Style Wars

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In the dark arts: should graffiti be celebrated or exterminated? While many do not consider this “vandalism” to be a part of the beauty of Seville, graffiti artist Seleka is working to change the opinion.

Seleka is not a teen with a backpack full of spray paints, dubiously surveying the scene for empty space on buildings, but a prompt and responsible adult, with a beard to prove it. Sitting at Bar Manolo in Plaza de la Alfalfa, he is surrounded by graffiti, both commissioned and non-commissioned, like clues to a secret society where only a certain kind of talent belongs.

“I grew up in the neighborhood of San Carlos, in the northeast of Seville. There, we had the plazas and we had the wasteland. The plazas were protected but in the wasteland you could do as you pleased on the miles of walls surrounding the old Renfe railway buildings. There was even a hall of fame for graffiti,” Seleka says. “Then there comes a day, when, because the older kids in your school do it, or because you like how it looks, or for many reasons, you pick up an Edding marker or a spray can, and start trying.”

Seleka found his passion for graffiti in 1993, at the age of ten, but it took him two years to save up for the supplies to paint his first mural.

“I had miles and miles where I could put my name without bothering anyone, and without anyone bothering me,” he says.

Sometimes, he would even go to the north end of the train station at Santa Justa just to see the graffiti on the trains. “That was like watching a moving exhibition.”

However, it is exactly this kind of artistic experimentation that the City Council of Seville is attempting to remove. Seleka on the other hand has a very clear idea of the tradition on which his artistic expression is grounded.

“Graffiti is the type of painting that developed in the streets of New York and Philadelphia between the late 70’s and mid 80’s. Everything that came afterwards can be called many different things but it is not the same as the original. It merely has the essence. That period of time defined the style, and created the concept and the forms. The rest comes from repetition and evolution,” he says.

Graffiti culture in Spain, like in the rest of the world, has evolved from mere gang territory marking into a true art form, tagged only for the purpose of artistic recognition.

However, for Lipasam, Seville’s public cleaning and waste-disposal company, it is costly vandalism. With an annual budget of over 96 million euros, they employ 1,607 men and
women, who are responsible for cleaning over 1.077 kilometers of city streets. Part of their job
includes ridding the city of unwanted graffiti.

In order to encourage an orderly use of public spaces, they’ve organized in recent years an annual Urban Art Contest, where graffiti artists are invited to paint city structures, such as recycling bins. The people have responded positively.

“I like this idea of decorating the garbage containers of the city and other public spaces. I think that’s awesome,” says Elisa Blanco, a 22 year-old resident of the Casco Antiguo, the old part of Seville. However, she clarifies that for her there are different kind of graffiti.

“Of course I hate those stupid kids that think they’re such rebels, spraying their name on my front door,” she says. “I’m ok with graffiti as long as it is a good piece and it’s done in a place that is not messing with someone’s property.

”For Seleka, it’s a bit more complicated than that. “It depends on your intention. If you have a concept and a style, then you can make art by simply writing a phrase. When there is something incidental or random, you can also be creating art without knowing it. It all depends on the eyes of the beholder, just like contemporary art. An uninformed person cannot understand what you are doing or what you are thinking, and they may think your painting, or your graffiti art is ajoke. You could be doing the best mural in the world in the most desolate place, making agift for society, and a cop may come, and take you and give you a fine, because in their eyes,you were not doing any good. But maybe viagra alternative the neighbor comes out next, and loves what you gave to that broken-down area.”

So then, what is the difference between “take your money” written on the walls of a bank, and the painting of a cat on the front of someone’s home? It is this difference that Lipasam must find a way to judge, while remaining cautious of becoming overzealous. Elisa Blanco believes that well-done graffiti is an art.

“The ones near the river are so cool and really make a part of the city that was completely forgotten more interesting,” she says.

Graffiti is so prevalent in Seville that it contributes to create the background of the city, making it the artistic capital of the south of Spain.

There are ways, aside from contests, to display the work of graffiti artists without worrying about legal consequences, such as commissioned works. Many storeowners purposely commission popular graffiti artists to paint their storefront to deter inexperienced artists from tagging their property. Tagging refers to stylized signatures, logos, or nicknames. These tags can stand-alone or can be a signature on a piece, which use different colors, are bigger and may be an individual or collective work, as those next to the Plaza de Armas bus station. However, the social stigma and deviance associated with graffiti can oftentimes make even legal graffiti difficult.

“I personally have had arrests and I’ve had murals that I’ve been working on for a month when the police come and take me. I’ve even had city permits, and the police will come and take me; but as of now, knock on wood, I’ve never received a fine related to graffiti,” Seleka says.

But part of the subculture of graffiti is to be able to paint illegally. This is the way in which it was born in New York City, and the way many artists become addicted to their craft; the adrenaline rush.

So the question remains. How should this group of individuals be defined? They have been classified as artists, as well as members of a deviant subculture of vandals. Seleka resolves the question by defining himself.

“A direct translation would be graffiti writer, at least that’s the least pejorative way to say it, because graffiti has negative connotations. As artists, we seek a meaning that defines us better. For example, the history of graffiti includes simply writing your name, so we use the term grafitadores to describe what we are. We are graffiti writers.”