Grappling with graffiti

New spaces, still less than in 2008: mayor, RNC officer

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on August 2, 2010
Graffiti 16

Published on 31 July 2010

Closed construction sites are another place where illegal graffiti-style art is appearing. For example, the graffiti here is within a fenced-off construction area between Harbour Drive and Water Street.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 2

Published on 31 July 2010

Modern graffiti off Water Street in downtown St. John’s. Today’s graffiti is “popularly known as hip hop graffiti or tagger graffiti” according to both police and the Graffiti Management Plan of 2008.

Photos by By Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 17

Published on 31 July 2010

A closer look.

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Published on 31 July 2010

A stenciling amongst the work on Henry Street.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

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Published on 31 July 2010

Can you spot the graffiti here on the former CBC Radio building on Duckworth Street?

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

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Published on 31 July 2010

If none of that seems dangerous enough, how about the graffiti on Wild Things on Water Street?

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

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Published on 31 July 2010

The dangerous areas are also at heights — can you spot the illegal graffiti?

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

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Published on 31 July 2010

Here it is close up.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Gripped by graffiti

Published on 24 April 2007

A wall in downtown St. Johns sports an eclectic mix of graffiti a growing problem causing concerns for local businesses, city officials, tourism operators and others. Photo by The Telegram

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Graffiti 19

Published on 31 July 2010

Here it is up close. “These guys risk life and limb to go tag something,” said RNC Const. Joe Smyth.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 21

Published on 31 July 2010

Here it is up close, again right to the edge. The city has a bylaw that would require business owners to remove graffiti even in these dangerous areas — but only if they are issued a citation.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 22

Published on 31 July 2010

It is not only painting, stenciling, stickering and postering that can violent law against mishief. This “Free Marc Emery” concrete message falls under the same regulation in the Criminal Code of Canada (Section 430.1.ccc).

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

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Published on 31 July 2010

Graffiti and street art can include controversial or political messages. This stencil was seen in Florence, Italy.

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Published on 31 July 2010

A positive message tag in the downtown. To see another, there is a “Stay in School” on Duckworth Street.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

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Published on 31 July 2010

Less political commentary is similarly seen. In St. John’s, it would be no less illegal for its thoughtfulness. This image of a starving child is also from Florence, spotted near a cluster of restaurants.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 12a

Published on 31 July 2010

Another illegal stenciling seen in the downtown.

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Graffiti 12b

Published on 31 July 2010

A stencil of Super Mario may seem harmless and artistic…

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Published on 31 July 2010

A larger slap-up on Water Street.

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Graffiti 12h

Published on 30 July 2010

A slap-up in Florence, Italy seen in June 2009.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 1

Published on 31 July 2010

Graffiti is not new. Here, a piece of graffiti at Pompeii is protected today, originally preserved in the ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. This was electoral graffiti, urging citizens to vote for the candidate named.

Photos by By Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 5

Published on 31 July 2010

Since late 2007, police in St. John’s have been keeping up with graffiti trends worldwide. Near the Parthenon, inside the main tourist area of Athens, Greece, an unidentified man waits for his passenger in the shadow of graffiti.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 4a

Published on 31 July 2010

In a downtown alley two other main types of graffiti: left of the window is a “throw-up,” larger than a tag with bubble-style letters and using one or two colours. At right, a “piece” or “masterpiece.”

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 7

Published on 31 July 2010

RNC have connected St. John’s-based taggers to pieces outside of the province. The “West” tag was popular in St. John’s around 2008 and spotted in Halifax with a “709.” A youth using the tag was charged and convicted of mischief.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 12c

Published on 31 July 2010

… but it is one more item that must be removed from this door, on back of the former Wordplay bookstore.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 12e

Published on 31 July 2010

Some illegal street art employs stickering, often called a “slap” or “slap up.”

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 8

Published on 31 July 2010

A piece from Santorini, Greece begins to move into the realm of illegal street art — by adding a face to the tag.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 10

Published on 31 July 2010

A piece of illegal street art on the side of a power box in Barcelona. Street art, different from tagging, can move from paint and also include the use of items such as stickers, posters and stencils.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 11

Published on 31 July 2010

A mix of street art and tags can be seen at the back of the former CBC building at 25 Henry St. in St. John’s.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Vandals paint traitor on Pierre Elliott Trudeaus crypt

Published on 27 April 2008

Quebec Provincial Police investigators look at graffiti left overnight on the Trudeau mausoleum in St. Remi, Que. today. Vandals defaced the tomb of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau with the words FLQ and traitor. Photo by The Canadian Press

