“I’m for Street Art but not the defiling of beautiful things”
Said London photographer John Claridge. I have to say that I agree with this sentiment, as many of us would. A creative wall mural – whether commissioned or not – can brighten a derelict warehouse or a forgotten concrete wall. But when a beautiful building or sign is used as a substrate for a hastily scrawled tag, something is amiss. Since ancient times, sign-makers have had little tolerance for graffiti, especially when it adorned their own work.
Today, however, the line between sign art and street art seems to be quickly blurring. I first noticed it a few years ago, walking down King Street in Sydney’s bohemian Newtown district. A colourful tag caught my eye. When I looked closer, I noticed that this was not a artist’s tag at all, but the name of the cafe “Istanbul on King“. The lettering has all the hallmarks of graffiti, but technically speaking, this is hand-painted signage as much as anything else is. Although I’m a traditionalist when it comes to letterforms, I must admit, there’s skill and artistry in this highly embellished type style.
[John Claridge] does not see any absolute distinction between graffiti and graphics, both are representations of language – whether graven on walls or painted on fascias
– Spitalfields Life
In a recent chat with graffiti artist Christian Griffiths (he prefers to be referred to as “Sauce”), we discussed signage, murals and graffiti. I asked about the ‘gentrification’ of graffiti:
There is absolutely a growing acceptance of graffiti-style art and typography. That’s the idea with my studio in Murwillumbah. If you walk into Ikea, you can get graffiti-style photo frames. It’s everywhere. Of course, our Australian cities are quite far apart from each other, and there are big differences in attitude. Melbourne is definitely the most open to this style of art. I have friends down there who keep telling me “Come to Melbourne, you’d make a good living here”. The graffiti scene is part of the tourism down there. Murwillumbah is a fairly large town, but I can only think of two shops with hand-painted signage, and one of them is mine. Everybody is switching over to the digitally printed stuff.
A far cry from a spray-can-wielding vandal, Griffiths is one of the new breed of graffiti-artists who use their skills for a wide range of professional work, from signage to murals and even logo design. He’s just as adept with a brush dipped in acrylic artist paint, as with an aerosol can, although the name of his business – Aerograffix – gives a hint which medium he prefers.
I first came across Christian’s work after seeing this rather unusual message on one of our notice boards for a Queensland school:
Strange – I thought – they normally keep a lower profile. And what was a graffiti artist doing at a school?
I go to a lot of schools and do workshops. At high schools, this often involves painting a mural, but with primary schools I paint the mural and it often tends to become a demonstration exposing young creative minds to an art form they may not have witnessed in the flesh.
But how does he steer this creativity and enthusiasm towards legal activities?
We have to ask the question ‘Why do young people want to do graffiti?’. The authoritarian approach [to reducing vandalism] doesn’t seem to be working. I think it just pushes the scene underground. Creative young people really need an outlet to express themselves. Numerous studies have shown that when they have a legal outlet for their creativity, the illegal activities are greatly reduced.
I often make the comparison that a lot of towns have skate parks now. If you like skateboarding, that’s where you go on the weekend, but what if you like painting? Is there a place for that? For me, painting is my profession. I’m just as happy using an aerosol can as a brush, and I keep pretty busy.
Everyone is familiar with the artist known as Banksy, but who does Christian admire in the mural world?
And now, for some of Sauce’s work:
Sauce also designed the identity for Mooshka Restaurant, in Sunshine Beach:
To end with, I had to include a final example of “high-end graffiti” (by Artsigns, in Toronto Canada):
A response to this post from muralist John Pugh:
With the exception of Academe, I attached a few more recent mural images — might be good to use newer murals (I would like that). Good luck with your blog. – John