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Ugly/Beautiful

by 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.

Liar and Saed

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.

qst tag

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.

webs gift

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.

2kill opt

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.

aura 1

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.

La
Lea One

Opt one
Opt One

fiya 1
Fiya

plas
Plastic

oec
Oec

gift
Gift

aura 3
Aura Four

Vak-huge
Vak

*All images © the artists

 

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RESPONSES (25)
  1. HarryCrews says:

    Grow up.

    Graffiti is so corny. It was cool in the 70’s but is passe now. It occupies the same shelf space as slam poetry, swing dancing and cool jazz. It’s a mess.

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  2. Delicious Monster says:

    Yo Harry! Come dancing with me to some Dizzy Gilespie, we can howl at the moon and write some slam poetry, then go catch tags and celebrate being young.

    Fuck your culture too!

    All my love.

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  3. T O Y says:

    May be one day i’ll be able to get properly up when i’m not being stalked by psychotic sociopathic pigs! (Other than that statement, i think tagging is possibly the most purest form of expression. I had to understand why? Why is it so important to the individuals who do it? Its because it feels so fucking good, and if theres kids out there, hesitant of hitting the streets with a style, I command you go and FSU ? Make the most of your cardio now, hahaha!!!!

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  4. Stop Bitching, Keep Painting says:

    Harry Crews Stop Bitching.. you know nothing about graffiti and how pivotal it has been in all the mainstream media you consume everyday.. Fuck your adverts, billboards, grey walls and your opinion.. peace

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  5. King Mob says:

    How much did you pay for your cultural snobbery Harry? i got mine at PeP stores, it was super cheap and probably lacks a span of the cool new functions yours has, though it generally gets the job done without making me look like a douchebag and/or poes, which is an issue with the fancier models. Shot for sharing these Samora, i think that as much as these “scrawls” have an uneasy entanglement with social discrepancies like vandalism and subsequent criminality, they are also an important marker for creative subversion of the restriction of creativity and freedom in the urban environment and their symbolic assertions of constructed individual creative identities upon the urban surface should be taken as a positive expression/influence, especially to young creatives still constructing their idents as cultural agents. As an artist and scrawler, THIS IS ART, and it is beautiful.

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  6. Y T O says:

    “Men have died for this music. ” You can’t get more serious than that – Dizzy Gillespie
    (Harry, i think the same sentiments echoed by Dizzy, could be applied to Graff artists, these are the risk takers, who suspend from heights cruise through dodge ghettos, and do cool shit, every line is relevant, the squiggles at the end of a contract you call your signature, your bullshit bank statement, so why not write your name, why not be free. One other thing, the Jazz greats are not to be shelved, everything in it’s right place:)

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  7. HarryCrews says:

    Dizzy Gillespie is not “Cool Jazz”, Kenny G is, and Graffiti is definitely as cool as Kenny G. “Graff”(kek) is irrelevant, maybe it’s just new in SA.

    “they are also an important marker for creative subversion of the restriction of creativity and freedom in the urban environment and their symbolic assertions of constructed individual creative identities upon the urban surface should be taken as a positive expression/influence, especially to young creatives still constructing their idents as cultural agents.”

    Could you be anymore deluded?

    They only people who think graffiti is cool are people who use it to market crisps to kids.

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  8. cnut says:

    There is nothing better than the feeling I recently got after catching a ‘twenty-something’ hipster tagging my garage wall for the second time after repainting it…

    I jumped off my wall kicking him in the side of his head and then stomped him unconscious… then pissed on him…

    He won’t be back in my neighbourhood!

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  9. Linda says:

    cool pics, i love tags, it’s a pity some people are so conditioned to uphold a world of block-letter signage and blank walls, then graffiti gets demonized because it doesn’t fit the norm, IMHO

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  10. McMalema says:

    dope

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  11. @cityliferblog says:

    Thanks for the sick post 🙂

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  12. FIYA- ONE says:

    I remember when durbs was plastered with throwies.. mmmmmmm! The good ol days..

