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A Brief Intro to…Graffiti VS Street Art

Having worked as an assistant to Banksy and set up her own gallery in Shoreditch, Graffiti Consultant, Steph Warren, is well placed to give an overview on the differences between the two art forms.

“Most people assume that Street Art and Graffiti are the same thing. Both are seen on the commute to work, appear out of the blue and (sometimes) involve artistic talent in an urban setting. However to the people wielding the spray can they couldn’t be more different.

Let me give you a brief summary of each and you will notice that the two are actually polarising in their differences. Street Art is the friend that leads you astray but charms your parents. It’s inclusive and aesthetically pleasing. It tends to be painted by “proper” artists with permission granted, hired scissor lifts, ladders and increasingly health & safety regulations to follow. The artists create murals, sometimes on a large scale and emulsion paint is often used alongside the spray paint. Stencils are often used and sometimes even overhead projectors can be used to ensure the scale and perspective is accurate. Often Street Art is political in nature and aims to send a message to its passing audience. Alongside traditional letter works there are also a lot more figurative and abstract renderings than in graffiti. Street Art is a large umbrella which covers a lot of mediums such as the tile mosaics by Paris resident Space Invader, or the paper sculpture of Portugals Vhils. One street art stunt by the internationally renowned artist Banksy involved a cattle transportation vehicle filled with animatronic furry sheep and pigs driving around the streets of New York for a whole day.

Graffiti however is a more anti-social character, one whom you hope your parents will never meet. A graffiti practitioner is known as a writer and they tend to paint mainly for themselves and other writers. Usually a writer does not have permission and work is therefore rushed but certainly no less skilled. Trains and railway sidings are often targeted and this lends a dangerous element. There are rarely ladders and certainly no adherence to health & safety, in fact the more dangerous and hard to get to spots are coveted. Those aiming high will need to be resourceful, using street furniture and discarded items to get what is known as a “reach”. Writers usually put up their own “tag” which is made up of letters. The most used colours are black and chrome and a tag painted using these colours is known as a “burner”. Because of its illegal nature, graffiti is put up quickly and tends to be less aesthetically pleasing to the average passer by. Sometimes characters are used but traditional graffiti is usually embellished and elaborate letters and occasionally abstract combinations of letters will be used. Graffiti writers will write the same tag, often in the same colours and style over and over again. Street Artists on the other hand don’t tend to paint the same thing twice.

So as you can see, despite being similar on the surface, Street Art & Graffiti have many differences. However, there are definitely some grey areas. For example, street artists’ sometimes paint without permission and graffiti artists sometimes paint walls where permission has been granted.

They both involve pursuing artistic endeavour in an outside setting where the audience is viewing the work unintentionally. So take a walk down Leake Street armed with this new information and see if you can you tell the difference between the two….

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