The Graffiti Community (Spray Cans)
From Mod Mania
Task One: Consumer Communities 1 Consumer Product: Spray Cans, markers, ink Community Group: Graffiti Writers
Spray Paint was invented in 1949 and spray can based Graffiti officially began in 1967 in New York. Over 40 years later and after spreading worldwide there are many traditions and beliefs in the graffiti culture which still resonate to this day. The graffiti scene in Melbourne has exploded over the last 15 years and is now widely considered as the ‘Graffiti Capital of the World’, overtaking New York, the founding city of graffiti. This essay will aim to explore the groups, gangs and stigmas surrounding the spray can and markers, offering an insight into the underground world of graffiti in Melbourne. Hierarchy’s, reoccurring themes and practices and styles of graffiti will all be discussed as well as how graffiti artists or ‘writers’ interact with each other, new comers and the outside world.
There are several reoccurring themes and practices undertaken by most graffiti writers regarding acquisition of paint and graffiti supplies, dress code and abidance to the ‘unwritten laws of graffiti’. However, as graffiti has become more popular it has spread from only being undertaken by people (generally youths) of a lower socio-economic standing to people of all ages and financial standings, many former rules and beliefs have become obsolete or out dated. One such belief is that “only Toy’s (new, inexperienced and/or bad writers) buy paint”. However as spray paint has become increasingly cheaper ($3.50 and lower if you know where to look) the need to ‘rack’ or steal paint has become diminished to the point where it is often considered an unnecessary risk by many writers. Also, as graffiti culture grows and transforms from the B-Boy era of the 1980’s (see image 1.1) many new trends and styles of dress have arisen. Firstly and most formerly is that of ‘Lads’. ‘Lads’ traditionally wear Nautica polo’s and Nike caps, shorts and shoes. This new style of dress has migrated from the western suburbs of Sydney and with it comes the stereotypes associated with all graffiti writers, that is that writers, steal food, paint and clothing, roll people for wallets, phones clothing etc, and that they carry knives and are associated with armed robberies, drug dealing and violent crimes. However this is not entirely the true of all modern graffiti writers. Over the past 10 or so years has seen an influx of artists, such as “Banksy”, “Blek Le Rat” and “Obey Giant” who are exploring new forms of expression through spray paint, markers, wheat pastes and stencils (see image 1.2) As graffiti has developed though the past 30+ years an unwritten law has been developed and past down through graffiti generations, although not abided by all involved it aims to separate graffiti from its stigma’s and stereotypes. The law states:
• Do not paint on public property, unless with permission.
• Do not paint on churches or in cemeteries
• Do not ‘snitch’ to police
• A throw or short beats a tag, a simple beats a throw, a piece beats a simple, and a mural beats a piece.
• If a piece has been in the same spot for over 3 years it is that writers spot, no argument.
• If a writer can do better then they can cut or ‘cap’ (go over) a piece, throw, simple etc.
Hierarchy plays one of the most dominant roles in the graffiti world. Many writers do so for fame, or reputation which is achieved by skill, or how ‘up’ a writer is (how prominent they are within a certain area such as, Melbourne). Generally graffiti writers gain reputation, and increase their standing in the ‘graffiti society’ in two major ways. The first is in pure skill level, achieved a by combination of clean lines, originality in letter form and colours used (see image 1.3). The second is through exposure, or how ‘up’ or seen the writer is. This is achieved through bombing (the act performing a vast amount of tags and throw-ups in a small area, or ‘destroying’ and area) (see image 1.4). The manner in which veteran or experienced graffiti writers interact with newcomers is often influenced by nothing more than their personality alone. Most graffiti writers are indifferent to meeting new writers and are friendly, however some take(or roll) new or ‘toy’ writers for their paint, because they do not believe that they ‘deserve’ to use it (some writers believe that 2 years should be spent sketching graffiti in a sketchbook before they should go ‘on the streets’). Another relatively new way of interaction for not only Melbourne based graffiti writers, but for writers all around the globe is through various forums on the internet. This development has greatly enhanced the global ‘scene’ with graffiti writers from all around the world sharing ideas and information regarding styles and types of paint to use as well as developing relationships with writers from different continents. However these graffiti forums have attracted the attention of police forces all around the world, and as a result, many writers have become extremely cautious in what they post on the forums, resulting in further alienating new writers(who are often suspected of being police when asking for information on the internet) from the experienced elders of the graffiti world. Graffiti crews are also a major part of the graffiti culture. They represent groups of varying skill-leveled writers, banding together to A) increase reputation (gained by putting up crew tags) and B) for safety (not being alone, having other writers to support you). Many graffiti crews have gone global with members from around the world all supporting and spreading the crew name. A perfect example of this is I.D crew, a Melbourne based crew which hosts writers from Europe (see image 1.5). As a crews reputation grows, so too does the reputation and social standing of the writers within the crew.
Although society generally frowns upon the social groups surrounding the spray can and markers, over the past decade we have seen increasing acceptance towards the illegal acts of art. This is shown in graffiti artists such as Banksy becoming world renowned as well as the many ‘legal’ alleyways springing up within the cities (see image 1.6).
Image 1.2: Obey Giant Mural
Image 1.3: graffiti writer ‘Aeon’ is well respected for his clean lines and originality with bother letterform and colour.
Source: Unknown Image 1.4: Graffiti crew ‘70k’ became a very prominent and highly respect graffiti crew through their ‘bombing’ in the early 2000’s, shown here an abandoned building in Melbourne CBD.
Image 1.5: ‘Orbit1’ a member of Melbourne’s ‘I.D’ crew resides in Germany
Image 1.6: Hosier Lane in Melbourne’s CBD is a ‘Graffiti friendly laneway’