Archive for the ‘graffiti removal’ Tag
I recently posted here about a number of artworks around Fitzroy and Clifton Hill featuring a figure throwing playing cards into the air, accompanied by the text ‘be free’.
As part of that post, I included a photograph of a very fresh looking ‘Be free’ artwork, at the entrance to an underpass in Clifton Hill, and on the day that I photographed it, the council graffiti removal van was parked nearby: I commented that I hoped it was not there to paint over this artwork.
Well, it wasn’t, not that day at least.
‘Be free’ stayed at the entrance to the overpass, and attracted some tagging, which then attracted some commentary of its own:
I’m indebted to Lorraine, a reader of this blog, who sent me this photograph, commenting to me in the email, ‘Not erased as you feared but tagged. It somehow works.’
Indeed, the placement of the tag somehow connects with the image, even though it covers over many of those gorgeous playing cards. One passerby felt perhaps that the tag did not work well with ‘Be free’, and wrote bluntly ‘this tag is brainless’ next to it – so that the site became a series of layers of significations.
But not for long. Lorraine emailed me this today, having taken it three days ago. Opening the email and viewing the photograph was a strange experience for me, because I had already walked past the underpass this morning, to find this:
Blankness. Fresh paint, no doubt applied by an assiduous graffiti removal van.
Was it the presence of the tag and the subsequent commentary on the tag that attracted the attention of the graffiti removalists? Or were the artwork’s days numbered, as testified by the presence of the graffiti removal van two weeks ago – perhaps it was just working its way around the locality and was always going to paint over ‘Be free’, no matter whether it was tagged or not.
I can’t help but feel sad for its disappearance. It fitted the site so perfectly. It must have made many people smile – those playing cards! Magnificent composition. I hope that more are being affixed to a wall somewhere very soon.
So sings Nick Cave, in the opening line of the track ‘Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow’ on No More Shall We Part.
And this line jumped into my head this morning when I walked down a street in Fitzroy to find the Graffiti Removal guys busily washing a wall that I had photographed and posted about only last night (see the previous entry).
One of my favourite recent works, which seems to be signed ‘Mona’, was being buffed.
So if you are walking through the streets of Fitzroy looking for the artworks of Mona, as far as this partoicular site is concerned, ‘she’s long gone’, and what’s left is this:
I guess this must be one of those issues of personal taste. All the other recently added works nearby seemed to be still there; it’s only the ones on this house that have been buffed. Did the residents ask the council to remove it? Or did the council decide that this house should be buffed and not the others? The latter seems unlikely so I’m assuming it’s been done at the residents’ request.
To my mind, this raises lots of interesting issues. In my view, the residents are completely entitled to remove the work if they wish. If an artist puts work up without permission, then there’s always the risk that the person living or working inside the property may not appreciate the art, and wishes to remove it. It’s like if you give someone what you think is a cool T shirt or interesting book for their birthday, but they then ask if they can exchange it for something else – maybe you wish they wouldn’t, but hey, people are entitled to some autonomy about what they read and wear. Same with street art, I guess. If you don’t like it, I guess you can remove it (although many wish that removal wouldn’t happen quite so often or quite so speedily).
But the problem is that what’s left here really don’t look great, and so this raises the question of the technologies of graffiti removal. It’s like painting out graffiti but leaving a mismatched square of paint that just looks odd, or blasting off bill posters and leaving tattered strands of paper hanging from the wall. All of these techniques seem to be acceptable to many people, so it makes me wonder how aesthetics are being operationalised, such that blurry lines of faded paint, tattered paper or sloppily rollered paint looks ‘OK’ to those making the decisions about removal (whether these are council workers or residents). Perhaps these individuals would say that the ultimate solution is for artists not to put up work in the first place, thus obviating the need for removal, in all its imperfections.
I don’t agree. I think that it would be far more useful to have a debate about the aesthetics of the street, in which the effects of removal can be compared to the process of leaving a piece to weather and fade, or in which people can learn to appreciate that some streets are going to be modified in various ways as part of the culture of an area or a city, and in which artists can learn what types of image will work best on different kinds of surface…. I’d like to take part in such a debate, and I think others would too.
ADDENDUM 2: Take a look at the link in the comment by Seldom which follows this entry – there’s a really interesting essay by ESPO (Steve Powers) about the pointlessness of painting over graffiti.
