I have finally met some of those phantom figures of public scorn and outrage - the graffiti/street artists. After many months of photographing street art all around New Zealand, Adelaide and Melbourne (for an artist book project), I was totally in my element yesterday chatting with some of the competitors in the King of Kings Graffiti Art Competition that was staged at Christchurch's Waltham Park on Sunday (Feb 24).
And here's some radical news folks - they seemed like ordinary creative kids to me - young people delighting in the chance to express their talents; keen to talk about their techniques and what inspires them - just like any other artist. All this thanks to Project Legit (www.ccc.govt.nz ), a city council-funded initiative run by Floyds Creative Arts, that aims to reduce grafitti vandalism in Christchurch by promoting legal grafitti murals and displays on sanctioned walls and underpasses. "I've been doing this four years," said one guy,"and it's cool to have legal sites to work on without the cops breathing down your neck." Part of Project Legit's commitment is educating youth on the history, theory, ethical and practical aspects of grafitti art, which seems like a brilliant idea to me.
The public for their part, need to recognise the very real difference between mindless tagging vandalism and good grafitti art because no matter how many times you paint over it, it will reappear. Graffiti art is here to stay - it is an internationally recognised cultural phenomenon, it represents a huge portion of our communities; books have been written on the subject; street art worldwide has been documented and studied; and the sooner we recognise that and find ways to 'cohabitate' the better. Encourage outcomes like the now vibrant, colourful walls of Waltham Park, give the good grafitti artists more space to work on, educate the idiot-taggers before they become a major problem and maybe the problems will diminish. One thing is certain - closed minds will not solve the problem.