Let us spray. Graffiti through the ages.

There's another side to nearly everything - reflections from the New Forest

Mark and Hugh writer and cartoonistThis week's reflections by Mark with cartoon by Hugh, consider the "other sides" of graffiti!

"I have a question for you. When does graffiti become art? Never! I hear you scream, how on earth could the inane daubs of a teenage oik ever be considered art? You are furious when you see a slogan sprayed onto a wall in a quiet cut somewhere. Incandescent when you see paint on a gravestone! How could they, you mourn."

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Graffiti through the ages

"Graffiti is a little like art though in that, when a medium is in its infancy it is almost automatically scorned by the people. When impressionism arrived, challenging photo-realism, the new artists were ridiculed. After all, where was the craft, where was the detail? These simple daubs and splodges could never be art! As you know, things are a little different now and impressionist paintings are highly sought after. Perhaps if we return to the original question, if you were walking in the forest and you came across a teenager carving the name of his one true love deep into the bark of an old oak, what would your immediate feelings be? Probably not pleasant ones.

The simplest art of all, probably

In Argentina there is a cave where many thousands of years ago someone felt compelled to daub paint over their left hand leaving just the outline many times over. The result is a riot of colour and a fascinating, yet simple, design. I wonder, again, what you would think if you saw someone, of any age, doing the same anywhere in Hampshire? I visited the Tower of London where inmates facing death had scratched their own graffiti into the walls that imprisoned them, some of it incredibly intricate. They do say that a hanging in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully although I would prefer not to take that particular route for mental stimulation. Presently this graffiti is protected by Perspex sheets in order to preserve it for future generations.

I visited Salisbury Cathedral and saw graffiti gouged into gravestones, the floor and walls. Heresy!

If you were to wander around our New Forest, in certain places you would find some very old graffiti carved by lovers into trees. Some trees are still marked for destruction with a deeply cut King’s arrow, they might have been destined for the next Agamemnon. With the advent of iron and steel as the new materials for shipbuilding the trees were spared, but they are still scarred though. What makes these marks interesting instead of offensive?

 Abdul - enough

Abdul, enough!

It’s an age thing. How art appreciates over the years.

To return to the original question we could also consider the artist Constable (from a previous article). In his lifetime he was never a financial success but look at his paintings now! It would seem that age confers grace (and desirability). We would happily demolish an ugly seventies tower block but would never dream of so much as putting up a coat hook in a three-hundred-year-old cottage. So, why is age so powerful? Why is it that ancient graffiti is revered yet modern graffiti despised? Let’s face it, the inscriptions cut into the gravestones in Salisbury Cathedral are not exactly what we would term high art, merely the modern equivalents of Kev 4 Trisha.

Yet the passage of time has conferred value on these marks, these vandalisms. Roman soldiers cutting their marks into pillars were no different to young men today with their spray cans. Both had the urge to record something, to leave a message, something that might leave a memory after they have departed this earth. During World War Two bomber crew used to scratch messages into the mirrors in their favourite café. They are still there today if you care to find them. Bearing in mind the extremely high mortality rate that the crews suffered we can be sure that many of the graffiti artists didn’t make it to the end of the conflict. Again, one person’s vandalism is another’s historical document."

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