Tuesday, 19 April 2011



For some time I have been questioning the term ‘Graffiti Artist’, considering exactly what it means to me. For ten or more years I used it to describe myself and the work I created but more recently I have felt less comfortable with using it.

The term graffiti is used to illustrate anything from marks made on a surface to intricate and colourful paintings made with spray cans. However the word has its roots in archaeological science, defined as ‘inscriptions or drawings scratched or carved onto a surface.’(1)

Growing up in the inner-city around people who used spray cans to write their names elaborately on walls was exciting and I soon joined in, loving finding a new way to channel my creativity, surrounded and encouraged by likeminded friends. But I also enjoyed being known as a graffiti artist and the sense of belonging that it brought.

But of late I don’t feel like the term fits anymore – especially as this week I realised that it has been over a year since I went out with a bag full of cans and did a letter based painting. I’ve started to question if I was ever really truly a ‘graffiti’ artist in the more original sense of the word. In workshop sessions with young people I have become more sensitive to using the term and have begun to refer to the letter based designs we make as ‘New York style graffiti’, with style and technique taken from the American graffiti subculture. I think it is important to recognise the origins of that particular movement and separate it from all of the other graffiti artists and movements that there are, and have been since the beginnings of time – cavemen, ancient Egyptians, political activists, street gangs, freight train riding hobo’s, Arthur Stace and a perhaps a million others…

Whilst reading through the recent edition of Juxtapoz magazine I was surprised to see that the NY godfather of the graffiti art subculture Fab 5 Freddy had summed up my thoughts exactly – only he had posed the same questions to himself some 30 years ago.

“In the 80’s, we were reluctant to refer to ourselves as ‘graffiti artists’, but the media descended and called us that. Out of our respect and reverence for the process and practice, we were conscious that we weren’t technically doing ‘graffiti’, as the true meaning of that term is akin to making and illegal mark or scrawl on a wall.

But I am aware that meanings of words expand based on popular usage over time. I like to use the term New York style graffiti because that explains the style of spray painting and tagging developed in New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s and most associated with graffiti as an art. Some use the term aerosol artist to reference that they are using spray paint but not necessarily creating graffiti in that New York style.” (2)

I’ve learned so much from painting NY influenced graffiti that it is hard to drop the ‘graffiti’ from ‘artist’. But I use a lot more brushes and acrylic these days - sometimes I don’t even use spray paint in my works at all…
I think it makes more sense to be free of all the expectations and just be an artist.

1) http://www.thefreedictionary.com/graffiti
2) Fab 5 Freddy interview Juxtapoz Magazine April 11