Graffiti covers a large fringe of practitioners. There are the mentally ill, the poor, the violent, the creative, the art trained, the graphic design trained and many more inbetween. There is a code that actually lacks conduct. People in graffiti can feel as though they can say or do anything mainly because they are anonymous and above the law. They take advantage of their anonymity and threaten people for territory. Graffiti uses guerilla tactics, threats, improvisation, disorganisation and anonymity to paint the urban environment. It is unsanctioned and disorderly. Street art would use some of the same tactics though it was less threatening or violent in most cases.
Mural art would be the most organised and large scale enterprise in relation to street art or graffiti. It requires permission, organisation, money and public liability in most cases. The wall that was maybe a spot for graffiti artists can become a sight for a mural if the owner so desires. In some ways a graffiti wall can attract the ‘wrong crowd’, the area can get tagged heavily, the wall can look threatening or unsightly though some graffiti artists make very attractive work as well. The problem lies with the graffiti artists who decide to go on a vendetta against the paid mural artist or artists. Threatening them and their children.
This is what happens when a mentally ill, violent graffiti artist tries to threaten someone who has painted over what they think of as their wall. It was never their wall to begin with. It is the owner’s wall and now the owner will never let a graffiti artist paint their walls again. The fact that graffiti artists accept these types of people is quite sad. Nearly anybody is accepted in graffiti as a practitioner though mostly they won’t work together directly. They are seen as on the fringe of acceptance in most cases. Most people wouldn’t work with them because they are too unpredictable and can’t be trusted.
Even though muralism can come into a place and in a way ‘take over’ it has too many connections to commercial and organised ways of behaviour to be pushed back by graffiti artists or unsanctioned street art. The only hope for the graffiti artist is a disorganised yet quite direct attack on the space itself. In most cases nobody actually turns up or could be bothered and the wall has anti-graffiti coatings to repel the threat of disorganisation running rampant. The other underlying problems of marginalisation are drugs and alcohol. There is a tendency for these fringe dwellers to then make threats and try to intimidate anyone who seems set on being functional and organised. They seem to talk through the drink and drugs.
All of this is in relation to a Mural done in Newtown Sydney on a long term graffiti wall. The wall was used by some of the most notorious graffiti artists in Sydney. A mural artist was commissioned to paint over it. A small group of graffiti artists tried to threaten and intimidate the mural artist, they tagged the wall, a few months later one of the most fringe of the fringe dwellers threatened the mural artist and his kids. It seems that sometimes disorganisation doesn’t always win. Once people are threatened for simply doing their job the graffiti artist can’t see the chain of owner, commission and organisation that goes with mural work. There are too many hands and too many protocols to simply sweep the matter aside.
One of the biggest weaknesses of graffiti is that it latches onto a lack of organisation. Say for instance a road corridor that simply has more function than form and nobody has a better idea how to make these ugly forms somewhat more interesting or beautiful. It could be that multiple owners haven’t the time to solve the graffiti issue and just leave it. Because the space is inherently disorganised and has multiple access it becomes a symphony of modern classical musicality. It becomes somewhat more disorganised. It is that initial lack of thought that leaves open the possibility to these graffiti blooms. It isn’t necessarily about broken windows but broken systems. A small or large oversight of purpose being the defining property against and aesthetic considerations.
The problem with repurposing all of these disorganised spaces is that there is no need to worry about aesthetics in a functional environment. As long as money changes hands all is good. So it doesn’t really come down to money but how you plan and organise space. Even if a graffiti hotspot was repurposed it needs to be part of an ongoing effort and some spaces are just too hard so graffiti keeps blooming and growing. In a capitalist system brands are pitched against each other and some graffiti artists are more or less trying to get their own brand up. Though they try to find the channels that have been left open. Channels where they can grow. Murals need a commercial commitment so they can’t threaten all spaces. It seems the threatening fringe dwellers have ample space yet they feel they can be in public space. You have to be able to work with people to come out of the dark meth smoke filled room and make the changes necessary to protect territory that isn’t even yours.