As city business owners step up action against what they consider vandalism, graffiti writers see themselves as members of a long-standing tradition, complete with an oral history, rules, philosophy and social meaning. Graph-writers, as they are also called, blame their bad reputation on those who write on inappropriate places.
“I steer away from local businesses, places of worship, graveyards,” said Bob, a Bloomington graffiti artist who asked not to give his last name.
“What I do with my work is not intended to make people upset,” he said. “There are people that do gun for that, just for the shock and awe value. They are going to go for things that get a reaction for people.”
Graffiti can be found everywhere, but Bob says that serious writers tend to seek abandoned places that are considered in need of a facelift.
“A lot of places that I’ve painted have been torn down just because they are abandoned buildings. They are places where nobody has anything to do with,” explained Bob. “ So painting abandoned buildings and things, is to me, is part symbolism for the graffiti. Turning things that have been abandoned and forgotten—and just are eye sores, just turning them into something that’s beautiful and has meaning and reason behind it.”
Malcolm Mobutu Smith, an IU professor and graffiti scholar, blames a failure by serious artists to train new generations of writers for Bloomington’s vandalism woes.
Smith explained, “When there is a strong novice-mentorship kind of culture in the graffiti sub-culture, that ethic of where to write and where not to write gets translated to new people.”
Smith says the recent defacing of a sculpture on the B-Line Trail should be disassociated from traditional graffiti writers.
“They would look down on anyone that would put pieces on a particularly obvious architectural monument of any kind,” he said. They are looking for walls that by their very nature scream out absence or leftover. They are not the same people that wrote on Dale Enochs’ piece.”
However, Bloomington is also home to an evolution of street art — politically charged stencils. Profiles of Presidents, anti-war memes and anti-capitalism slogans have been spotted before being cleaned up. But not all graffiti is infused with social meaning. Bob, our local artist, says there’s an artistic purity that separates graffiti from other media.
“To be an artist anymore is not even about the painting or the act of painting itself. It’s about who you are and how you can market yourself. The thing I love about graffiti that I love most is the fact that it is so anonymous. My pieces speak for themselves. It ain’t about me. It ain’t about what I look like”, said Bob.
The central appeal, Bob says, is the unrestricted experience of the act itself.
He said, “There’s a freedom to it that’s not like anything else. Nobody can tell you what or what not to do. Anything can become a part of your piece.”
Bob says that although graffiti will always be around, more space could at least manage such a large subculture of artist and decrease unwanted costs.
“There are spaces to do things, but there aren’t enough. In a city that is this artistically focused, you’d think that by now they would understand that,” he said.
In Wednesday’s segment, business owners and city officials talk about the economic impact graffiti has on the city. And…comments from one person who makes her living in part by cleaning up what others claim is art.