    I think theres a lack of exposure as to what is possible with Graff (especially in Durbs) because while the throwies get the art on the street where they cant be placed the Master pieces help the rest of community to appreciate it for the art that it has become. Ignoramuses like harry need to crawl back under that conservative little rock he squirmed out of, Graffiti is the fastest growing global art movement ever in human history, Bigger than the renaissance n bigger than cigarettes.

    @Harry
    Maybe you should get out more, maybe travel abit, maybe open your fuggin eyes while you are doing so? Or better yet maybe you should stop hanging out in white box spaces and spilling your ignorant white collar dickhead opinions on the floor that you seemingly hardly stand on.

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  13. HarryCrews says:

    @FIYA-ONE

    Graff is dead. Everyone loves Style Wars, but stop trying to live in that past. I have travelled, and everywhere it’s always the same lame white people that love graffiti. What’s next, break dancing, Banksy? C’mon you could have claimed it was big in the 90’s, but look who has taken up the torch, suburban middle class kids who think they are being iconoclastic by moving art out of the “white box”.

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  14. Sangha-Oubangui says:

    Nice article.

    im not sure why people are even bothering to argue with harry.

    i love the fact that he hates it lol

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  15. HarryCrews says:

    Actually, i just realised that i was being quite pompous, and talking out of my arse. That was some half-assed prejudice i might have absorbed from my peers and my own limited and subjective experience of the world and it’s people.
    There are clearly alot of people out there from a variety of backgrounds that appreciate the artform, and it’s really not harming anyone so i’m really not so sure where all my hate was coming from. Actually, now that i think about it, i might have been compensating for some inadequacy or deficit in a more personal area in my life, and taking that haughty know-it-all stance made me feel superior for a while. I’m not saying it’s sexual problems or anything, but life is hard guys.
    Please forgive me, i’m really sorry for being a dick.

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  16. HarryCrews says:

    I didn’t write that.

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  17. HarryCrews says:

    I’m a fag and my mind is more closed up from the world than Nkandla!

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  18. K says:

    “If only closed minds came with closed mouths.”

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  19. HarryCrews says:

    “I’m a fag and my mind is more closed ”
    >I’m a fag
    >closed mind

    Choose one.

    Seriously, graffiti must be new in SA because no one cool does it anymore.

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  20. 7 says:

    Monster, there’s no ‘blublu’. It’s just Blu.

    If you’re going to stand on a box and froth about something, get it right.

    4/10.

    Shows promise, but needs work. Less evangelising, more homework.

    Peace.

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  21. Kaya says:

    Almost every great art movement was not appreciated by the world during the era it was created in…..

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  22. graffiti_is_gay_as_fuck says:

    Graffiti is fucking gay, and all you ‘artist’ can go suck a big fat cock. Really it’s not art, anyone can do it, dicks..

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  23. graffiti_is_gay_as_fuck says:

    How is graffiti the voice of the ‘voice less’ according to the manifesto? All I seein johannesburg is egotistical pricks signing their names, over and over and over…. where is the message? There isnt one

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  24. THE SAJE(CPT) says:

    Graffiti is art like any other, no matter if its messy tags or full on colour pieces, graffiti isn’t dead and Cape Town has created so much tourism just because all its graffiti filled streets and trains.
    I personally know graffiti artist that exhibit their canvas pieces in high end galleries in Cape Town, and make lots of money for it. Graffiti artists are adaptive and can basically change their art styles to suit any situation, where as painters are taught rules and lines and form and ll that crap.
    GRAFFITI HAS NO RULES! and for people to risk their freedom(since graffiti is illegal) just so that people can recognize an alias is more impressive than any art student that sits safely in his studio.
    Most graffiti artists are self taught, and rarely get paid for any of their work. Its for love of graffiti that motivates us to go out and do it.
    And the number one message that graffiti broadcasts is that creativity cannot be tamed.

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