Minimal graffiti

By - Monday 23rd March, 2015

From graffiti to street art: Andrew Dickinson has noticed a welcome change in Croydon

Don’t Give Up.
Photo by John Gass, used with permission.

Graffiti once seemed omnipresent and unstoppable, and tackling it was a significant, costly issue, so where has all Croydon’s graffiti gone? It used to be that wherever you looked there was a squiggle – or tag, to give it its proper name. On bus shelters, post boxes, doors and walls, it was everywhere. A lot of credit for its decline must be given to residents and business owners for being so quick and efficient in reporting graffiti, and also the council’s environmental response team for removing this unattractive blight on our visual realm. It’s still out there but is so minimal that it hardly registers as we go about our day-to-day lives.

Are the authorities so good at wiping out taggers’ handiwork that the spirit of youthful rebellion has been smothered and extinguished, supplanted by the lure of nights on the sofa, in the warm, playing with today’s marvels of home entertainment? Maybe it’s a modern symptom of a society that has lost some of its get-up-and-do attitude, however wrong that ‘do’ might be.

Adding to the difficulty of being a young urban graffiti artist is the fact that it is illegal to sell aerosol spray paint to any person under the age of sixteen. If caught doing so, both the retailer and the employee who made the sale face large fines and Trading Standards often use young volunteers to make test purchases to check retailers’ vigilance. Training is offered to retailers through schemes such as ‘Do You Pass’ run by Trading Standards, and many retailers have adopted the ‘Challenge 21’ campaign which requires proof of age for anyone who looks under twenty-one. This gives the retailer a significant safety margin compared to the old-fashioned and simplistic ‘do they look old enough?’

One graffiti artist was accused of causing over £250,000 worth of damage to public transport

Perhaps by the time young people can purchase the aerosol cans, their rebellious spirit and artistic urges have passed, and acts of graffiti really are in decline. Despite my general opposition to graffiti, I do find myself wondering whether we are being reduced to controlled, managed projects to paint underpasses or shop fronts damaged in the riots. Laudable as these are in giving an outlet to creativity, they are hardly in the same spirit as an act of genuine graffiti. Another possible explanation for graffiti’s decline I’ve heard is that today’s preponderance of security cameras and surveillance technology make it so much harder for taggers to escape the law.

I once spoke with a graffiti artist who was taken to court accused of causing over £250,000 worth of damage to public transport – no small amount, and an example of how much damage one person – yes, one person – can cause. I found it hard to warm to his reminiscing as I kept thinking of the wasted hours of my life caused by service disruptions due to vandalism and graffiti, as well as the significant costs and delays incurred by having to clean daubed paint off vehicles and carriages before they could go back into service.

What I’ve been discussing are illegal acts but, luckily for us all, there has recently been an explosion of legal acts. This is street art, and it differs from graffiti in two significant ways. Firstly, the artistic intent is on a very different, completely elevated, plane. Secondly, it is only done in locations where permission has been granted.

It was outright vandalism that they tagged so many of these amazing artworks

So, coming up to date and that wonderful Sunday in February, when the marvellous collection of female artists called Femme Fierce came to town and used their considerable talents to brighten up the wind tunnel known as St. George’s Walk by painting stunning works of street art on the ugly shutters and hordings. You can watch a short video of one of the artists in action here. It was a brilliant one-day event brought about by Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, the owner of RISEgallery. But then what happened? By the following Sunday someone had tagged several of them thinking it was a free-for-all and not clear, deliberate, individual works of art. It was outright vandalism that they tagged so many of these amazing artworks. But a truce has been agreed and they now have their own ‘legal’ graffiti wall at the college end of the walk. I might go down there with my marker pen and write what I think of them on it!

But there is great, community-confirming, news. Most of the damaged murals have been made good where possible, or otherwise painted over with new artworks. This is all down to the generous spirit of the London street art community. Another positive outcome was some serious weekend gardening (in the large raised beds of St. George’s Walk, now planted out again, as they were originally designed to be) and litter-picking carried out by community-minded locals. Well done to Twitterers @maisykungfu for the original idea and @ParkHillFriends for organising it, and all those who turned up on the day to help turn it into a reality.

I’m delighted that St. George’s Walk is basking in the limelight for a change rather than being a “mad forgotten relative locked away in a home“.

Long live St. George’s Walk, at least until the next master plan.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

More Posts - Website - Twitter