Whether we like graffiti or not it is a form of artistic expression that disrupts the seemingly planned nature of cities. In many communities, street art is associated with decay and is found in the marginal areas of town. Graffiti can range from simple written words to elaborate wall murals and is as old as mankind. It has been found in prehistoric caves and Roman structures. This continues today as a popular form of social expression. As an artist, I have come to appreciate some forms of this urban art style and have captured quite an eclectic mix of my favorites. I’ll share a few of them that I’ve stumbled across from around the globe.
LOVE IT OR HATE IT
I’ll say it up front…while I appreciate some forms of this style of public art, I do think that the bulk of graffiti does deface property. I’m just as much a fan of fabulous architecture and pristine beauty as I am of independent art, but I hate seeing it scarred with illegally produced “creative work” just as much as everyone else. That said, when I see something that is so well done, I can’t help but give it some love by sharing the work of these famously unknown artists.
My years as an advertising art director definitely influence my love of art that incorporates lettering and script work. When we came across an alley (pictured at the top of this post) awash in a chaos of color I felt like I had hit the graffiti jackpot. The typography and lettering was fabulous and continued for a block up the stairs. I have seen samples of graffiti that are a positive and colorful force in the community and this alleyway seemed to be one of those.
The “Fado” mural was further up the stairs in the same alley in Lisbon. This one represents the cherished cultural style of Fado music and dance that has been part of Portuguese history since the early 1800s. It is often associated with pubs, cafés and restaurants and has its roots in Brazilian dance. Fado is generally known for being very expressive in nature which comes right through in the artists representation of it on that street.
I have learned that artists painting large public artworks like this one are not called graffiti artists, but rather urban “muralists.” They may or may not have been commissioned for the piece, but art like this has tendency to turn into landmarks. Well done creative murals can lead to positive social change and cultural celebration in the neighborhoods where they appear.
QUIET AND UNASSUMING
Take my little gecko from Lisbon, Portugal. If you don’t have your eyes truly open to detail you might walk right past this one. It was less than two feet long and painted on some beautiful and typically Lisbonesque patterned tiles in front of a shop on a little walking street. It’s doing what geckos do and hiding camouflaged within the patterns of the tile work. I saw several geckos randomly tagged around town and while they weren’t the exact same style, it did make me want to search out more once I noticed the pattern in and around Lisbon. This unknown artist left his mark in a subtle more thoughtful way and could have been anything from a starving artist in need of a “canvas” to a gang member marking territory. No matter what the motive, the aesthetic and the way it made me pay more attention on that trip was priceless to me…if no one else.
IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE…
One of my favorite cities in the world is Prague, Czech Republic. History, and now color, are rich in this city once known as Czechoslovakia when it was drab grey and under communist rule. One of the most famous and colorful graffiti walls in the world is known as The Lennon Wall. Once a normal wall, it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs. People from all over the globe, since the 1980s, come to this almost block long, 15’ high wall to add their inspiring messages.
I shot my favorite section of the wall that I call the “Imagine Wall.” It is my most popular photographic print owned by many companies, individuals and is part of the permanent corporate collection at The Center For Drug Free Sport.
Graffiti, Street Art, Urban Murals…what ever you choose to call it, is controversial and will most likely continue to be. It is intended to start conversations so let’s have one!
Love it, or hate it graffiti isn’t going anywhere…have you seen some in your home town or travels that have captured your attention?