Uncapped: The Great Debate of Street Art vs. Graffiti [INTERVIEW]

Posted on: May 16th, 2018 at 5:05 am by

Photo Credit: Bowery Boogie

BBU’ers. How’s it going? Figured it was time for a debate with someone other than myself on the topic of Street Art vs. Graffiti. When the most prolific train-era bombers and wall-writers are boothing it up at art fairs or stacking Gs in galleries, is graffiti dead? I had to know. So, I gathered a wide mix of artists and threw the same four questions at ’em. Without further ado, please welcome, Logan Hicks, 2IL, Zimer, RD, BL ONE, Amuze,  and ZC ONE.

First up, Bowery/Houston wall veteran, LOGAN HICKS:

Would street art exist if graffiti never existed?

Yeah, of course. It might have a different “flavor,” but certainly street art would exist. If you look at the works of Ernest Pignon in Paris, his first documented work was in 1966. Blek le Rat was 1981. Christy Rupp in NY was wheat pasting in 1979. So I’d say that street art would exist for sure, but the tie between graffiti and street art is too strong to ignore.

Who’s to blame for the cultural shift?

I’m not so sure you can point to anyone particular group, or person, or city and blame anyone. The world in general has become so rabidly materialistic that there is this weird shift to “own” culture instead of appreciate or support it. Street art packages that *image* of urban grittiness and sells it back to people, whereas graffiti is actually urban grittiness that can’t be owned. But lets face it, street art isn’t even street art these days, is it? I feel like most street art is just a label. Seems like street art today is just sanctioned (often sponsored) murals. I think that the label of street art is used as a sales tactic rather than a defined genre of art. Street art as I knew it is dead. It’s just a bunch of legal murals or festivals.

I also think about New York and how people want to move to New York because it’s full of culture and so “urban,” but then when they move here, artists get kicked out of their studios to make towering over-priced condos, and then people start to complain about the graffiti in their neighborhood or the loud noises outside. So the thing that people said they liked about the city is the very thing that they complain about after they have been here for a few years. The only way culture can flourish is when people have the freedom and time to explore artistic pursuits. But you can’t be an early career full time artist in New York City without family money or extraordinary luck. Back in the ’80s the cost of living and the housing costs were much lower and people had the room to explore themselves and follow their passion.

Will it shift back to the days of the train era and all city bombing?

I don’t think it’s possible. There will always be those who find a way to crack the system and do their thing, but I feel that the all city, seen by the masses sort of graffiti days aren’t possible any more. Between surveillance cameras everywhere, cell phone tracking, internet snooping and all the other ways to hunt down graf artists, it cant be like it use to be. That era where the public sees graf and is like “oh wow, look at that” will never happen again because graf has been demonized too much for it to ever be new to the masses.

Can you do both? Can you bomb box trucks, but still sell canvases, sculptures and prints?

I think so. Like I said earlier, I feel like saying “street art” is a sales tactic. Sort of the same way grocery stores say “organic.” Both are terms that conjure up an image of what it is, but really there is no defined meaning. Graffiti feels like more of a lifestyle that you need to commit to. Doing illegal work with the risk of getting caught demands a certain mindset and a certain level of risk. So you can be a street artist by day, graffiti artist by night. Street artist is a job, graffiti is a choice.

Photo Courtesy of kenjibaseball

Street bomber and train era writer, 2IL SIC CRU:

Would street art exist if graffiti never existed?

I feel street art wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for the graffiti culture! I do think those truly commercial artists would have become street artists within time, but if it wasn’t for the illegal bombing no one would had thought of even try to paint in the streets!

Who’s to blame for the cultural shift? 

The cause of street bombing – I blame ex-Mayor Ed Koch. He was, in my eyes, the man who set the war on graffiti and tried to keep graffiti off the trains, therefore it moved to the tracks and stations and to the streets? Blame him for the street art invasion!

Will it shift back to the days of the train era and all city bombing?

I don’t think it has ever stopped. The train bombing is still out there. There are still a handful of graffiti writers out there. I still see photos of graffiti work on subways along with bombing freight trains, trucks and anything else that can be hit. Yes, still people out there doing it.

It will never really stop even though they’re making it harder. If you get caught it’s no longer misdemeanor, it is a felony.

The thing is, if there wasn’t a price to do it, who would even do it! Many do it just because they know they shouldn’t be doing it. That’s the rush of doing graffitti. Bottom line is how much can we graffiti writers can get away with!!

Can you do both? Can you bomb box trucks, but still sell canvases, sculptures and prints?

I think we, graffiti writers, can do both. Of course, there’s a reason why we all don’t just write one. Doing shows are just to make a little money and some prestige. Bombing would give the graffiti writer the attention to see what a graffiti writer can do besides vandalizing. What everyone really wants to know is if graffiti writers could be in the public eye, known as artists…that’s what all the people really look to see…if graffiti is an art form. My answer to that is – of course.

The funny thing is if you go to museums, you would see cavemen scrolled on stones/rocks, trees; the Native Americans scrolled on the tents, their faces. We call it body art. They painted their horses at times and the public call that arts so if we are doing the same as our ancestors, why are we considered loser graffiti writers? Taboo to the art.  Face it and call graffiti. The culture, the state of mind in the place where we live, New York City, started it and it still to the point where no one else can duplicate it.  It just seems like it’s gotten evolved in some type of revolution!

Courtesy of ZIMER NYC

Street and fine artist, ZIMER:

Would street art exist if graffiti never existed?

I believe street art would exist, but it wouldn’t be in the current form. A lot of the structure that the street artists use was adapted from the graffiti world, with one of the most obvious examples being the use of spray paint. With globalization, the human race has become less conforming, and more encouraged to express their individuality. There’s no way the creatives wouldn’t take their work to the streets, and since everyone is now connected the movement would spread globally.

Who’s to blame for the cultural shift?

I assume you’re referring to the shift from graffiti to street art. I would say the graff guys are just following the money, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. The gallery scene wants nothing to do with graffiti pieces, and regular consumers can’t really tell one writer from another. If making that shift means feeding their families, then it’s not really a choice.

As for the newer generation, they are always less numerous then the previous groups, however this trend has been accelerated since street art became popular. It’s easier to join, there aren’t many rules, and you most likely won’t get thrown in jail. Add in the monetary factor, and it’s not even a question in their mind.

Will it shift back to the days of the train era and all city bombing?

No, the old days of traditional graffiti will never return. The idea will never completely die, and I expect the tradition to continue for hundreds of years. I do expect newer variations of graffiti to come with changes in technology. Whatever the next tool to be invented will spark the next movement.

Can you do both? Can you bomb box trucks, but still sell canvases, sculptures and prints?

There’s no reason a true vandal can’t also be a mainstream artist. Shepard Fairey seems to still get arrested occasionally. But one of the things you can’t do is work on legitimate projects with the city in the day, and destroy property at night. Trust me, they will not like you after that!

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