A Crime of Beauty

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Crumbling concrete walls. Dilapidated trains. Bleak subway entrances. Clouds of vaguely formed color snake their way across the surface. Street art. It’s become an integrated chunk of most cities. In every city I’ve visited–Chicago! NYC! Austin! Philly! LA!–I’ve been on the look-out. From creeping ghost-monsters to blasé kitties giving viewers the bird to colorful blocks of illegible tags, the pieces have covered a whole range of wild, beautiful subjects.

It wasn’t until this past summer that I got a wee taste of making street art. My boyfriend and I went to Graffiti Park, mere white spray can in tow, and sprayed a massive (mediocre) face on the wall. It was lopsided; I tried again. It was still lopsided, puffy and dripping. I realized that, as effortless street art appears, it’s harder than it looks.

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Over the summer, I checked out a book on the history of graffiti, which massively broadened my understanding of the art. In the US, its roots stemmed from the 20’s, and sprouted up in New York and Philly. By the 60’s and 70’s, it has its resurgence. Artists would claim fame through uniquely tagged names. They’d graffiti up subways, freeway sides, walls and trains with nicknames and distinctive styles.

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Every single [train] car was tagged by massive, puffy graffiti, not yet appreciated as the important art movement and political statement it would become. It was a crime of beauty.

– The Skin Above My Knee, Marcia Butler

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Since then, it’s evolved from being a mark of underground illegal edginess to a form of twenty first century semi-exalted art.

Nowadays, street art occupies a funny place in society; few things parallel it. It’s respected, it’s looked down upon. It’s art; it’s trash. It’s revered; it looked down upon. It’s subversive. It’s not. It flouts authority; it’s sanctioned by authority. It ignores its surroundings; it flirts with its surroundings. It composes its surroundings.

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It thumbs its nose at–speaks to–argues with–its surroundings. Unlike traditional art, street art isn’t confined to cold empty eerie rooms, shrunken beneath towering white space. Instead, it yawns over piers and stone blocks and garage wall, to the delight of phone cameras and tourists and passerby’s.

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