November 6, 2007

Entering graffiti: Urban aesthetics and crime

I'm currently writing a story about a mural in my neighborhood beat of Highbridge in the Bronx about graffiti. I've always been interested in graffiti. Back home, there is an old train trestle that is covered with phrases and once-colorful inscriptions. Now they're faded and probably peeling as much as the lead-based paint underneath.

But the graffiti in Highbridge is always getting new coats. In fact, the event which I peg my story on is the creation of a new graffiti mural on the main thoroughfare of my neighborhood.

The mural, however, is permitted by the substance rehabilitation center that is run in the building. The painters -- now in their late 20's and 30's -- are masters in their craft, and seem to have moved on from simply tagging -- an early form of the graffiti art -- to painting elaborate murals that feature one mainstream cartoon character and then place their intricate signatures around the picture as a frame.

Though this style sort of still glorifies the cartoon character -- which is ironically, Disney's Tarzan -- the idea of making something recognizable alongside the graffiti, which people have difficulty understanding, is art to me.

Graffiti, in New York State, has many classifications. It's ironic, but many people appreciated the art, but abhorred what the professionals called the testing ground for graffiti artists. To become a master graffiti artist, they said, you must be a "toy" first. A "toy" is a beginner or a person that practices on structures to be a better artist. Love the master, hate the apprentices, I suppose.

I had so much fun on this story. I just discovered them doing the mural on Saturday, then went back on Sunday. I interviewed the building's inhabitants and even got the point-of-view of a very friendly police officer. Good journalist times.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at November 6, 2007 6:40 PM | TrackBack

In the modern art course I took this past spring, we learned about graffiti art. It's fascinating, and many of the most famous graffiti artists are anonymous, which really makes one consider what it is to be an artist (circling back to the timeless "what is art" question). You might pick up a modern art history book to see what you can find, since this seems like a topic of interest. It's fun to read about and there are really beautiful murals all over the world.

It's awesome that you're getting to find stories that are relevant and fun. :)

Posted by: Karissa at November 6, 2007 10:18 PM
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