Travelling by train I often gaze out the window and watch the urban landscape flash past my eyes. Certain walls along the journey stand out from the rest. These walls have been expressed with graffiti or tags in either a positive or negative way. Generally, some of the work show signs of brilliance, others allude to what are you thinking and finally a few just needed more time to finish their masterpieces.
Firstly, I don’t understand or undertake graffiti, nor am I an expert in this activity. I do value art, good art. Also I value people enjoying themselves in public landscapes. As a landscape architect we need to think about the end user in mind. If graffiti artist are the end user, what determines if a wall in an urban landscape will be tagged? Why do some walls get tagged and other don’t? Why do they do what they do?
If I was to make an assumption about this activity, I could say they are either bored, want to put their name to be on display, secretly want to be artist, or maybe they just want to improve the urban landscape. Because I’m an optimist I’m going to go with the last options. These people want to improve the landscape just like me.
So when I’m looking from the train to the artwork on display – I have observed the following four rules to graffiti placement. Smooth – Cheap – Texture – Respect.
Most smooth surface with in arms reach will be surrendered to the painted finish. Sorry to say that you’re smooth concrete wall, steel posts or perfectly straight wall will get painted. However, one smooth surface that is the exception is glass / etched glass. Maybe the artist like openness that glass brings and prefer not to enhance it. Or maybe the inverse image doesn’t read so well. Or perhaps they can be seen and don’t want to get caught. So if you want less graffiti in your community, then install more glass.
Cheap quick finishes and cover ups such as spray concrete to banks will be notable improved days after it will gets built. Cheap cover ups are unpleasant to look at. They do nothing to show quality, skill, workmanship or appreciation for the landscape. In fact, they hide the natural landscape. Artist pickup on this underlying tone and instantly no respect is given. Instead what is wrong with some plants growing randomly in between rocks? Maybe we need to think with the end product at the onset to achieve a better urban landscape. It would be interesting to compare overall products maintenance life expectancy cost compared to premium quality material used at the outset.
Textured walls and rock have very minimal artwork placed onto them. When textured walls have been installed from good quality materials and workmanship, I believe graffiti artist value their work. They might say, well done, I can see what you were trying to achieve here. Or I like the attention to detail in the split face rock. With textured walls I feel like it evokes a natural cliff face. Natural cliff are beautiful to look at and to touch. Touch is so important because it provide clues to help us understand the landscape. Now days with all these smooth smart phone screens we need balance, this can be achieve with texture. We are craving texture in our lives.
Respect is what they give to other artist that do a really good job. When artist have been engaged to paint a space. These works become sacred to the other artist. It gives them something to inspire too. It gives them a way to learn from the best. These sites very really get additional graffiti treatment. So if you are getting tired from painting over a wall from the graffiti damage. Maybe you need to employ a graffiti artist to improve it for you. They will only do it once. If the finish is good you will rarely have to repaint the wall.
To me it all comes down to texture and quality of finish. This will ultimately determines if a wall will be painted or not. As a community we need to work out if we should promote this activity. I think it would be fantastic if we could create a train gallery to put these pieces on proper display.
As designers we need to decide whether we place a smooth surface canvas framed by a textured surface. Once we have done this thinking, then we can start to appreciate and evaluate your work in our work.