ERICA PHILLIPS HIS 476Y - GRAFFITI

DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY
MATERIAL CULTURE STUDIES
THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

CONTACT INFORMATION

E-MAIL: erica.phillips@utoronto.ca
PHONE: (905)454-2012

GRAFFITI - JUST ANOTHER FONT?


What has graffiti done for urban landscapes? What can graffiti art tell historians about urban societies in Canada, the U.S., and Europe

When is graffiti art and when is it vandalism? Have police forces become the new arbiters of taste?

An attack on graffiti is underway by police forces in North America to get rid of it and discourage its production. Does this attack violate freedom of expression in Canada and the U.S.? Why the crackdown?

Most graffiti artists will claim their work is art especially those works done on legal walls. The current crop of graffiti has come from the Hip-hop culture of 1979 to today,

Researching this topic has become an amusing adventure filled with twists and turns as I consult police officers, a gallery owner who also runs an advertising agency in Toronto, and the president of new record label. Two interviews at record label "Beat Factory Music" left me feeling overwhelmed and excited at the depth of this topic.

John Ramos Beat Factory told me there is no one type of person who writes graffiti. He knows of thirty- year olds who do it. Some are black, some are white, and some are mixed. He told me their tool kit is quite elaborate. It contains sketch books and different types of nozzles (to attach to spray cans)to get different effects. Ramos who is not a graffiti artist is enthusiastic about the art form and seems quite well versed in it.

Beat Factory president Ivan Berry gave me the 411 on Hip-hop culture and where it fits in to the overall music scene in Canada and around the world. He put me in contact with Ramos. Berry who speaks "hip-hop" has probably one of the best sources so far. He described the elements of Hip-hop culture and why graffiti is associated with hip-hop culture. His argument is that since hip-hop culture lacks access to mainstream sources such as contemporary hit radio and television, word of mouth and graffiti have been the key way for hip-hop artists to advertise. In fact many graffiti artists are or were hip-hop artists. Lu of the Dream Warriors (a Beat Factory artist) is one of those artists.

I consulted Beat Factory because their name and logo has appeared on a graffiti wall.

Graffiti covers an enormous field. I have classified graffiti under several headings. The first two are: POSITIVE and NEGATIVE

Positive graffiti is composed of legally sanctioned walls. Beat Factory uses graffiti to advertise hip-hop artists and album. Positive graffiti adds to the environment. For commuters who take Metropolitan Toronto's subway/rt it can enhance an otherwise dreary ride through the city's concrete jungle. Graffiti artists work on walls facing public transit because it gives their work substantial visibility. Some of the best pieces I have found are along Scarborough's rapid transit.

Negative graffiti involves vandalism...arbitrary squiggles spray painted onto walls.

More serious though is gang related graffiti, some of which can incite violence if it is done in another gang's turf or if someone crosses out "disses" another gang's graffit. Graffiti is used to mark another gangs turf.

This type of graffiti is also called art crime. While positive graffiti enhances an area, negative graffiti degrades an area, causes people to fear their surrounding, thus the crackdown on graffiti.

See also the Graffiti Page.


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