Can you miss a Guerrilla in your Neighbourhood? (Street Art & Graffiti)

“When does one person’s right to free speech begin to trample on another’s? Where does the line between artistic expression and vandalism get drawn, and who do we entrust to draw it?”

Shake Well before use – The Origin

These were the questions that arose when modern graffiti scene started in the early 1920’s. The early period began with the emergence of hip hop, styles derived from New York City Subway graffiti. But these forms of expression were just a medium off lashing out at the regime and the ruling law and order. Regarded as a criminal offence, street graffiti became the perfect channel for people to express themselves. Now, graffiti is recognized by an increasing number of people in the art world as a form of modern, urban art. When you cant beat them join them it seems.
However, recognition isn’t always alibi enough and the authorities have more often than not regarded Graffiti as anti social.The problem(or rather the good thing) with graffiti is that it has been stigmatized because of the amount of illegal activity i.e. spraying where it is not permitted, that is associated with it. So as an evolving art form it has moved media,from the streets to album covers and so on becoming an industry. This way graffiti is being taken to a new public space- through mass media. Because of this, graffiti is starting to slowly lose its stigma and is starting to be viewed as a highly profitable art form.

The Spray goes Commercial
During the 1980’s , street artists were paid for their skills on the street canvas. When graffiti gradually spread in to Europe it became a subculture in its own right. Admen weren’t far away noticing the streets that they were too used to buying out. Commercial graffiti has created significant controversy between those who view it as an effective medium of advertising amongst specific target audiences and those who believe that legal graffiti and advertising using it encourages illegal graffiti and crime. With the evolution of Graffiti and its entrance into the world of commercialization, major brands are using this style to make a mark promoting products in its own sly way.
Earlier advertisements were clearly delineated, different and separate from art. They were easily recognizable as advertisements and no one expected them to be anything else but now with the evolution of street art advertisements look suspiciously like art.

Mr. Clean has long been known for getting umpteen things clean in houses across the world. However, it seems that lately he’s taken his cleaning power to city streets, giving part of this dusty old crosswalk a long overdue sprucing up. This piece of advertising capitalizes on an already well-known brand ambassador, removing the need for extraneous text or explanation, and making a beautifully simplistic statement and clear message. It’s Mr. Clean, and he’s done what he came here to do.
And then there is the case of Marc Ecko. In perhaps one of the greatest hoaxes ever committed by a graffiti artist, Ecko released a video of a man breaking into an airfield to tag the US president’s plane, Air Force One. Panicked security officials checked the plane, only to find nothing amiss. Ecko had in fact repainted a Boeing jet to exactly replicate the president’s aircraft. Reported by CNN, ABC News, USA Today and countless other news outlets, this really is guerrilla graffiti advertising at its best.


Taking Liberties

Even these advertisements have come in for criticism, no real reason except that it has the tainted history, its graffiti isn’t it? So they seem to fit some peoples definitions of visual litter: they are bright, they are ever-present, they are distracting and invasive. Besides look at the sheer number of advertisements all around us, many companies have figured out that the corporate penalties for unlicensed guerrilla advertisements are rarely enforced. When they are enforced, the fines are usually so small that they cost much less than the permits would have. Because of this, unlicensed guerrilla ads have been on the rise in recent years. So if guerrilla artists can get paid to put up graffiti, and if corporations can put up ads without paying, where does guerrilla art stop and guerrilla advertising begin? Artists like Banksy and Neckface, once considered criminals, now enjoy successful careers as artists. Shephard Fairey, creator of Obey, and artist collective Faile have gained commercial success as designers and are now living the dream of making a living from their art. Yet they continue to post urban art, often without permits or permission ;). You might say that these artists are engaging in guerrilla advertising since their street art now promotes their commercial art. The urban environment now includes advertisements with cleverly worded additions from street artists alongside brilliant urban art. Ads created by respected street artists share space with the typically polished ads from professional advertisers. The overall picture is surreal, blending art with commerce and involving a significant overlap of the two. An Operation conducted by Cristoph Steinbrener in Vienna: in one place the artist covered all the spaces usually covered by advertising billboards in yellow, to demonstrate how much space advertising occupies in our daily lives and how we hardly notice this anymore. DDB Auckland ads were placed on the virgin thighs that are exposed in this latest trend, by putting indented plates across the inner city and fashion district bus stops, mall seats and park benches, so that when people sat down the message was imprinted on their thighs. This meant that as well as having branded seats, a veritable army of free media was created for Superette, with thousands of imprints being created and lasting up to an hour. Plus, by the nature of where the ads were placed, only the hippest young cats were seen advocating the brand.

