Ugly/Beautifulby Samora Chapman / 23.01.2014
I love graffiti. I know it’s wrong, but I still do. And I’m not talking about beautiful murals, multi-coloured productions with carefully considered subject matter and perfectly positioned social and political relevance. No. I’m talking about filthy tags, tasty throw up’s and chunky straight letters. The kind of graffiti most people hate.
That kind of graffiti is still art to me.
At the genesis there is the tag. The horrible ‘scrawl’ as my old man described it when I was growing up. When tagging began spreading like wild fire in New York in the 70s there were so many tags that eventually the names couldn’t be differentiated. The only way to get noticed was to expand the letters of your tag to make it bigger and bolder, which was done using spray paint. Thus the birth of the ‘bubble letter’, known today as the ‘throw up’ – my favourite kind of graf.
In no time the New York subways and streets were covered in bubble letters, and so the evolution (and art movement) began. Soon graffiti writers were adding more colours, arrows, stars, characters and phrases to their bubble letters in order to push boundaries of the scene. This same evolution happened all over the world.
Today we have massive, complex, colourful graffiti murals in almost every city in the world, from Cape Town to China Town. Artists like Faith47, Banksy, Os Gemoes, blublu and Obey are, for me, at the forefront of the contemporary art world. But it all stems from the tag and the throw up. The most basic, hated form of graffiti.
The funny thing is that tags and throw ups have recently been embraced by the mainstream, appropriated by the clever-capitalist and used to sell everything from sneakers to educations. I have seen graffiti fonts, complete with drips and arrows, on everything from billboards to television adverts. But still, tags and throw ups are despised by the same people willing to bite the style for their own corporate advertising campaigns.
Durban has gone through a great depression in terms of graffiti in the last few years… partly due to the exodus of most of the artists who got the scene up and running. But there has been a resurrection of late. A few clandestine splashes of colour – signs of life on those dead grey walls. And when it comes to throw ups and tags – the Durban kids have style. Here’s a collection of some of Durban’s most killer scribbles. Keep it filthy.
*All images © the artists