Whether you consider it an urban eye-sore or an extension of early cave paintings, the influence of graffiti art can be seen in almost every area of design from fashion to packaging, skateboard gear and video game art. Some cases in point are Hello Kitty’s for Sephora Graffiti collection and a recently commissioned mural for the launch of video game Soul Caliber V by Jim Rockwell of creative collective ENDoftheLINE.
This past week NBCLosAngeles.com reported that graffiti artist David Choe, who accepted stock shares as payment for his graffiti mural at the headquarters of the then newly founded company Facebook, will receive close to $200 million dollars when the company goes public. Meanwhile, across the pond, Bristol University student newspaper Epigram reports that 26 year-old graffiti artist Daniel Tyndale, also known as Dotcom “…has been jailed for causing £1million of damage to buildings and public areas across the city.”
And, in Philadelphia, according to Philly.com, Spanish artists Patricia Gomez Villaescusa and Maria Jesus Gonzalez Fernandez work to preserve graffiti on the walls of Holmesburg Prison. Aside from commissioned work and prison walls, another context for graffiti is that of political protest art, perhaps the most famous example being the Berlin Wall and more recently, as reported in the Huffington Post, in Egypt.
While questions surrounding graffiti’s place in the art world are not new, these articles prompted me to explore the art form’s various faces through a conversation with New York city graffiti artist André Pierre Charles. Charles, known for his “Famous Baby” image and mural of Tupac Shakur was kind enough to share some of his insights on the topic with me.
Our interview led off with a prepared question about David Choe’s Facebook stock coup but quickly moved to a discussion on the roots of graffiti and how it has changed over the last 30 years. Charles explained his feeling that graffiti has been co-opted by the corporate world without proper reference to or acknowledgement of its origin as a predominantly urban, African American and Latino art form. As he so poignantly put it, “what is so wanted now [was] so unwanted when they were doing it.” Early on “nobody really knew it [graffiti] would take off good or bad” so concerns over things like being properly compensated and credited didn’t occur.
He also pointed out that at that time “most graffiti artists were not educated on business” making them vulnerable to exploitation. Even among current commercial graffiti artists he feels there is a racial divide that needs addressing in order for graffiti and graffiti artists to truly come into their own. For Charles, who grew up in the Bronx, New York, urban identity is an integral part of authentic graffiti.
At the same time, he is self-described as anti-drug and against the gun violence that he says “Kills our community.” Towards the end of our interview when asked what he would change about the public perception of graffiti Charles replied, “I would change the attitude of society, the way [they] look at us and think about our artwork, [to] have more respect for it.” Though I can’t speak for society at large, Charles definitely succeeded in giving me a greater appreciation for graffiti and the artists who create it.
Image Credit: Graffiti Artist, Andre Charles