Can officially sanctioned street art and graffiti ever be considered culturally credible? Or does it need to have an edge attached to it by being illicit? Dan Pearce has no doubt: “You just have to take a walk around the streets of East London to see the scale of graffiti projects which have transformed the area into one huge art canvas and really helped graffiti become accepted. Graffiti artists have now been rephrased as mural artists as they specialise in huge projects.
“Artist like Shep Fairey and Retna are totally pushing boundaries and not just painting walls but entire building blocks over several floors. These huge murals are extremely complicated pieces and require planning, imagination and contain artistic elements like colour and composition, and often tackle social equality issues. They take huge organisation skills, involve local councils. They are 100% credible.”
Harvey once again emphasises an important distinction: “Street art is an extension of graffiti and we believe that it can be a tool to revitalise public spaces,” he points out. “Through many years working in the arts industry, we have learnt that by maximising the use of intricate designs and incorporating themes of broad community inclusivity and respect, the resulting artwork inherently minimises the likelihood of vandalism in that area. An example is the Remembrance Day mural in 2018 by Jerome Davenport [better known as Ketones6000].”
Kulman does see the potential for a loss of credibility with officially sanctioned work, although it’s important to recognise that they can have value and don’t necessarily take away from the underlying art form. “I think the more we become accustomed to seeing it encroach into areas where it hasn’t been seen, the more it loses its impact,” Kulman says. “Designated graffiti parks or walls seem less effective than when you see it imaginatively used in derelict or neglected areas. The social acceptance of graffiti will only drive the more subversive practitioners to push boundaries and be more extreme.
“Like all socially engaged art there needs to be a purpose or intent, whether it is simply artistic expression or making a political, social, humorous or ironic statement. Tagging is a coded way of life for graffiti gangs and can seem arbitrary to those who aren’t aware of this culture. Some of the most effective graffiti has the power to surprise and move you as you walk or drive by.”