In an informative article published in Friday's Independent newspaper, senior reporter Chris Green posited the following suggestion: that graffiti was dying out as people were choosing social media as alternative avenues to spread their messages of protest rather than scrawl their rage on the nearest wall or toilet cubicle. This would seem to be the case, given the decline in recorded vandalism, but if this is the case, best not tell the good people behind Birmingham's biggest free graffiti festival, City of Colours, to be held next Saturday 6th September in and around Digbeth. Looking at the day's programming and the artists involved, graffiti is far from a dead art form, even if it may be a dead form of protesting and Street Art Birmingham, the team behind this massive event, are more than happy to shout out across the city in a multi-coloured scream that, no, in fact graffiti has never been more alive and more relevant. With a mixture of workshops through the day for young and old, affordable art sales and the welcome return of trainer mart, Sneaks & Peaks, as well as the grand final of this summer's Secret Walls graffiti battle there is no better way, I think, to put the Birmingham vibrant and very much alive and kicking graffiti scene on the map once and for all. Street Art Birmingham have already confirmed a second event in 2015 even before the first spot of paint has been sprayed.
Of course, Green's article cites several reasons for this, but fails to dig deeper than to propose the decline is based on recorded acts of vandalism, vandalism reported to the police, which is a different story entirely. Much of the graffiti I see up and around Birmingham on any given day of the week has actually been sanctioned, encouraged or paid for as the city wakes up to its artistic potential and embraces this art form. Remember that the youth of the 1980's are now the power brokers, councilors and board members of arts' funding trusts up and down the country. We never drank the Kool-aid that incessantly claimed graffiti was vandalism, as was often the case back in the day. We were brought up with films such as 'Wild Style' (1983) and 'Beat Street' (1984) and saw for ourselves a new form of art that the middle classes couldn't control (well, not then anyway) forming in front of our eyes. It was exciting then, and it is just as exciting now. No longer is it seen as a nuisance and more and more it is being accepted as a legitimate art form. People aren't going to report something they like are they? But, more to the point, when speaking with these artists they follow a strong set of ethical rules nowadays that many of them abide by. Speaking to one such artist, he informed me that he only paints on abandoned buildings - often forcing entry to these carcasses of a bygone industrial era and thereby hiding many of the pieces he and his friends create - and never private property. This is when he isn't being approached to create original pieces, of course. This is the difference. Vandalism can take all shapes and forms, but graffiti is not necessarily one of these forms. Arsonists do not have the same ethics as a modern graffiti artists I would argue. Their mindset is completely different.
Moreover, in this day and age, it's not just Bansky that is represented by an artists' agent. Our very own homegrown star-in-the-ascension, Gent 48, has recently gained representation with an artists' agency, while the printed edition of Green's article chose (unknowingly, I would imagine) art by Birmingham's robot lovin' Liskbot to accompany the piece. Both these guys, as well as over 100 other graff artists from around the globe will be descending onto the Second City next weekend to fill the streets with aerosol art of all shapes and sizes and the work is already under way.
Already materializing ahead of next weekend's graffiti love fest is a stunning new mural by the aforementioned Gent 48 and another local boy done good, Newso 48, reworking one of the city's older, more conservative murals, 'Forward', which itself was rendered in a Baskerville font which was created right here in Birmingham by John Baskerville way, way back in 1757. The new piece, situated at the back of a rather large car park in Digbeth, is both a marvel and a mammoth piece to behold. This, along with the many, many original pieces to be created next week is just part of the legacy City of Colours wants to leave behind in its wake.
The new look Forward mural courtesy of Gent48 and Newso 48
Above the curvaceous and iconic Selfridges Building, situated as the Bullring's jewel in the crown, is an instillation piece positioned by Filthy Luker, a huge paintbrush dabbing bright red paint onto the roof and threatening to drip off the sides. Add to this the great outreach work Street Art Birmingham have been doing with schools situated in Birmingham's less advantages areas, and you have the makings of a festival that opens its arms to one and all. It was nice to read a recent piece posted by Streets Art Birmingham that was positive of the work they did at Park View Academy before the summer holidays, a school that has in recent months been hounded by accusations of radicalization under the Trojan Horse investigations imposed on the whole city by Gove and his ill-informed cronies. And I still haven't found one single Greek at any of the schools under investigation!
Next Saturday is more than just another showpiece. It is a celebration of an art form still in its infancy really, with plenty of potential to mutate and transform. It could also be a starting point for a whole new generation of would-be graffiti artists, whether they chose to spray on walls, plaster stickers on lamp-posts or paste photocopied art on tatty old buildings. So, put down your ipods and android devices, get off your X-Boxes and Playstations (one of the reasons Sir Stephen House, Chief Constable of Police Scotland laughably believes is behind the decline in 'vandalism') and get painting.
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