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Graffiti 12d

Published on 31 July 2010

If St. John’s follows on illegal graffiti experiences in other areas, stencils here may get more complex. For example, here’s one seen at the back of a restaurant off Saint Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. Note the use of multiple colours.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 13

Published on 31 July 2010

An illegal piece of street art accompanied by a throw-up on the side of an overpass that runs over Southside Road in downtown St. John’s. A few meters from speeding cars, it is an example of the dangerous areas where taggers are now leaving their mark in the city.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 33

Published on 02 August 2010

One reason given for illegal graffiti is the taggers and street artists are searching for recognition. In some cases, it is fame within the sub-culture, in some cases it’s the attention from the general public — like with this street art piece in Barcelona.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 34

Published on 02 August 2010

Some see graffiti as a way to express themselves artistically and practice their ability, such as the individual who created this street art image in an alleyway in Venice, Italy.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 35a

Published on 02 August 2010

The illegal art can get less attention than the artists hope for.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 34b

Published on 02 August 2010

Another face, this time on the side of a mailbox on Water Street in St. John’s.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 34c

Published on 02 August 2010

Here it is up close.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 37

Published on 02 August 2010

Graffiti can take a promotional slant. Here is a tag supporting the RebELLEs Movement of young feminists (www.rebelles.org). While this is an illegal tag, graffiti is being used legally by advertisers and marketing companies.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 38

Published on 02 August 2010

“Hobo sign” is a form of graffiti using specific symbols to provide directions and information (often to rail-jumping homeless in the early 20th century). These days, symbolic graffiti remains. Looking for a coffee shop? A stencil like this could direct you there... although this one does not act that way.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 38a

Published on 02 August 2010

Low self esteeem and boredom have been provided as reasons for tagging. “Can’t get lost if ya got nowhere to be” on Duckworth Street reflects that idea. Some cities have collaborations with youth groups to attempt to draw taggers away from graffiti.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 39

Published on 02 August 2010

According to mayor Dennis O’Keefe, graffiti left unremoved suggests “dirty” and unwelcoming streets in the City of St. John’s.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

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Published on 02 August 2010

Negative instead of positive messages can add to that feeling.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

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Published on 02 August 2010

Aside from the atmosphere of the city as expressed by City Hall, the cost of graffiti removal to both the city and local businesses is an obvious impact of illegal graffiti. This year, $30,000 is budgeted for removal from public property. Some privately owned locations, like the Bank of Montreal on Water Street are also regular targets.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 46

Published on 02 August 2010

Under the city’s zero-tolerance policy, graffiti is removed asap from public property and any private business can be forced to remove graffiti at their own cost if given a citation. The City of St. John’s hopes to avoid tags breeding tags, as on this train platform in Villefranche, France.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 48

Published on 02 August 2010

The Errorist has been a problem tagger in St. John’s, using slaps like this one and tags created with paint and markers.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 50

Published on 02 August 2010

Tags can be representative of groups of taggers working together. Some crew tags that have appeared in St. John’s are: Stylin Your Streets (SYS), Amateur Vandalism Crew (AVC) and the ADIO Visual Crew. Here, an ADIO tag is spotted on Henry Street.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Graffiti 52

Published on 02 August 2010

While tags may stand out in the downtown area of St. John’s, taggers are not just in downtown. VALD was found at Bowering Park.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

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Published on 02 August 2010

While the tag might suggest no apologies, for those found tagging it can lead to criminal charges. Illegal graffiti falls under Section 430(1) ccc of the Criminal Code of Canada. The charge is mischief.

Photos by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Look up. Look way, way up on Water Street or Duckworth Street and you might spot some of the graffiti concerning police in St. John’s these days.

The tags are being done by rooftop vandals, another challenge in the area of graffiti crime.

“These guys risk life and limb to go tag something,” said RNC Const. Joe Smyth, when asked this week about the rooftop acts. “That’s part of the draw of doing it, to get it in these places. It’s difficult to get to and it’s difficult to remove. I mean, we as a police service can’t condone endangering a life then to get back up there and (immediately) repair it.”

Rooftops are not the only dangerous sites where graffiti can be spotted. Tags and illegal graffiti-styled art are also visible inside closed construction sites and fenced-off areas near dangerous drops.

The sites come up as Smyth is interviewed about the changes he has seen in graffiti in the city since 2007. That was when he began developing records and working to get a handle on local taggers.

“I don’t think there was a lot being done with (graffiti) at that point in time. There was no concerted effort, no dedicated, investigative effort. If they received a complaint, it went to a member of street patrol and they had a singular file,” Smyth said. “If you didn’t have any suspects and you didn’t have any witnesses, it usually got written off after a period of time. That was ultimately the reason to create a dedicated project, because then you take all the files and you get a bigger picture and then you start speaking to people on the street.”

