiti there are two types of artists, one focuses on big pictures and almost mural like works that can take hours or even days to complete and usually require legal permission from the property owners. The other is labeled as tagging a fast and repetitive, often illegal activity where a graffiti artist will paint their name as many times and in often busy places to help get name recognition. The latter is where the majority of graffiti artists start and where Over, a member of the Up To Late Crew who began painting when he was 13, started as well. Over currently resides on the East coast.
“I’m personally more of a bomber. I like to hit things quickly, and in repetition. I want the most spots hit, I want to be in as many locations as physically possible.” said Over.
For a lot of beginning artists the only focus is name recognition and popularity. Before they even think about putting their time and effort into a big piece, they want people to be able to not only recognize their name but their style. Another artist who has the same mentality is Sobr, a graffiti artist who’s been painting since the age of 16 and is focused more recently on the west coast.
“Graffiti makes me happy and i love the art and hip hop culture of it,” said Sobr.
Today, hard crackdowns, not only by police but school officials, have led to the decline of graffiti as an art form while its participants are labeled “vandals” and their work is blatantly painted over. Others just have trouble with building owners or random passerby’s.
“I’ve never been in any trouble with the law. Citizens yelling or threatening to “call the police” is a different story,” said Over.
Graffiti isn’t always the negative aspects that news and authority figures portray it to be, for many Graffiti is their outlet, a way to express themselves. For many “out of the box thinkers” this is the easiest way to put down what they see or feel. With Graffiti there is no rules, anything can be done as long as the creator enjoys it.
“it’s a way of self expression. When I paint or sketch up a piece, its showing people the only creative side of myself that I’ve ever been able to find. Before I found graff, I was never into any other form of art,” says Over.
Many artists have taken these ideas to the public, using it to create their own products and gaining worldwide recognition. One such artist is Shepard Fairey, known for his Obey clothing line he also designed and created the 2008 Obama Hope posters. Fairey is perhaps one of the most publicly famed street artists whose work is included in museums from Los Angeles to the New York museum of modern art. One would think that an artist such as this would be well beyond the reach of the law, even when writing illegally on privately owned property. But in 2009 Fairey was arrested on his way to the opening of a new exhibit for two outstanding warrants in Boston.
No matter the fame and respectability of the artists, officials continue to crack down on them. The respectability and popularity of Graffiti has been a growing trend since the 1980’s yet while many are able to see it as a viable and noteworthy art form its creators and enthusiasts are continually challenged and served with unusually high consequences if caught in the act.