Many blocks in the neighborhood of Bushwick have assembled in one collective — the Bushwick collective. People in this collective have permission to paint portraits and murals on the walls. This location became a hotspot for artists from the whole world, and many of them came to participate and leave their mark. Not so long ago, neon smiley faces appeared on these murals. People who pass by might not spot them, or they might think it is a piece of art of some eccentric artists.
Namely, artists deliberately painted these smiley faces over the “tags” of street artists who have ruined these walls. This is not regarded as vandalism but as the implications of a battle where street art is used as a tool against graffiti. However, graffiti artists have started to make a stand for themselves.
A curator of StreetArtNYC, Lois Stavsky, said that he couldn’t recall that it had ever been worse than now. StreetArtNYC is a blog that follows street art and graffiti artists in five parts of the town. Stavsky checks the hotspots in the town on a regular basis in order to see if there is anything new. Everybody knows him in the community of street and graffiti artists.
At the beginning of the year, an artist called Zexor started tagging his name on murals, and his deeds inspired the rest of them to do a similar thing. Apart from the obvious problem of gentrification, there are also those related to their professional differences and the battle for credibility, acknowledgment, and more space to paint on.
Graffiti in Comparison to Street Art
Most people can’t differentiate street art from graffiti. Even among the artists themselves, these two terms are used interchangeably because both are related to art which is seen on the streets. Despite all of this, there are things that distinguish these two terms.
Stavsky says that graffiti came before street art and that street art was inspired by graffiti. He later explained that graffiti was focused on words and that these artists were self-trained. This type of art appeared as a form of self-exploration in the younger population. Namely, graffiti is not legal to do, but that can be one of the factors why it is so interesting to them. On the other hand, street artists have had some education. Street artists used the idea of graffiti makers where they use a street wall as their canvas to show their disapproval of certain institutions. Their art usually sends a message to the public. Lastly, street art is usually done with approval.
5PoitntZ was a so-called “mecca” of graffiti and street art. When this place was closed for renovation in 2013, artists had to find different walls to paint on.
Street Art Against Graffiti
A graffiti maker who converted into a street artist, Bishop, pointed out that street art is a decor on the walls. Bishop is an owner of LowBrow Artique in Brooklyn. This is one of the biggest aerosol shops, which is regularly visited by both street and graffiti artists.
The organizer of the Bushwick collective and an owner of a number of properties in this area, Joseph Ficalora, doesn’t allow people to paint words on the walls. Bishop said that Ficalora doesn’t approve of graffiti and that people are not satisfied with the current situation because there are many artists that are not from around here. The majority of artists are from Bushwick, and they feel like they have been squeezed out.
Interestingly, street art is accepted, but graffiti hasn’t met the same fate. In Little Italy, there is a project called Lisa Project which gives green light to the approved phrases and murals. The East Harlem Preservation Group seek only images that show historical value. The 100 Gates project, which started last year, orders street art when the city gives the approval.
Natalie Reben, who is a director of communication at the Lower East Side Business Improvement District, said that they discouraged graffiti and tried to make the neighborhood prettier. This organization calls out artists to send their proposals of the things they want to paint. The company aims to do something meaningful for the people of this community. Up until now, 25 artists have put their signature on this project, and the same number of artists is expected to join. In return for their work, each artist will get $300.
Raben also added that these artists were part of the graffiti community, and they hoped that those artists wouldn’t tag themselves over some murals out of respect of other artists.
Bishop declared that the assumption which puts graffiti and street artists in the same group was not entirely correct. She asserted that there was no communication between the two groups. That’s why the artist named Zexor didn’t follow the alleged “code” when it came to Bushwick collective.
Artwork or Acknowledgment
A coordinator of the Graff Tours, Kate Murphy, claims that street art is more relatable than graffiti is; and that the street is an addition to graffiti but more acknowledged. Abby Roner, who is a director of the gallery of City Lore, points out that public art is there to contribute to the community but also on behalf of businesses and commercial interests. Namely, street art’s purpose is not to make the streets more appealing, but it is regarded as a “remedy” for the graffiti.
Street art reached a point of success due to programs like 100 Gates Project that receives a lot of orders. Raben asserted that the city gave them approval because they saw the potential of this program that can spread through other communities.
For the majority of artists, this provided them with the possibility to be recognized and paid for their work. Unfortunately, for other artists, this is not so ideal, because graffiti for them represents a way of living and not a type of art. Graffiti artist Amuze thinks that there is enough room for all types of art on the streets, but he is of the opinion that street artists won’t leave enough space for others.