Updated: Apr 20
I love graffiti, it’s an art form that’s always enticed me and the subculture it’s created around has always fascinated me. Wild and intricate pieces of art slapped on walls with incredible precision and speed, graffiti was the edgy side of art and that’s what I think drew a lot of people, including myself, into it. People were forced to see this stuff because it was just out there and the work that was being put up just kept getting better and better so it became a real art form. Graffiti went from a crime, a simple territorial marking, to a beautiful style of creative and innovative art that people were now not just forced to see but wanted to see. The art form kept growing and growing largely because that subculture I mentioned was very generational. The people who’d been around the block and grown their craft welcomed in and mentored the next generation of writers so year after year and generation after generation the craft just grew. But that’s when the art form inadvertently ruined itself.
It’s no doubt that “street art” has been a huge phenomenon over the last 10-15 years and it’s stemmed from graffiti getting so damn good. Suddenly people weren’t just marking territories, they were creating beautiful imagery and, much like a lot of art, they were getting messages out there. So, as I said, people really wanted to see this stuff now and naturally gallery owners saw an opportunity and started showing this stuff off. Now there had been artists who started out in graffiti and doing things in the street that grew into fine artists but this was different in that the stuff that was on the streets was now in the galleries, it wasn’t a development. Artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey were blowing up and it led to other street artists like Invader, D*Face, and (local to me) Amberella gaining commercial success. They’d gone from forcing people to see a message by stamping it on walls in the streets, making their voices heard, to being adored and people begging to hear what they had to say. What started out as essentially a crime was now a career.
But with all things becoming successful, it always seems like something has to collapse and this was no different. As street art was becoming a highly commercialized style, more and more artists were being plucked off of the streets and dropped into the galleries, but then nothing new was being put up in the streets. Street art had become so successful that it wasn’t on the streets anymore. So without the art in the streets to inspire new eras of artists, what was it? That generational growth of the art form for no sake other than keeping it alive was gone because the old generation had either faded out or moved onto the traditional fine art scene. So now no one new was making graffiti or street art in the way people had grown to love it, kids either gave it a shot with no guidance and ran into trouble, or just got over it and gave up, or they just wanted to skip the edgy, dangerous part and do a “street art style” in a traditional gallery setting. But trying to do street art without the street is so fake and underwhelming. The whole success of street art was that styles and messages were so powerful that people were forced to admire it and they then gave them a better platform to get their messages out there, but there were failures and shitty messages, so skipping that crucial part where people start to appreciate your work in the streets just means they’re not going to give a shred of a shit about it in the galleries.
It’s really a shame because I love walking down the street and seeing all of the different graffiti and street art on the walls. But now when I walk around I either see the same sun-washed work I’ve seen a million times or some total garbage that a kid who had no idea what they were doing just slapped on a wall. Street art has developed so much that it’s reverted its core element, the STREET, to nothing. All that’s being put up these days are murals by those famous street artists, and let’s be real a 5 story painting by a famous street artist might be cool but it doesn’t have that edge that their illegal work does, or garbage. Let’s not forget what those who did the sun-washed work we still love were doing, slapping art on any wall and forcing people to see it and take it in, showing that this wasn’t just a senseless crime but a renegade style of art.
Now I’m not promoting vandalism (yes, I am), but we’ve got to bring street art back to the streets if it’s going to survive. Somehow the message of what’s being made by these artists who’ve developed into fame is just the gallery side but we can’t forget the roots. If kids are coming into art just trying to jump over the effort and make street art in a gallery it’s going to suck and if they try to start in the streets with no guidance, it’s going to be hard to grow. People didn’t start doing this for commercial success, or the potential notoriety, so don’t establish that precedent for younger generations. So, let’s bring it back to the streets. Don’t forget where you came from, where your art came from.