Graffitti & Urban Art

Maui Public Art-15Urban art is a style of art that relates to cities and city life. These colorful compositions are often done by artists who live in or have a passion for city life. In that way, urban art combines street art and graffiti and is often used to summarize all visual art forms arising in urban areas, being inspired by urban architecture or as a reflection of the lifestyle and circumstances of the location.

Urban arts typically exist in the realm of public space. Because of this they are often viewed as vandalism and destruction of private property, and many cities have developed laws with severe penalties for those caught defacing public property. This is partly due to the fact that some urban art arose from gang ‘tagging’ of a particular area with symbols and words identifying their territory.
Although urban art started at the neighborhood level, where a lot of people of different

Phoenix Public Art-44

cultures live together, it now has become an international art form with an unlimited number of uses. Some communities have taken to commissioning these graffiti artists, just as sculptors were in times past, to decorate blank walls with appropriate murals. A number of these urban artists work in groups and travel within an urban area, and some from city to city. Some have social contacts all over the world.
The notion of ‘Urban Art’ developed from street art which is primarily concerned with what is called the graffiti culture. Urban art represents a broader cross section of artists than traditional artisans. Where some works of urban art mimic that of fine art, others work in the realm of cartooning. What is common among them is a subject matter that deals with contemporary urban culture and political issues.

Many early examples of “modern style” graffiti have survived the ages. In the ancient

Phoenix Public Art-4

Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey), there is a particularly notable graphic. Located near a mosaic and stone walkway, local guides say it is an advertisement for prostitution. The graffiti shows a handprint that vaguely resembles a heart, along with a footprint and a number. This is believed to indicate that a brothel was nearby, with the handprint symbolizing payment.
The ancient Romans carved graffiti on walls and monuments, examples of which also survive in Egypt and other locations around the Mediterranean and Europe. Graffiti in the classical world had different connotations than they carry in today’s society concerning content. Ancient graffiti displayed phrases of love declarations, political rhetoric, and simple words of thought, compared to today’s popular messages of social and political

Honolulu Murals

ideals. The eruption of Vesuvius preserved graffiti in Pompeii, which includes Latin curses, magic spells, declarations of love, alphabets, political slogans, and famous literary quotes. This has provided historians and archaeologists with insight into ancient civilizations street life. One inscription gives the address of a woman in Rome named Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, a prostitute, apparently of great beauty, whose services were much in demand.

Disappointed love, rather than vocalized in song, found its way onto the walls of buildings in antiquity:

Quisquis amat. veniat. Veneri volo frangere costas

Paia_6Pa fustibus et lumbos debilitare deae.
Si potest illa mihi tenerum pertundere pectus
quit ego non possim caput illae frangere fuste?

Whoever loves, go to hell. I want to break Venus’s ribs
with a club and deform her hips.
If she can break my tender heart
why can’t I hit her over the head?

So the pursuits of life and love haven’t changed over time.

In the spirit of my intent as a photo-blogger, the images that accompany this article were


all taken by myself. And, as I live in an island community, my opportunities to photograph urban art art not as many as I would like. The images here are from: Phoenix, AZ, Honolulu, on the island of Oahu; Wailuku, Paia, and Makawao on Maui. I make 1-2 trips to the mainland per year, and most times it’s for business. Hopefully, in the future I can make arrangements to visit places in the urban environment where urban graffiti exists.




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