drawing the line in street art

union lane chimerasAt the end of April, cleaners hired by the Melbourne City Council scrubbed a street art stencil of a parachuting rat by infamous British street artist Banksy from a city wall.

And of course, it's a little hard to show the work in question since it had already been buffed, but at least one picture I've seen of it since showed that it was already partially covered in a random tag. So if it had been worth whatever arbitrary figure various newspapers were trying to attach to it, it had essentially already been ruined by that random tagger.

It also explains why the council workers didn't differentiate it from the tagging and painted over it.

What I do find amusing is that since it was painted over 10 more parachuting rats have appeared to replace it... only these ones are fluorescent. And they're also not by Banky.

While I'm not suggesting that Banky isn't an amazing artist... and he does some stencils that are fantastic... and he's definitely the best known "street artist" on the planet... he's an artist who happens to work in stencils and spray paint, not what I would consider to be a true graffiti/street artist.

That's not to say that stencil artists aren't street artists... or people who do paste-ups or stickers (I love you all, even if my heart does belong to the spray can genre best of all)... but I think Banksy is an artist (be it avant guard or modern or installation or whatever you'd call it), and then the street artist thing comes quite a bit later down the list. And he's more about shocking or moving or surprising people with the message than caring about the medium that he uses.

But to produce some of the work in the photos at the top of this post (both taken in Melbourne) takes some serious spray can skill and a whole different skill set.

Which brings me around to drawing the line...

After the rat was buffed, Peteski wrote a post that posited the following question:
"The piece that was destroyed was a parachuting rat. I’m not going to comment on that. I’d like to gather opinions from you, about WHERE it changes from Art, to nonsensical vandalism/graffiti."
And that started the little wheels whirring around in my head...

Obviously, given the number of posts I have that involve street art, I'm a fan... and I own two pieces of artwork that were created by street artists... on the flip side, I hate mindless tagging...

But where do I draw my line... I thought about use of colour and I thought about intention and I thought about artistic expression... and it's a little bit of all of those things, but also none of them particularly. I've seen amazing works done in a single colour, or just black... I've seen what is essentially tagging with all the colours in the paint box and it didn't speak to me...

In a lot of ways it comes back to that old chestnut about art vs pornography by Justice Potter Stewart of the US Supreme Court... "I know it when I see it!"

But I know that for some people the line is very cut and dried. If it's on a wall and the person who "owns" the wall didn't ask for it to be there, it's vandalism.

I say "nuts to that"! I would much rather be confronted with something beautiful and artistic and interesting than yet another blank, bland concrete wall that seem to make up far too much of our urban landscape... and I've spoken on various occasions about the charge I get about coming around a corner or driving past a side street and catching a glimpse of a beautiful new piece of street art. And having seen street artists in action, I have no doubts in my mind whatsoever that there are several galaxies of difference between taggers and true street artists.

But I've had conversations with people who don't see it that way, and some of the comments on the Banksy news story were incredibly closed minded.

Flicking back through all the street art I've posted here on the blog, there are really only two pieces that could be classed as "tagging", although in both instances the text is completely legible, so I think that almost discounts it from the running. Tagging is supposed to be quick, illegible, designed to say "I was here and claimed this space which doesn't belong to me".

And it's ugly.

It also drags down the street art community who actually want to make ART... taggers are not street artists, they're not artists at all... they are, to quote Peteski, nonsensical vandals. And they don't have respect for artists who are much more talented than them.

When I was in Melbourne last year it was disheartening to see so much fine street art work being covered up and ruined by random tagging. Small scale stencils and paste-ups I don't have a problem with... but mindless tagging isn't right.

But by the same token, if I see Benzo's circled B around the place it makes me smile, because it represents something greater than that individual "tag"... but someone like Jules, who's name I see far more often just on it's own, is much more of a tag, even though I love the street art work he does.

There was a documentary on the street art scene a couple of years back, and one of the people in it made a statement that I wholeheartedly agree with in relation to the laneways of Melbourne (although it holds true for any street art anywhere)...
"Unless you can do better than what's currently up there, leave it alone."
To which I would enthusiastically reply... "Tru dat!"

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Pete said...

Taggers fuck me right off! There so many beautiful amazing pieces that get ruined because some twat thinks "oh, someone's already put something here" and they just go over the top of it.

Admittedly i very rarely go to the exhibs or lane ways, but i need to make more of an effort to see some of these things you blog about.

Glad i was the cause for you to blog about something your so passionate about man!

yani said...

Next time you're in Glenelg, check out Jetty Street off Jetty Road next to the cool fish and chip shop (and go around the corner)...

Also, the West Tce end of Waymouth Street is always good... and fan out from there :)

This also wasn't exactly what I'd planned to blog about tonight either, so while it wasn't totally out of the blue, it's maybe the first time in a long while that I've just sat down and hammered out an op-ed piece out of thin air...


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