Graffiti Month: Ybor Miscellany
People believe they live in a kind of neutral public space. What they don’t realize is that what’s neutral to them, what’s a neutral, comfortable public space to them, may really be excluding a lot of people. -Susan A. Phillips, author of Wallbangin: Graffiti and Gangs in L.A., quoted in the documentary Bomb It (2008)
I grew up in a small town where graffiti was almost never seen. As an adult I’ve generally considered graffiti a crude act, and part of me still feels that way. But a few things over the years have caused me to free my mind a bit.
I recently read The History of American Graffiti by Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon, and found it strangely inspiring. Much of the book references New York City, sort of ground zero of graffiti, but it does explore activities in other cities. Despite some tedious sections, it really got me thinking about graffiti in all its different forms. So for the next month all the posts at Finding Tampa will be graffiti related. Starting out with a few shots taken while strolling around Ybor City.
“My first impression of why other people were writing was because I felt people were angry,” explains LSD OM, “upset that they didn’t have a voice in the world, that the government was telling us how it was and how it was going to be, and I think people were too free to let that happen. Writing was a way of saying, ‘Don’t make a decision without consulting us. Look at this wall and all these lives here. You may not see these people…but all of these names you see are people with lives and meaning.” -from The History of American Graffiti by Gastman and Neelon
By the mid-1960s, New York’s public schools were under great pressure to cut programming, and since the post-Sputnik climate made science and math funding untouchable, the ax often fell on arts and sports. Like all changes in education, these acts took several years to show their full effect. Children born in 1957, the yer of Sputnik, were unlikely to find arts offerings by the time they reached high school. Instead, this resilient generation of New York City youth leveled the playing field by creating their own competitive art program, based on quantity and original style, bending and shaping the typography of their street names to reflect their individuality. Writers used a pair of recent inventions as art media: Magic Markers and spray paint. Both products made their commercial debuts in their familiar forms in the early 1950s… -from The History of American Graffiti by Gastman and Neelon
No other art movement in human history has so thoroughly confounded the deeply held concepts of public and private property; no other art movement has so thoroughly made itself a public policy issue. Long before it developed into an art, graffiti was – and remains – a crime. To make the work…artists risked imprisonment and physical injury. And nearly every single artwork…has been destroyed. -from The History of American Graffiti by Gastman and Neelon
“I thought it was disgusting, and disgusting on the part of those who supported it. Graffiti was generally supported by wealthy people who said, ‘Isn’t it wonderful what the animals are doing?’ They wouldn’t have it in their house! I had nothing but contempt for those who supported graffiti. You know, you cannot excuse this on the basis that some people used it as a way to demonstrate their talent and become famous. While they were doing that, they were destroying the city and costing us millions of dollars…” -former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, quoted in The History of American Graffiti