Banksy has recently created another graffiti; the press goes wild about a competent painting on an ugly blank wall. It is graffiti and not graffito, the singular form is not in use. Banksy’s graffiti is hailed as Art. Why? Why, in a country with at least ten universities giving degrees in art and design, with independent art schools and with flourishing art groups throughout the land; why is a single piece of graffiti something of an event?
It is not that there is a shortage of blank, ugly walls, fences, barriers or screens. There cannot be a shortage of artists and their materials, now conveniently packaged in aerosol cans. Transport for London and other authorities paint over graffiti, perhaps as a sign that the graffiti should be re-cycled; re-painted in a different colour.
There is a modest amount of graffiti in Northern Ireland of a genre seeking to encourage conflict. It is designed to be a power statement of which set of bullies rule which street. There is nothing to engage the soul. Travellers into London by train note the monotony of grey walls and bridges is broken by gang signs and words, some of them painted with expertise. Sometimes on a bridge over a road, a banner will proclaim that ‘George is 40 today’. Signs of such banality and technical incompetence are an affront to passers-by.
Sri Lanka has a solution for its blank walls. All budding artists communicate on the net and agree to paint murals. The authorities encourage it and provide some materials. The usual mural scene is traditional Sri Lankan; a procession of elephants, Kandyan dancers or fishermen sat on poles. There are still a few men who will sit on a pole in the sea with a rod and line when they know a coach load of tourists is coming. Afterwards, when the tourists have left, they board their glass-fibre boats and fire up their powerful outboard motors and get on with serious fishing.
Sri Lankans are reluctant to paint something non-traditional, but it is happening. Sometimes they paint conflict from the war with the Tamil Tigers, but this subject is not favoured and gets painted over. There is a dramatic painting of the Kandyans defeating the British expedition led by the impetuous Lord North in 1805. A lone corporal of the invading force made it back to Colombo to tell the sorry tale.
Tedious and offensive graffiti abounds in the UK. The current fad is the word Helch painted here and there. It means nothing and contributes nothing. For a moment you wonder whether the artist mistook an H for a B.
The first crime is to build an ugly building with walls that need improving. Such walls should be available to artists to advertise their skills and make artistic statements. When the painting deteriorates, they should be encouraged with a grant of a few cans of paint, to create something new.
What about giving graffiti artists access to advertising hoardings for three months of every year? Constructors should provide them with access to the screens they place around building sites. Something to make you smile when you climb from your car in our dreary car parks would be good.
Why stop at paintings? Bristol planted ‘Wallace & Gromit’ figures around the city for entertainment. Eastleigh has gone part way with sculptures, especially Charlotte Mary Yonge sitting outside the station waiting for the lights to change.
Where in Chandler’s Ford could we do something? We have a couple of dingey underpasses and some boring car parks.
Graffiti is illegal in the UK. It is considered a form of vandalism, defacing property without the owner’s permission. Graffiti artists serve time in gaol. It could be criminal damage but is most likely to be treated as a misdemeanour.
Graffiti takes other forms too. The most heart-rending piece I saw was scratched on a cell wall in Auschwitz. It read I am David Kravitz. Tell my mother I was alive on February 23 1944.
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