My Love of Graffiti and Street Art!

There is a lot of scholarly work written about graffiti and street art. There are shows and books dedicated to this art form. I’m neither a scholar nor an artistic institution, but I was a college professor with a long-standing love affair with graffiti and street art!

My definition of graffiti is that it is words only, which may or may not be artistically created. Street art can include some words, but usually, its emphasis is on images. The dictionary may define these terms differently, but I am writing this based on these definitions.

Part of a series, I drew on the environment in 1976 for a class assignment. Buster 183 is on the right side!

Having attended high school in Massachusetts in the early 70s with many kids from New York City, I learned second-hand about street life in NYC. A kid named Buster talked about the graffiti tag “TAKI 183”. TAKI was a Greek-American graffiti artist who tagged subway trains, fire hydrants, and lampposts with his signature tag, “TAKI 183″—a combination of his nickname and the street where he lived in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan, New York.

As a freshman in college, I completed a drawing assignment, including graffiti. I included a tribute to Buster, changing the name from TAKI to Buster, the guy who educated me about New York graffiti!

I’m not sure how the train lines feel about the graffiti, but in my eyes, it adds interest!

Living in the Chicago area and taking public transportation meant that I saw my fair share of graffiti and street art. Back in the 70s, there were a lot of gang tags, but living in those areas taught you the difference between a gang tag and self-expression.

Man and Woman, by Jackson Pollack, 1942-23. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Let me be clear, I am all about self-expression, but gang tags have to be painted over. Gang tags aren’t art, in my opinion. When I last lived in Illinois twenty years ago, we were encouraged to remove gang tags as soon as they went up, and I still feel that is a good policy.

Norwegian Graffiti, 2016

Historically, graffiti goes back thousands of years but came into its own as an art style during the 1960-70s. I wonder how much the Abstract Expressionists and group of painters, mainly from NYC, were the basis of influence. The Abstract Expressionist movement flourished between 1943 and the mid-1950s, including painters Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, and Lee Krasner, to name a few.

Pollack famously was a part of the Action Painting. This type of painting is defined as the paint is spontaneously dribbled, splashed, or smeared onto the canvas rather than carefully applied. This type of painting creates raw energy. It relies not on the subject matter to move the viewer but on the color, gestures of the lines, and energy of the piece. I feel the same can be said of well-done graffiti.

Southside skate park in Kokomo, Indiana. We need a better quality of graffiti!

I’ve been taking photos of graffiti since 2016, starting with a trip to Norway. Since then, I began working graffiti into my art.

I have learned that finding good quality graffiti and street art is difficult, but if you seek and ask around, you will find it!

Graffiti at Grant County Warehouse Mission, in Marion, Indiana, 2022.

Graffiti can often be found in skate parks. Locally, one of our skate parks is loaded with graffiti and very little art. At first blush, it looks neat, but upon inspection, you can speculate that several of the taggers are young. Their obsessions with male body parts, sex words, and political views often indicate a less mature mind. I usually can’t work with much of this type of graffiti as it has too much junk in it.

Graffiti at Grant County Warehouse Mission, in Marion, Indiana, 2022.

In the last year, I have discovered places that encourage graffiti and street artists to paint their buildings. In Marion, Indiana, the warehouse owned by the Grant County Warehouse Mission (GCWM) permits graffiti artists to paint the exterior of their building. They have some requests: no swear words, no obscene art, no politics. Because they are a religious group, they encourage works of faith but don’t make it a requirement. I understand the artists respect the GCWM terms. The GCWM building is mainly graffiti but has beautiful, raw energy.

Street art by Shepard Fairey, in Pittsburgh, PA, 2010

Street Art has a different purpose than graffiti, but it can have the same raw energy, depending on the artist. Some street artists have made careers of their art, such as Shepard Fairey. Fairey is famously known for the iconic Obama Hope poster in 2008. When visiting Pittsburgh in 2010, I had the pleasure of seeing a recent Shepard Fairey piece.

Street art, by Josh Brinson, a.k.a. @bezol_one, at Indy Walls, 2022. Photo courtesy of the artist.

To find a combination of graffiti and street art, you must visit Indy Walls. Indy Walls is multi-purposed as artists’ studios, event venues, and a marketplace. It’s located in Indianapolis’s neighborhood called the Old South Side. Like GCWM, they welcome graffiti and street artists and have do’s and don’ts respectfully spelled out on their site. One point they make to the artists is to be respectful to the community that Indy Walls coincides with, which I love! I am told that if you visit Indy Walls every three months, you will see different art on the exterior walls!

In the case of street art, many artists sign their work, unlike most graffiti. I contacted one of the artists, Josh Brinson, a.k.a. @bezol_one, an Indianapolis artist. His piece at Indy Walls is a tribute to his best friend, Kyle “Stuffy” Rogan. Josh wrote, “Kyle was stopped at a red light on his motorcycle when a car rear-ended him in a hit and run. He was an incredible artist, musician, and skateboarder, so I’m glad I got to honor him in such a way.” It’s a great piece of art, and I am thankful that Josh let me share it.

Texas street art by @steventheartist, at Indy Walls, 2022.

Indy Walls has street art by artists from outside of Indianapolis. An artist created one piece from Texas, and an artist painted another painting from Mexico. The rap artist, Caskey, commissioned a large street painting to use in one of his videos.

Jail Cell 1, Mixed Media, 2020. Using Norwegian graffiti and Icelandic text

In the paintings, Jail 1 and Jail 2, I used graffiti from photos I took in Norway. I love the colors and raw energy it lends to my work!


Links for this email: Indy Walls

2 thoughts on “My Love of Graffiti and Street Art!”

    1. Thanks, Tim! I never knew that decals were made for model trains; how fun. I understand that graffiti isn’t always well-placed, making it a nuisance. I wonder how many graffiti artists are aware of not painting over important train information.

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