“Graffiti is an impulse to get recognized” Mint & Serf
This is going to be a different post! Despite my best efforts to think of something else for G (without resorting to golf!) the idea of covering graffiti kept coming back to me – so G is for Graffiti in My Personal A to Z of Portugal
It has to be said that wherever you go – you can find graffiti. And it does seem particularly bad in some parts of the Algarve.
So I thought I’d try and find out a bit more and share it with you. According to Wiki the word Graffiti is a ‘mass noun’ used in the plural and the singular is actually ‘graffito’ and is described as the ‘writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place’ The word originates from the Greek γράφειν — graphein— meaning “to write.”
Wiki then stretches it a bit for me saying that it has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Mmm not sure they would have called it graffiti then!
(I am also reminded instantly of the wonderful sketch in the Life of Brian where Brian is caught daubing abuse in Latin and told off for not conjugating his verbs properly and told to write it out a hundred times – priceless!)
But nowadays it is rightly seen as vandalism; and can be dealt with as such. I am not going to grace the pages of this blog with any clear examples of ‘tags’ or ‘tagging’ – the annoying and pointless expression of a name or nickname which can unfortunately be seen repeated on so many buildings – and not even derelict ones. Only last week we had some ‘pink’ tags added to nearby houses – it is difficult to remove – and difficult to police, and can provide upset and annoyance to home-owners.
But as an artist, I am intrigued by the social and political messages that can be portrayed through graffiti – Banksy is of course the most famous exponent of this form of expression.
There are also some examples of fine art work and design which can be seen amidst the tags – like the image above from Lagos – and also some strongly political messages and emblems which are often repeated – and added to – in an area.
I have no idea what the significance of these pills and bottles mean to the person who sprayed it – but it is intriguing none the less:
The graffiti artist will always be found with a can of spray paint – having tried to create art with a spray can I am amazed at the intricacy of some of the work you can see displayed. You can also see images which are made by using stencils which are simply sprayed over – a popular method to create a detailed design very quickly – and which can be repeated over and over again.
There is an interesting dilemma for councils to contend with – on the one hand condemning the tags and graffiti which are sprayed around the streets, buildings and even public transport – and yet also often wanting to support and encourage legitimate ‘street art’. You can find out more about ‘legal’ sites via this website Legal Walls – Our nearest site is the Skate Park in Portimão – the Parque de Jogos – which allows legitimate graffiti – I think I might go and check it out and see if there is any decent work!
In 2011 the Guardian newspaper (link to article) reported on the rise of graffiti as ‘urban art’ to be seen in Portugal. In Lisbon this has even been taken a step further with the Crono Project which actually commissioned artists to use graffiti to transform neglected buildings:
The crocodile on the left is by Ericailcane, an Italian artist.
There is even a Galeria de Arte Urbana which was set up by the council to give street artists a legal place to operate:
But this is not confined to Lisbon – I am impressed by this graffiti closer to home, situated near Vilamoura, with an amazing amount of detailed work and design on an old wall:
There are also examples in Faro which are interesting – there is a brightly decorated derelict house full of eye-catching design:
And as an aside I am also fascinated by the intricately painted hangings which are used to cover up a building which is being renovated near the Cathedral:
In Portimão you can find this perplexing image – is it graffiti – or a painting done by the Council to brighten up a wall?
And also in Portimão there is an example of the use of art to disguise – in this case the addition of extra windows on an empty building on the first floor – very clever stuff!
And this is my favourite art creating a realistic ‘window’ on a building – it’s obviously old now – but the detail is still there for you to enjoy:
But try as I might, I can find very little in the press which is actually challenging or targeting the tagging and vandalism style graffiti which is around us. In 2010 the Algarve Resident (link) reported that the then Social Democratic (PSD) Algarve MP Mendes Bota had criticised the Ministry of Internal Affairs for its lack of action to stop graffiti vandalism from spreading in the country.
Mendes Bota said: “I travel the country from north to south and I do not like what I see: a country dirtied by graffiti,” he stressed.
The politician has asked the Ministry why the laws available to fight this sort of crime are not being enforced and why more isn’t done by the authorities to prevent graffiti vandalism.
I am uncertain whether this is just not seen as a priority, or that the resources and/or willingness is not in place to tackle this problem – but I have to be honest and say that in some areas it is particularly noticeable – and where public monuments and statues are defaced (for example in the gardens in Silves) and nothing is done to remove it – or tackle it – then it cannot reflect well on our tourism and ‘public’ face of the Algarve region.
Perhaps we need to do more to encourage projects like the Graffiti Olhão project (link) which encouraged legal urban art to be produced – with the aim of encouraging public and particularly youth participation in ‘official’ areas and walls whilst also discouraging illegal vandalism.
So – is it art? Is it ‘urban art’? Can we ‘legitimise’ some forms of graffiti as ‘art’ whilst also targeting and policing the ‘vandalism’ that we can also see around us? And who decides which work is art and which is not?
Certainly Dave has found some of the designs on a derelict wall in Lagos particularly inspiring as subjects to photograph.
What do you think? Do you see the design and art hidden amongst some of the graffiti you see around you – or is it all mindless criminal activity that should be addressed?
I leave you with an interesting quote from Banksy – who is surely the leading ‘face’ of graffiti:
“Painting something that defies the law of the land is good. Painting something that defies the law of the land and the law of gravity at the same time is ideal.” Banksy, ‘Wall and Piece’