Lindsay Mewhiney, Co-op Corner
It seems like there is more and more graffiti springing up on the sides of buildings and under bridges every time I look.
Maybe the frequency of these occurrences is increasing, or maybe I have just started to notice them.
Graffiti is generally associated with big cities and settings of urban decay, but is still most certainly prominent in small rural towns.
Works of graffiti generally fall under one of several different categories.
Firstly, there are what are known as “tags”. Tags are usually quite simplistic, consisting only of what is essentially the street artist’s signature that they put on all of their work. Tags are sprayed in just one colour, and may or may not include a symbol or some sort of association with a gang or crew.
A very common style of graffiti, one that is often used by beginners and amateur artists, is referred to as “throw up”. Throw up can be produced quickly, and typically features large, bubble-styled lettering, painted in two contrasting colours — one for the outline, and one for the fill colour of the letters.
Some of the most complex and idolized works in the graffiti world are known as “pieces”, short for masterpieces. Because these works are so complex, they are much more difficult to complete without the artist being caught by authorities, and street artists who successfully complete a piece earn themselves much respect and high status in the graffiti world.
But the great debate over graffiti is whether these are works of art or just plain vandalism.
Waterloo Region by-law 2010-094 states that an owner shall keep their property free of graffiti; once graffiti has been reported to the City of Waterloo, the owner of the property is given 72 hours to have the graffiti removed. If the property owner fails to do so, they face a fine.
This system does make sense in many ways; by enforcing that graffiti be removed in a timely manner, it keeps the city free of vulgar imagery, and is supposed to help discourage graffiti from occurring again, if artists know their work will be promptly removed.
But restricting property owners to such a short time frame to remove the graffiti seems unfair. Graffiti removal can be costly in itself, and when those costs are combined with a fine for not removing the graffiti within 72 hours, property owners may face financial hardships to keep their property up to the city’s standards.
On the other hand, many works of graffiti that are forcibly removed display remarkable artistic ability, and many feature positive messages.
As well, there are many community projects that commission graffiti artists to paint murals in designated areas. These artistic projects promote community involvement, and discourage artists from illegally spray painting by giving them an opportunity to showcase their talents in a way that is within the boundaries of the law.
Take the city of Toronto; a project was recently commissioned to transform the previously dull and lackluster sound barrier wall on Joe Shuster Way, beside the Go Train tracks, into a colourful and vibrant mural.
The St. Jacobs tourist train features a moderate sized piece of throw up graffiti on its side. In the graffiti world, trains hold significant status for artists who successfully spray paint one. Personally, I think that graffiti (particularly train and boxcar graffiti) adds a unique artistic element to the world, and in many cases, deserves admiration, so long as it is not slanderous and does not carry any kind of prejudicial message.
But, I also understand that graffiti can be extremely damaging, and if the property owner does not want the graffiti on their property, then it is extremely disrespectful and inconsiderate. In a case like the St. Jacobs train, I understand that this vandalism may be frustrating for many people; the graffiti does, to an extent, take away from the antique train’s olden charm.
It appears that many graffiti artists are either unaware of the consequences and costs of their actions, or simply do not care. In an ideal world, graffiti would be a tool used to beautify cities, and promote positivity, instead of the many tasteless, damaging, and suggestive works that account for a large majority of the graffiti found in our cities and towns.
But does graffiti lose a certain element when its aspect of illegality and rebellious symbolism is taken away? If all graffiti was appropriate in content and placement, would it still accurately represent the lifestyle and demographic that it symbolizes?
I feel that it would indeed lose something. I think graffiti is representative of both the specific artist and their state of mind, as well as the demographic for which it symbolizes. To banish or remove graffiti would be stripping our cities and towns of an essential piece of our culture.
Realistically, there is no possible way to monitor and censor all graffiti being painted in a way that will satisfy everyone, and unfortunately, the responsibility to remove graffiti will inevitably still fall on the shoulders of victims whose property has been vandalized by street artists.