It’s everywhere. Or so it seems at times. Graffiti is on walls, trains, bins and fences. Anywhere there is a spare square meter of space to record names and messages. Although some of this graffiti is pretty banal there are examples of street-art that have artistic flair and imagination.
In some cases it is even commissioned to match the name or purpose of the building it’s adorning. In some areas it has come to represent popular art at its best and demands further consideration from passers by.
How should we treat graffiti?
But what should the status of graffiti be? Different countries have taken a different approach. Some take the view that letting one piece of graffiti slip by will lead to being overrun by spray cans. Others that graffiti can be a positive expression and should be de-criminalised.
Taking a tough line means spending millions on graffiti removal. The alternative is celebrating it and turning the best examples into a national treasure. What some places only see as vandalism others see as a work of art.
In terms of double standards on show, London authorities have to take the prize. Having sent one graffiti artist to prison, the authorities made a wall display out of another artist’s work. The irony being that in this displayed graffiti, the artist, Banksy, was actually paying homage to his incarcerated colleague.
What famous graffiti is local to you?
There’s even a website on which you can search for photos of graffiti arranged according to towns in different countries. FATCAP provide their own gallery of street-art from across the world.Murcia, Torrevieja, Alicante, Cartagena all have exhibits on the website. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Barcelona has the most examples in this gallery with 242 altogether.
The artists have accrued their own reputation and distinctive style. They are international stars and have the largest canvases in the world to work on. Individuals such as Spain’s Señor X or Belin, have followers and a reputation as great amongst the young as the old masters.
Spain’s approach to graffiti
Most people who have spent some time in Spain will recognise that it has a vibrant street art reputation and more than its fair share of graffiti. Love it or hate it, there’s plenty of it, particularly in areas such as Barcelona, Grenada and Seville.
It might seem as though Spain turns a blind eye to its street artists but in fact crackdowns do attract the public eye every so often and it is illegal here. Local governments do impose heavy fines on street artists of up to €3,000, when they are caught.
Catching the culprits
It can be difficult to catch the graffiti artists in the act. So, the town of Brunete, in Madrid, tried a slightly different approach. They ran a competition requiring photographs of art work to be submitted. From these they were able to identify the work of the graffiti artists across the city.
They were then asked to remove their ‘handy work’ and so avoid a 300 euro fine. This might seem a little underhand, but it did come with an offer of a special panel where the art could be legally presented. Of course, this approach would only work once.
In another successful coup in 2013, Spanish police arrested David Sanchez Esteban, and accused him of causing over €31,000 of damage to trains. In September 2014, ten people were arrested and charged with 110 public disorder offences of causing similar damage and disrupting the rail network.
The train gangs’ actions were particularly disruptive and dangerous. In order to carry out their painting activities the gangs forced the trains to brake and painted over them whilst stationery.
And yet, it’s the illegal nature of the activity that gives graffiti its edge. Using legal sites on which to paint is not as attractive to many graffiti artists and their followers. Given the option, most would rather paint illegally.
As an expression of political voice and satire it has much to recommend it. Its attraction lies in its subversive quality and its ability to engage the pedestrian, whether they like it or not.
The Guardian provides a very interesting overview of the different approaches that different countries are taking in its article: