If every single person and creature on our planet was happy, healthy, content and satisfied, would there be graffiti? Is street art inherently an act of rebellion and mutiny of the displeased and disaffected? Is tagging a form of literal self-affirmation? - the writing of one's name over and over: "I exist..I exist..I exist..?"
Or are the streets simply an alternative canvas?
Graffiti comes from ancient words, simply meaning, 'to make a mark' [on something], 'a little scratch.' Ancient examples of etchings and marks can be found on the surface of rocks and pottery. (Collins English Dictionary 1995) It follows then that graffiti is about intent.
Take time to observe the style, ponder the intent and motive behind the expression of each individual piece.
Arthur Stace, writer of 'Eternity,'up to 50 times a day on the
streets and walls of Sydney. (Photo Trevor Dallen, Fairfax Photos)
'Eternity' was written in a copperplate script, apparently after Arthur Stace came out of a fire-and-brimstone sermon one Sydney night. The preacher had been speaking of eternity, and Arthur is reported as saying the word rang out over and over in his head. He had a piece of chalk in his pocket, and he wrote the word in the beautiful, iconic cursive style seen thousands of times on the streets and walls of Sydney for many years. It has been described as a one-word sermon. The font and the ephemeral media of chalk or crayon he used combines to create a powerful symbol. So powerful in fact during the millenium celebrations of 2000 'Eternity' was emblazened in giant size across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (Image below)
However in December 2008 the NSW Graffiti Control Act (The Act) received Royal Assent and was passed. It included laws making it illegal to possess such items as marker pens, among other things, unless you could prove it was going to be used for law-abiding purposes. If the marker pen was invented and used during the years of the Great Depression, not the 1960s, perhaps 'Eternity' would have been perceived in a more negative light. Certainly in today's climate, if Arthur Stace was roaming the streets and a cop asked this street writer to empty his pockets, he would be found in criminal possession of a marker pen. Perhaps though Arthur would still be using chalk, for the very temporal nature of the material suggested a wistfulness of hope, unlike the bold, cursive strokes seen in today's 'tagging.'
In Kingscliff NSW where I live there are countless examples of tagging, ranging from personal tags, to crude obscenities. Just wait at any bus stop for the 601, 607, or the 603, and you'll read who loves whom, personal tags, gang tags (images below) and postcodes suggesting a territoriality. Recently a White Power tag was written on a prominent wall space on Marine Parade, and was shortly painted over. It was personally frightening to think of a neo-Nazi element in my own local community.
Pearl Street, Kingscliff, March 2009. (Image - Clare Bryant)
There are also examples of humourous, or ironic stenciling in Kingscliff.
Pearl Street, Kingscliff Shopping Village car park, March 2009. Writer/stencil artist unknown. (Image - Clare Bryant)
Often the artsist/writer is unknown, as in the case of the birds-eye image below. Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald February 24, 2005, the image of a man, a dollar note, a wave, and a tombstone appeared overnight on the Reg Bartley oval, Rushcutters Bay. It was 60m long, 30m wide and no one definitively knew what it meant. It was speculated that the Picasso-esque figure was referencing the 2004 tsunami tragedy and suggesting to give money to the cause.
The giant visual was painted onto the grass and the figure outlined in red.
In this predominately wealthy area (although bordering the red-light district of Kings Cross) perhaps the artist was suggesting residents "dig deep." While no official complaints were received by the council or police, some residents complained 'they did not want to look at it every day.' (See the Sydney Morning Herald article.)
While graffiti can be used for the promotion of personal or political agendas and propoganda, such as seen in Northern Ireland, The U.S. after 9/11, and many countries, it also "promotes ethnic unity, love, friendship, freedom from oppression, and diversity. Before forming a quick opinion the next time you see graffiti, take time to analyze the markings to reveal the motive behind it and its value to someone other than yourself." (Graffiti Definition - The dictionary of art. 1996 copyright Susan A. Phillips)
http://www.taisnaith.com/ (Also check out her performance art vids - very cool)