I moved to Portland, OR, a few months ago. Though I love it here, there’s one thing that confounds me: I’ve wandered the city, and seen no graffiti. Not on walls, not on the trains, not anywhere. There are corporate billboards that seem to be begging to be tagged, but no one does.
There are some seriously ugly murals, but they’ve been commissioned and painted legally.
I can’t think of another U.S. city that has such an absence of graffiti, and I can’t figure why.
Edited to add: It turns out there is some. The link was sent to me by someone in Leith, Scotland.
This photograph by Daishin Stephenson was taken on the canal bank in Phoenix.
The common argument that graffiti is vandalism strikes me as being about class, not art. While much graffiti is ugly and artless, so is much sanctioned (and paid for) “public art.” What causes graffiti to be called vandalism is its being painted, without permission, on surfaces that the artist does not own.
Look at the sanctioned art in public spaces. Who gave permission for it? Not me, and probably not you. Much of what I see is so mediocre or dishonest that I would not have permitted it had I been asked, so it is just as much vandalism as the work of a tagger. If public spaces are truly public, then they are ours to paint and write on, or they are no one’s.
There are some good documentaries about graffiti - I recommend Infamy, Next and Bomb It.
I was never fond of Phoenix’s Paisley Violin cafe and artspace. Just as well, as I’ll never go there again, having heard the news that the owners painted over a mural by El Mac at their new location.
This is a damn shame - a 20-year-old sentenced to two and a half years in prison for writing graffiti.