Graffiti has a completely different connotation in the modern consciousness than it appears to have had in the ancient world. Despite common admonitions against defacing a structure, particularly a tomb, in some Latin inscriptions, the prevalence of graffiti and dipinti on the city walls of a place like Pompeii or Herculaneum suggests this was largely ignored. That urge to simply write your name in a surface, which I have discussed before, evolves over time, eventually becoming the spray painted tag that was, in the seventies and eighties, seen as the blight of urban landscapes worldwide.
The practice of spray painting graffiti has also evolved, from the simple act of tagging to elaborate street art. This came to my attention in two ways recently, and made me think again about the concept of graffiti and the way it intersects with art, subversive art though it may be. A few weeks ago I was at the Godiva Festival in Coventry, where there were a number of local artists creating a temporary mural. This mural, however, was not painted with brushes, but with spray cans.
In the last week, I’ve again come across a sanctioned act of street art that usually would be considered vandalism. In promoting the new Star Trek film, the wall of a building in Clerkenwell has been covered with images of the actors, using the same method of spray painting.
As part of the promotion, at completion of the mural, the actor Idris Elba turned up, and, in true graffiti style, added his tag to the painting.
For obvious reasons (I think), I found this intriguing as a process. In essence, the idea of recording your presence as an act of writing has come full circle in this one image. The technique of modern graffiti and tagging (spray paint) is used to create an image, a (for lack of a better way to describe it) proper painting, and then is signed, not by the artists, but by one of the people depicted.