Graffiti isn't supposed to be branding, but the artists who climb fences and often work illegally at night each have their own unique name and their own way of presenting it - just like any brand. They have an iconic aspiration.
Graffiti style constantly mutates and that's why the 'brand' people are so inspired by it. It's a way to speak to the youth and be down with the kids. Cool. Streetwise. A language they understand.
Andy Warhol used branded logos in the '60s and subverted them to make screen-prints. The repeat image and how it brainwashes humans was what became known as Pop Art - the classic being the Campbell's soup can.
This idea was also painted on a New York subway train in 1980 by an artist known as Fab Five Freddie this was a blatant homage to Warhol. It was unique because it was a graffiti artist acknowledging a famous fine artist. And two decades later, in 2005, Banksy released a screen-print of the Tesco Value soup can once again, another clever homage to Warhol that also passes comment on society. The irony is not lost that these prints hold a very high value during the so-called age of austerity.
These parodies using household brands are humorous and when done on the streets they become something everyone can relate to. The subway car with the Campbell's soup graffiti paved the way for many street artists to hold exhibitions of their art work - much to the annoyance of the hardcore graffiti writers.
But let's be honest, graffiti in a gallery is similar to a bird in a cage and taking graffiti to the gallery-goers is like presenting an exotic species in a secure box; just like any wild animal, it becomes accessible to those that wouldn't normally acknowledge its existence. But in reality, graffiti should be seen for only a few seconds preferably on a moving object. So putting a subway car in an art gallery doesn't have the same resonance as seeing one rolling on the overhead line, but looking at paintings that explore the ideas behind the urban scrawl, does offer viewers a greater insight into the mind of a graffiti artist.
"You gotta have style and learn to be original" - KRS One.
This is the motto; the code of conduct which true icons of this urban art form adhere to. You don't go copying people and selling it as your own. But people do. Those who haven't really learned the rules. There has been an influx of graphic designers and illustrators labelling themselves as street artists because they went out one night and stuck some posters up. Even the most creative 'creatives' have the dreaded writers block and it's often then that the inspiration comes from the street.
I've worked alongside other graffiti artists at many of the major music festivals, creating backdrops and stage sets in the middle of what is best described as a swamp. I suppose being a graffiti artist gives you the kind of training that enables you to get the job done at all costs. One of the training exercises is jumping over electric railway lines in the dark to write a name on a wall in different colours. You can't get this training in any established art college.
I once did a job that involved me painting for five days inside a glass box that contained a new car. This glass box stood at the side of a busy motorway into London. The concept was to demonstrate how tough and cool this new car was. I didn't show my face and the advertising guys weren't interested in who I was, I was merely one of those hooded guys who paints on your fence when you're asleep. This was fine by me. It was fun even if I felt like a gimmick. I understood that it's this factor that sells the product. A product I couldn't have afforded. If I'd said no to the job, someone else would have done it.
The brief was to recreate a billboard design that was on nearly every street at the time. It was a very cool image but I had to tell the advertising guys that the billboard was the work of another artist who lived in France and that if they wanted it copied, they should just ask that artist. After some debate, I provided them with a well-executed urban scene that I felt fitted the brief more than the original concept. A lot of graphic designers think it's okay to rip off other artists. It's not. And graffiti should never be seen as a cheap solution just because these artists go out and do it for free.
Imagination is what lifts the soul out of a dark hole and people turn to artists to find this release of tension. In music, bands like the Beatles, Oasis, the Stone Roses, Nirvana and The Smiths all captured the zeitgeist and gave the people an identity. Lately, it's been artists - ultimately graffiti artists - that have been the voice of the time. But maybe that's just my ego talking...
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