Graffiti: Art to Some, Vandalism to Others

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Some of Banksy's work in Manhattan. His work often has a satirical, political, social message. Banksy's true identity is still unknown. Photo courtesy of Banksy's Instagram @banksyny.

Some of Banksy's work in Manhattan. His work often has a satirical, political, social message. Banksy's true identity is still unknown. Photo courtesy of Banksy's Instagram @banksyny.

A 1982 article by social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling introduced an idea commonly known as “the Broken Windows Theory.”

The theory claims if urban environments are well-maintained and small crimes and vandalism are prosecuted, decreases in the overall crime rate will follow.

Enforcing codes like overgrown lawns, removing junk vehicles and removing graffiti within 48 hours are all proactive means of crime prevention. The U.S. spends approximately $8 billion a year cleaning graffiti off its streets, but a running total is difficult to calculate for the U.S. or even the City of San Antonio.

By utilizing different city departments, restitution and volunteers to clean up graffiti, San Antonio saves $3 million dollars in labor. The City has $1.2 million budgeted to wipe out tagging. Most city council members regularly host graffiti wipeout events. Driving around town, tagging can be found everywhere, from people’s fences on the northwest side, to the sides of buildings on southern end of the city. Even the new San Antonio Children’s Museum/Do Seum on Broadway Street has fallen victim to vandals. (Cleanup crews were quick to delete the tags, but it’s not an inexpensive process.)

There is a difference between vandalism/tagging and graffiti art. Graffiti artists specifically practice their art form in venues where their work can be showcased. This example of tagging can be found at the Pik Nik Foods off Guadalupe Street within close proximity of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Photo by Kay Richter.

Graffiti artists specifically practice their art form in venues where their work can be showcased. This example of tagging is at the Pik Nik Foods off Guadalupe Street within close proximity of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Photo by Kay Richter.

Society broadcasts mixed messages about graffiti. We see teenagers jailed for vandalism and then read headlines after celebrity graffiti artist Banksy sells a work for $1.1 million at auction. Do we like graffiti or not?

If street art were not a highly respected form of expression, collectors wouldn’t pay such large sums of money to acquire it. “Street art” is a popular term that refers not just to spray painted graffiti, but stickers, posters and other forms of visual art installed in urban environments, particularly after it catches on and starts to attract an interested and admiring audience.

A street artist from South Carolina, Shepard Fairey, created one of the most famous images of a United States president. His stencil portrait of President Barack Obama with the word “Hope” underneath it, became the iconic image for the first African-American presidential candidate’s history-making campaign.

Banksy is a British street artist whose anonymous, elaborate installations have become an international spectacle (see featured/top image). Banksy also directed an Oscar-nominated film, “Exit Through The Gift Shop” documenting his adventures in the art form.

A mural pictured on a building that neighbors the Paint Yard. A lot of neighboring businesses have these type of murals painted on their exterior walls - relying on an unspoken code among those that choose graffiti as an art form. The code enforces the rule of preserving artist's work by opting not to tag/vandalize the area. Photo by Kay Richter.

A mural pictured on a building that neighbors The Paint Yard off San Pedro. A lot of neighboring businesses have agreed to these murals painted on their exterior walls. Artists rely on an unspoken code among street artists to preserve each other’s work by not tagging/vandalizing the area. Photo by Kay Richter.

Our communities in San Antonio have yet to find a working relationship with graffiti writers because differentiating art amid the uninvited vandalism, or tagging, is difficult to do.  Street art’s glaring existential dilemma may find a solution, though, in the form of events like Clogged Caps 9.

A warehouse just a few blocks from the Alamodome is being transformed from empty space into a runway, DJ booth and massive canvases.

Promotional flyer for Clogged Caps 9.

Promotional flyer for Clogged Caps 9. Click image to enlarge.

Clogged Caps 9: Graffiti Jazz” is an art and music festival that spans four days and features more than 100 artists, designers and musicians creating in 14,000 square feet of open warehouse on the Eastside.

I caught up with the founder of the event, Supher, at the kick-off party, “Art & Fashion Fete” to talk a little about the festival.

The space felt like an industrial speakeasy. The Appliance Warehouse on the eastern edge of downtown was separated from active train tracks only by a chain link fence.

The area can feel like a rail yard at times, but the lights, music and food truck provided a festive atmosphere as photographers were trying to capture artwork outside the venue.

Supher told me he had been graffiti writing for more than 20 years; he started Clogged Caps 14 years ago.

Nik Soupe, a local graffiti artist and organizer, applies a primer to one of the exterior wall of The Appliance Warehouse that will be used for the weekend's graffiti festival. Photo by Kay Richter.

Nik Soupe, a local graffiti artist and organizer, applies a primer to one of the exterior wall of The Appliance Warehouse that will be used for the weekend’s graffiti festival. Photo by Kay Richter.

“It hasn’t been an annual event, but over the last 14 years this is the ninth time we’ve come together,” he said.

Supher struck me as a purist, someone who didn’t care much for the idea of “street art.” Using stencils amounted to tracing, he believes, and said stickers were just lazy.

Although he’s not a graffiti writer, Louie Dollars has been involved with Supher since the third installation of the event. After waiting for the blaring Eastside train horns to subside, Dollars told me, “Of all the different aspects of hip-hop, San Antonio has some of the best graffiti writers in Texas. Houston might be known for their rappers, but we’ve got writers.”

Clogged Caps has been a labor of love and, according to its creator, the artists that come from other parts of the country do so on their own dime. That’s makes this art festival unique:  it’s pure intentions. There’s no profit motive or a larger marketing campaign, no one is getting a promotion if everything goes right, and there’s only a celebration of art and artists.

Our city boasts a thriving urban and DJ culture that is a big part of what makes San Antonio, well, puro San Antonio. These groups of artists and musicians are extremely active and through promotion of one another, have evolved into organized networks.

This mural, along the exterior wall of 500 E. Carolina St., is one example of a "community builder" event that graffiti artists hosted in March. A benefit/charity drive for children's books were collected while artists showcased their work. The theme of the event was called "Once Upon A Wall" and drew from many inspirations that ranged from children's storybook classics to popular Disney characters. Photo by Kay Richter.

This mural, along the exterior wall of 500 E. Carolina St., is one example of a “community builder” event that graffiti artists hosted in March. A benefit/charity drive for children’s books were collected while artists showcased their work. The theme of the event was called “Once Upon A Wall” and drew from many inspirations that ranged from children’s storybook classics to popular Disney characters. Photo by Kay Richter.

Black Note call themselves a family, but the collective is a record label, an art gallery and venue. Founded by saxophonist Anthony Martinez, Black Note performed at Clogged Caps Friday night.

One member of the Black Note family that will be performing at Clogged Caps is the young tattoo artist and rapper Kree Villegas or Kree23. She recently opened for celebrity hip-hop group Deltron3030 at the Korova. Kree23 hits the stage at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

While the artists’ styles may not be widely adopted by the public, an event like Clogged Caps helps bridge the misunderstanding. The festival is a great example of grass roots, DIY, locally sourced creativity. It provides a welcoming environment to celebrate an art form and give voice to those whose art might otherwise land them in jail.

*Featured/top image: Some of Banksy’s work in Manhattan. His work often has a satirical, political, social message. Banksy’s true identity is still unknown. Photo courtesy of Banksy’s Instagram @banksyny.

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3 thoughts on “Graffiti: Art to Some, Vandalism to Others

  1. Tagging and what these artists are doing are two VASTLY different things. Actually, there’s not a lot of confusion. Tagging is pissing on bushes…

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