Graffiti or Vandalism: A Tale of Two Stories

September 2, 2009

Yes the title is a little “cutesy” and from the department of redundancy department but let me explain. This is a tale of two newspaper stories about graffiti. The first story is a follow-up to the Graffiti Photophrapher vs. Virgin Mobile article I previously mentioned. In the post I noted that I found it ironic that the image in question, that was supposed to represent transient street art, had the URL of an art gallery named Thisisnotashop painted above it.

I sent e-mail to Thisisnotashop with a link to the Toronto Star article. The reply I received caught me off guard. The reply was friendly, polite, and informative but it was simply not what I expected. I think what I expected was something confirming that I’m a smarty pants with extraordinary powers of URL recognition, the ability to type URLs into a browser, and an uncanny aptitude to send email to the address listed on About pages. Actually, what I was expecting was something along the lines of, yes the image is of artwork by world famous artist Graffitnic (or something like that) and that the photographer had not asked for permission to distribute derivative copies of this work (i.e. prove that I’m a smarty pants).

Instead, the owner lamented that the Internet made it appear that Thisisnotashop Gallery supports this work which they absolutely do not endorse. Interesting. The story is that Thisisnotashop often has artists paint the shutter on the front of the gallery. The graffiti in this image was not commissioned, in fact, the artist painted over existing artwork without permission. Not only that, but the graffiti artist signed the work Bansky, a misspelling of the world famous graffiti artist Banksy. A Fake Banksy. Thisisnotashop made calls to graffiti artists in the community who stenciled “FAKE” and “thisisnotabanksy” over the work. They were not happy.

The second story comes from the Waterloo Chronicle, a community paper for Waterloo, Ontario. It is about a man who chalked up a public art piece called the Waterloo Bell:

Marcus Green said he’s the artist responsible for the chalk drawings on the Waterloo Bell in the new public square that caused so much controversy Aug. 15, during the Bikeapolooza festival.

“I want to claim responsibility, even though my name was on it,” Green said with a laugh. “I am the one who chalked up the bell.”

The $100,000 piece of public art was covered in drawings and expressions that Saturday morning including cryptic phrases like “Destiny is dream and determination” and the “Fire of Imagination.”

“I was just trying to illustrated the potential of the space in a positive way,” said Green.

Green is a local poet who claims he is just trying to color up the square. Who knew I lived in such a controversial community.

Is chalking up someone’s artwork vandalism or a valid form of expression? In the case of Green’s “chalk work” I’d call it misguided simply because I think it looks like crap (I’m reserving judgement on the bell itself) and because the man appears to epitomize every stereotype of the flaky poet I have ever heard.

What about the Fake Banksy? Is it valid expression? A social statement demonstrating irreverence for the irreverent? Disdain for the artwork of others? Does it matter whether its good or not? If our Flaky Poet took his trusty chalk and marked up the Fake Banksy would anyone be upset?

Now if, without permission, a big company used a photograph that was taken, without permission, of graffiti that was painted over other artwork, without permission, and the graffiti was made in the style of another famous graffiti artist, without permission, and signed with a mispelling of the famous artist’s name, which is a pseudonym for the anonymous famous artist, and gives the impression that the gallery is promoting the work, and I forgot where I was going with this run-on sentence. Well, you know, is this guy just the new Banksy, demonstrating his indifference to the status quo?

Its just like my need to be recognized as an URL wielding superstar. I want reinforcement of my own self image. As does the poet who believes that because he wants to add color to the world that any crap he comes up with using chalk is positive, and the gallery people who want to demonstrate their upmost respect for a community of artists, and the photographer who wants recognition for his snapshot of someone else’s street art, and the business journalist who wants to stand up for the little guy, and the graffiti artist who expresses himself on other people’s property. We all want to demonstrate that we are unique and special in ways that amplify our own self identity.

Graffiti is a wonderful teacher.


One Response to “Graffiti or Vandalism: A Tale of Two Stories”

  1. Amirul Says:

    don’t you think don’t you think it’s more about the message bheind the piece? i’m not necessarily saying this piece in particular, but i think some of banksy’s work is quite clever. it has a political message and is done in quite a clever, witty way. isn’t that why people like his stuff? he didn’t always have this hype and media attention surrounding him, that was a result of the popularity of his work. he didn’t always do stencil work either. he can actually draw.

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