‘Changing perceptions’ on graffiti

This graffiti in New Brunswick features bright colors and curvy designs.
This graffiti in New Brunswick features bright colors and curvy designs.

By Lauren Runza

Graffiti has been considered a blight to the cities that find their buildings and transit systems marked by copious amounts of paint. Laws are becoming more stringent in regards to graffiti. For example, Chicago recently passed a ban on the purchase or possession of spray paint by young adults.

Not everyone, however, sees graffiti in such a negative light. To many, it’s a form of public art. These differing views were discussed in the “Graffiti Rules, But Is It Art?” panel in the Rider Art Gallery on Dec. 3.

Fine Arts Professor Harry Naar moderated the symposium, asking whether graffiti is art or simply vandalism, which was then discussed by the four panelists: Jon Naar, Anthony Cordero, Will “Kasso” Condry and Mike Murphy.

Jon Naar, Professor Naar’s cousin, is well known for his work as a photographer and is perhaps most famous for The Faith of Graffiti, a documentation of graffiti in New York City that he wrote with Norman Mailer. Published in 1974, it was the first-ever written work of its kind.

Among the young graffiti artists featured in the book was Cordero. The father of a Rider graduate, Cordero now works as a police officer and deals with graffiti artists on a daily basis.

Condry is a graffiti artist from the emerging scene in Trenton, and Murphy is a former graffiti artist who now documents graffiti on his Web site, capturing “the soul of the graffiti artist.”

The panelists discussed perceptions of it within the law and the public eye. Although graffiti has had a bad reputation, public opinion has been changing of late.

“People now think of graffiti as creating designs or images, rather than destroying the wall or communicating gang messages,” Professor Naar said.

Condry has painted numerous legal graffiti murals, or murals where the owner of the building gives permission. With a crew, he creates character images such as people and animals, while the others etch out their names in eye-popping designs.

“Gang graffiti is meant to mark territory,” he explained as he showed off his work. “There’s really no style to it. As soon as people see a spray can, they assume the worst. Our goal is to change people’s perceptions.”

Part of the debate focused on the legality of using public property for the art; in the case of graffiti, authorities view anything done without explicit permission as vandalism. However, it became clear in both the photos of Condry’s work and in Murphy’s Web videos that most of the places in which the graffiti is done are depressed, decaying areas. In these places, the graffiti adds a splash of color to what is often gray walls and rust; images from Murphy’s Web site show this best.

The latest edition of Jon Naar’s The Faith of Graffiti will be released on Dec. 22.

As a quote in one of Condry’s murals says, “Art is not a mirror to hold up to society but it is a hammer that is used to reshape it.”

Murphy’s work can be seen at www.filthism.com, and Condry’s work can be viewed on his flickr page.

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