Every artform is, to me, sacred and worth respecting. Urban art is no different but let me explain, starting with how I discovered it in my city. I’ve lived in Tijuana all my life, but only around six years ago did I start to notice how the graffiti and dying murals that have always accesorized my city were changing, evolving might be a better word. Lines were sharper, colors were more varied and coordinated, faces, messages and other shapes began to appear on the walls, and so much more. This was more than likely a growth and maturity that I hadn’t really noticed at all until those moments, but when I did I began to capture it via photography because I noticed that after a couple of weeks the piece would be either painted over, graffitied on, scraped, or completely gone. I just had to make sure they coud live on somewhere.
Turning four this year, I began a tumblr blog where I uploaded all the pictures of urban/street art that I came upon in Tijuana: graffiti, murals, stickers, posters, and other unusual things. After I had exhausted all I could find during my usual routes to school, work and what-have-you, I began venturing the rest of the city I normally left abandoned to my imagination. I named these ventures “graffiti hunting”, and through this way I not only began to know my city better, but I was also finding better and more varied urban/street art. The blog as a success, growing in followers very fast and eventually getting the attention from the urban artists themselves. I took this opportunity to ask the artists: who were authors of what, where could I find more of their art, how long have they been doing this, would they do more? I learnt a lot about each individual’s personal drive to paint, stamp and graffiti in the streets instead of in the privacy of their home. I also learnt their opinions on other artists and the art-form they chose. Some of them even want to be kept in a completely different category from urban art. It’s a whole different movement and I still have plenty to learn.
So why do I do it? Why do I keep at it? What attracted me to the idea of Urban Art? For some time I had already been an admirer of the graffiti that can be found in other bigger cities like New York and London. I was fascinated with the wider, less controlled ways of expression that could be achieved in the streets instead of the canvas. The feelings, reason and messages behind all of the urban/street art seemed to me equally as valid and very much as real as anything that can be found in a museum, gallery or personal home. The only difference is that it’s done in the streets. Plus I hadn’t really seen anyone else keep a log on the goings on of urban/street art in Tijuana and I didn’t want it to go unnoticed, or worse disappear. Later on I discovered a couple of more blogs, and boy between them and me we have quite the collection.
The main appeal of urban art is that it’s done by creatively taking advantage of the space you chose. A wall, pipes, water hydrant, the street floor, an abandoned van, telephone booths, lamp-posts, doors, etc. This is not always done legally, true, but I consider this one of it’s defining factors. The main reason being that when asking for permission, paying to use the space or having it be commissioned by someone else can lead to creative restraints. I’ve known of cases where people ask permission in abandoned buildings to paint and they are given permission but with creative limits that range from the colors they are allowed to use to the subject matters they are forbidden to touch. When an artist of any other medium takes to their studio to create their only limit there is the materials they can afford. Even then some are willing to go broke in order to get what they need to achieve what they want. These are the perks of having (mostly) indoor art, or art that starts indoors and can end up outdoors (like sculptures).
So where do we draw the line between vandalism and art? Are no public or abandoned places exempt? Must owner or artist sacrifice their values to get anything done? Because of my personal philosophy that expression can be anything and take any shape or form, I’ve had a hard time myself differentiating between vandalism and actual art. I’ve applied certain rules to my blog to limit what I will and won’t upload, but that’s mostly to have some order. Beyond that I think separating art from vandalism has proven a hard task because this artform is still young. Sure, we’ve been drawing on walls since forever, but never in such a way that clashes with socially acceptable behaviour in open spaces. It’s also hard because we eventually come back to the age old question: what is art? Since other art forms are older, it’s easier for them to be considered art. We are used to their existence, we know the rules by which they are defined and we can accept when they do drastic and innovative things. In a few years, maybe more, the same will happen to urban art, it will be standardized and taught in classrooms. But I honestly hope it doesn’t.
P.S. All pictures are from my Tumblr blog: http://tijuana-urbana.tumblr.com/