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    What Happens When Graffiti Becomes Art?

    01.10.2013 / ARCHIVES

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    Ward 6, a waterfront district in Washington, D.C., is shining a bit brighter today. With the recent mural installation by Hense, an Atlanta-based artist, a once historic church now stands tall – decked out in bold, vibrant colors and  painted textures. Hense’s process was astonishingly similar to that of your everyday graffiti artist, slowly and meticulously layering the exterior of a building with spray paint, rollers and brushes. The only difference? It was entirely legal.

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    The project was a private commission for an area of D.C. that has been pegged as the next big art district. “This project is the first step in bringing some life and color into the area,” Hense writes. “Taking an existing object like the church and painting the entire thing recontextualizes it and makes it a sculptural object. With projects like this one, we really try to use the existing architecture as inspiration for the direction of the painting.”

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    After completing several concept drawings, Hense and a small crew covered every side and surface of the building, developing additional layers of large shapes and marks over the course of several weeks. “We really wanted to turn the church into a three-dimensional piece of artwork,” Hense writes. This idea harkens back to a long history of artists who use a term called ‘ready-mades‘ in their practice. From Moma:

    “Ready-mades originated from Marcel Duchamp, who borrowed the term from the clothing industry while living in New York. ‘In its strictest sense, [the term] is applied… to the product of an aesthetically provocative act, one that denied the importance of taste and which questioned the meaning of art itself.'”

    This means, of course, that graffiti (whether identified as commissioned murals, street art or public art) does indeed qualify as fine art. So why isn’t it regarded as such?

    hense mural in washington dc

    “There is a negative connotation with the word ‘graffiti.’ People see it as crap, but there’s so much good. There [are] so many amazing artists out there who have come from a graffiti background that are doing things that are really highly recognized in the world,” Hense writes in an interview with Atlanta-based culture site, Purge. Take 2011 TED award winner, JR, for example, who illegally posted huge-format portraits of suburban “thugs” from notorious outskirts in the bourgeois districts of Paris. Or the group of South African artists experimenting with reverse graffiti to clean their city’s walls. Or how about the painstakingly secretive moss graffiti from UK artist Anna Garforth?

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    It’s an art form that originated long before a gallery exhibition or solo show was necessary to justify the act of creative purpose. (Some argue even earlier still.) And according to Anne Pasternak, a contributor to Wooster Collective‘s groundbreaking title, Trespass, it’s an art worth noting:

    “There’s a bit of trespass in all of us. And the thing that’s so great about these artists [is that they’re not doing it] for the sake of trespassing…they’re doing it because there’s a poignant reason to do it. Because they believe in free speech. Because they believe in our democracy. And because there are issues that they feel are important to tackle. So, to me, so many of these artists are not in fact vandals, but they’re heroes.”

    p.s. Just for fun: geode street art in Los Angeles and a public art installation in Madrid.

    Image Credits: Miguel “M.i.G” Martinez via Hense

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