As he built his files and consulted with RCMP and metro police dealing with graffiti in Saskatoon, Ottawa, Vancouver and other areas, bringing some of their techniques back to St. John’s, the city gathered a committee to address the movement of graffiti from its traditional home under bridges and other generally sheltered areas to … well … all over.

The city committee included members from the City of St. John’s, the Downtown Development Commission, St. John’s Clean and Beautiful and the RNC. Together, they developed the Graffiti Management Plan — remove graffiti as soon as it goes up, mandate businesses do the same. It is a zero-tolerance policy that is meant to discourage graffiti taggers and it remains in place today.

“The whole idea was to get a fix on what was the rampant graffiti in the city,” said Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, who was part of the committee.

 

2008 to 2010

O’Keefe said he felt the combination of police efforts and the Graffiti Management Plan saw the issue “dealt with effectively” and added he has consulted with city employees and feels that there is less graffiti in the city now than there was in 2008.

In 2007-2008, the City of St. John’s spent approximately $35,000 on the removal of graffiti. Last year, it was also $35,000. This year, there is a $30,000 main budget, according to the mayor’s office, but added some additional funds may come from individual departments.

Meanwhile, Smyth also said 2010 has not been the worst year for graffiti crime so far by any means. “I think we do see less, I’d say it probably came to a head in 2008,” he said.

He would not detail any investigative techniques, but said “probably in the realm of 60 to 80” young people — ages anywhere from 10 to 30, but typically in their late teens or early 20s — were identified in 2007-2008 and dealt with by police. The actions had an effect on the number of cases reported since.

Sometimes “dealing with the problem” was having the youth confronted by police, some were asked to remove the graffiti, other times offenders were charged criminally.

“It’s mischief. It’s unsolicited damage to property,” Smyth said. “The quality of the work was never taken into account.” Neither was size or purpose.

“This is not about art. It’s not about what’s art and what’s not. You break it down quite simply and if Picasso came here to the front door to the police station and did the Mona Lisa, you know, yeah, great, looks great. However, does the individual responsible for that property not want it there, do they have to incur costs to remove it. If the answer’s yes and they want to proceed with a criminal investigation, then that’s what we do. It’s not for me to look at something and say, ‘Yeah, b’ys, great work.’”

 

Art and not

Graffiti tags that take time, design and multiple colours are known as a “piece,” or a “masterpiece.” However, the title “masterpiece” has given them no greater credit within the local business and art community, according to Eastern Edge gallery director Michelle Bush.

“I don’t agree that someone should go along and tag all over all sorts of private property and wherever they want just because they want to see their tag everywhere,” she said. “I think that is vandalism.”

Bush calls the illegal graffiti in the city simple “defacing” rather than public art. She has a very simple example to show the difference.

“This alleyway here. That was commissioned and it was very graffiti styled,” she said, pointing towards an alley just down from Eastern Edge, running between Harbour Drive and Water Street. The alley was completed by artist Monty Hall. “But that’s been defaced, graffitied. It’s too bad.”

Smyth echoed Bush. “Could a graffiti artist do mural work? Sure. But they would have to be contracted by somebody to do that,” he said.

One example of this legal art is found on the outside walls of Water Street retailer Johnny Ruth. Owner Kim Winsor was approached “about a month and a half ago” by a group of artists interested in painting a mural on the building.

“They gave us the design, we approved it and we paid for the paint. So I guess it is a commission,” Winsor said. “We don’t allow anyone who tags and vandalizes to do our graffiti on the wall and we really enjoy it, so I look forward to the next one.”

Winsor said the cost to the store was about $600. “You should see the people who are coming by now. It’s warmed the whole alleyway. There are people who were once intimidated by that alley,” she said.

Like on the alleyway mural pointed to by Bush, Winsor said illegal tags are not welcome on her wall, even though it had been vandalized with tags since its initial completion.

“The guys (who created the mural) were reliable … they fixed it up for us. They cleaned up the mess immediately,” she said.

Back at Eastern Edge, Bush said the gallery’s 24-Hour Art Marathon Festival in August will include the start of a revolving wall of art outside the gallery, with murals painted by different artists over time. “And to me, that’s art and that’s a contemporary practice and that’s using spray paint and stencils. It’s a medium and there are artists who are using and developing that medium,” she said.

As for the hot topic of illegal graffiti … “Usually, for the most part, it’s not that complicated. It’s simpler than what people make it out to be,” Smyth said with a shrug.

 

For more on graffiti art — legal and illegal, see the online photo essay at www.thetelegram.com

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com