Evolution of Modern Graffiti – Reverse Graffiti

The urban artists of Symbolix selectively clean the urban environment, leaving behind slogans, words and images of major companies and product releases. This group has managed to turn a street art hobby into a guerilla marketing campaign strategy.In one of the earlier blogs we urged our artist friends to specialize. This is the reason really.

Reverse Graffiti is a method of creating temporary or semi permanent images on walls or other surfaces by removing dirt from a surface. Reverse graffiti is becoming increasingly popular as a means of advertising. By using water and detergents, years of grime are washed away with a stencil, which when removed displays text or an image in the contrast between clean and dirty. It requires no permits and is not illegal as all you are doing is a bit of cleaning. Domino’s took advantage of reverse graffiti in an effort to try out a carbon-negative, sustainable advertising campaign. All that was used to produce the images was water, carbon offsetting investment and the grime of city streets.

Evolution Of Indian Street Art
In India the canvas is only half painted still, but with social and political awareness (or the pretence of it) on the rise graffiti is slowly beginning to make its presence felt. I’ve seen a dodgy “I’m Anna” spray somewhere in the capital. Will click and post it on twitter next time i see it.
Historically though Indian Street art has been associated with Bollywood with thier giant larger than life paintings and that widespread graffiti circle – Indian Truck art. Yea, the colorful trucks that slowly sloth their way on the national highways have some serious art. There has been some mainline advertising inspired by these colourful trucks as kitsch elements but nothing keeping them central. An opportunity perhaps.

Eitherways,there are some good signs for street art in India as it becomes part of the urban subculture.
With poetic and not so poetic lines (basically there’s a lot of trash) sketched all over our city walls ; artists have been giving us their peace of mind – it’s more personal, more pure and free.Evolving still, Indian street art has modernized not only the way of expression but also the medium used. Artists are using the quality paint; and creating more appealing and attention grabbing art. The key is to keep the creative in your face but the message more subtle perhaps even secretive.Art left to the artist’s interpretation, our interpretation of what we want to see.

Even though there isn’t significant conference room thought on the potential of this media, soon someone will wake up to the idea (with a pair)and we can presume that street art even in India will sooner rather than later be absorbed by brands. Execution like in every other case will be important.

We’ve only uncovered the nozzel of the the paint can. Streets, Wall & Graffiti are one thing, what about Print, billboards, random street art, living billboards? The advertising game is changing daily as technology improves and consumers require a bigger jolt to get their attention. Even a dead hoarding among other dead hoardings must interact, experiential did someone say? Cant put a finger on it but the solution may just be to give an uncaged guerrilla some spray paint.



5 thoughts on “Can you miss a Guerrilla in your Neighbourhood? (Street Art & Graffiti)

  1. Hi thinkrasta its been wonderful checking your blog page and simply thought I would say thanks and wished I could write like that.

    Posted by Make Beats | September 29, 2011, 6:10 pm
  2. Well done team Rasta, this is a ‘King Kong’ post for street art & graffiti. Which surely is an art form, although treated mostly as nuisance and part of vandalism. Specific parts of the many metropole cities have now sanctioned off space purely for these free spirited street artists. ( mostly in US, UK & Europe)

    Just to add a little history : Many of the famous artists have named Berlin as the “Graffiti Mecca of the urban art world”. The “wall’ of course played right into the nozzles of each spray can labelling Berlin as the ‘City of Design’
    And even today stands as a symbol of inspiration across the globe.

    Indian Graffiti : In order to apply reverse graffiti in India, good road & walkways would be great start i suppose.
    In general, I feel people connect to various forms of advertising here which are “emotion based”. Only a matter of time till some Guerrilla breaks out of the cage.

    Posted by vtonik | September 30, 2011, 7:30 am
  3. Love the Article.. really well written!! I like the way you have explained the history of Graffiti. Helps people like me with no knowledge in the area get a heads up!! Great job!!

    Posted by Ipsa Jamwal | October 11, 2011, 11:23 am
  4. Hi Ipsa,vtonik, here’s spraying on your wall a massive THANKYOU. We’ve tried to cover the topic in as much detail as we could but its really vast and we’ll definitely be doing another(or maybe 2) related post in the near future.
    That info on Berlin wall is definitely going straight into Part II vtonic.

    Keep an eye out eh. Actually, it’ll be great if you guys follow the blog via mail (homepage https://thinkrasta.wordpress.com/). Nozzle in your emails to receive auto updates everytime we publish.

    Posted by thinkrasta | October 11, 2011, 12:16 pm


  1. Pingback: Banksy Prints - The Best Prints, Posters & Shirts - October 17, 2011

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