Graffiti that once was considered the bane of urban existence is now a recognized and sometimes highly sought after art form unique to the inner city. All over America, cities are electing to brighten once-blighted neighborhoods with murals and other forms of street art. The biggest challenge? Finding them.
Yet, the rest of the area, even the right-of-way between the mural and the road, remains a blight. Trash still punctuates the aesthetics of the road, soot still gathers on the girders of the overpass, and none of the mural is visible unless one is stuck on that very short piece of otherwise forgettable road. Might this be a case of expecting art to do more than it is capable of doing on its own? Possibly.
Cities have long had a love/hate relationship with outdoor urban art. While graffiti has been around almost as long as men have been building walls, only recently have we as a society started looking at it as a legitimate art form. Artists with names such as Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, and Retna, Shepard Fairey, and David Choe have become both celebrities and millionaires spraypainting their works on the side of buildings such as Facebook’s headquarters. What once would have gotten a person arrested for vandalism is now welcomed by many urban building owners and often comes with a very hefty price tag.
One also has to consider the fact that a lot of street art is intentionally temporary. Traditional graffiti artists never expect their work, welcome or not, to be permanent. Even under the best of circumstances, sunlight fades the colors and changing weather eventually chips away at the paint. Many walls where graffiti is welcome get completely repainted two or three times a year. If one visits an area infrequently or is unaware of an art wall’s rotation, one might easily miss a real masterpiece of urban painting.
Wall art is an exciting part of the contemporary urban landscape and photography helps preserve this all-too-temporary art form. Perhaps one day we’ll no longer relegate such creative work to back alleys and the underside of Interstate bridges. Until then, the search-and-discovery process of finding these exciting pieces is an adventure that defines the uniqueness of the urban outdoors. Get out your camera and start looking; they could be anywhere!