Different cities, just as they have distinctive cultures of street art or graffiti, have different policies for removal of illicit images from urban spaces, and different methods of removing (buffing) graffiti and street art. Some councils employ cleaning crews who use water sprays, other paint over images. Graffiti removal is also big business – in Melbourne, there are many graffiti removal companies, such as Graffiti Eaters. Sometimes ‘concerned citizens’ get involved – Neighbourhood Watch groups, or organizations such as Graffiti Hurts Australia, or R.A.G.E. (Residents Against Graffiti Everywhere), or even individuals (such as ‘Guerilla Joe’, in Doug Pray’s fantastic documentary film Infamy).
On my travels this year, I’ve been interested to see different removal ‘regimes’ in action. In San Francisco, the city has put the onus of removal upon the property owner. If graffiti appears on your property, you are under an obligation to remove it within 30 days. If you don’t, the city’s attorneys will obtain a court order against you to allow city officials to remove the graffiti themselves, and you then have to pay the costs (at least $500 US, or $775 AUD). Here’s a photograph of a man in the Mission District of San Francisco who was busy painting over a tag on his wall:
But the law that obliges the property owner to remove the graffiti doesn’t specify that any effort should be made to match the paint that the graffiti sits on top of – the objective is to make people take action by painting out the graffiti, rather than attempt to create a particular result (like restoring the wall to the condition it was previously in). So what happens is this:
Here you can see a kind of patchwork effect, as people use just enough paint to cover a tag or stencil – and thus avoid being fined – but don’t worry about matching the paint in any way. Does it look better or worse than when the wall had a tag or stencil on it? Well, the answer to that may be in the eye of the beholder, but one thing is sure, the result is not a ‘clean’ or ‘blank’ wall…
Blank walls were what I found in many streets of London recently. In streets where, in July, there had been a lively ‘conversation’ (to use Russell Howze’s term – thanks, Russell) of stickers, tags, stencils, objects, paste-ups, by October many of them had been cleaned up, all over Shoreditch, and up and down Brick Lane. Turns out that the local councils (London Borough of Hackney and London Borough of Tower Hamlets) had decided it was time for a cleaning blitz, with the result that hundreds of images had been buffed.
I saw some of this in action:
And in terms of the overall differences in how these areas look, to compare the amount of work that was up on the walls in July with what was there in October, have a look at these images. Here’s a section of Brick Lane in July:
Here’s the start of a little alleyway in Shoreditch in July:
And here it is a few weeks ago in October:
But you can see that the Invader piece is still there on the wall: whoever painted over the wall has neatly painted around the tile…
And as for all the other blank walls, I’m guessing there might be a few folks who will look at them and say, ‘Fresh canvas – thanks very much!’
I’m in London right now, and yesterday I went to Shoreditch, to meet with a gallerist. The area is filled with street art, so, after the meeting I went walking, to see what was on the walls. I had spent a day doing this when I was visiting in July, and had come across some fantastic images.
I thought I would revisit one of these, a work by the French artist C215. It’s the image I used to accompany the very first post on this blog (see ‘inaugurations’). It was a diptych, portraits of two children, each one filling a small tiled panel low down on the outside of a pub. I had come across it by accident, in the way that sometimes happens, and which makes the artwork really feel like a gift. The pub was on Leonard Street, and a tiny side street connected Leonard Street to Willow Street. Walking down this side street, I had suddenly seen this image, quietly and perfectly placed close to the ground.
Yesterday, I walked purposefully to find it, almost as if I wanted to say hello to an old friend. But it was gone.
The tiled panels had been buffed – whether by the council or by the pub’s owners, I don’t know.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of loss I experienced in seeing it had gone. It was much more than a momentary flicker of disappointment, much more than any sense of annoyance at my objective being thwarted by circumstances. I actually felt quite disoriented by its absence – I found myself looking around, as though to check whether the image might have migrated somewhere else nearby. I felt really, deeply, saddened by its disappearance, and it’s a feeling that resurfaces now, when I think about those blank panels.
I’m not sure why. Images on the street come and go, right? It’s meant to be ephemeral. I know all that. But clearly I had become attached to that image – maybe because I admire C215’s work generally, maybe because that particular image seemed so perfectly placed. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched a really excellent video on YouTube (by romanywg) which shows C215 putting his work up in London, probably at the time he did this image:
Maybe it’s because when I came across it back in July it had that fantastic sense of being a gift from the artist to the passerby, to the spectator – to the city.
At any rate, it’s gone, and I feel its loss. I photographed its absence, and here is what that looks like:
Images appear and images disappear. Their disappearance says something about time, and its passing. The way we respond to the loss of an image on a wall says something about how we see street art itself – do we celebrate the empty space, as the opponents of graffiti and street art do? Do we plan the next image for that empty space, as an artist might do? Do we mourn the loss of an image?