Many years before we had removed graffiti, we personally didn’t notice graffiti as an issue. I would have assumed it was a relatively sporadic occurrence that someone would have painted over. I didn’t notice it, but now that we have a company solely devoted to removing graffiti, I see it everywhere and the frequency doesn’t seem to slow down. Tagger names change, but the annual frequency is fairly consistent.
As we started our company I had many worries and made assumptions, such as graffiti will be a thing of the past once we remove the existing graffiti, painting over graffiti is probably an easy solution, taggers will get caught and they’ll stop, we’ll be removing some beautiful art, gangs will be angry if we remove their territorial graffiti, cities will have a solution to manage or end graffiti, and that everyone who has graffiti will be knocking down our door.
Were we ever surprised!
Graffiti is a subculture and most people who don’t want to be part of a subculture, aren’t. Graffiti is a way of life for serious taggers and that’s where the problems land. You probably don’t notice the small tags on bike racks, newspaper stands, streetlight poles, backs of street signs, back alley curbs, window frames, handrails, or garbage cans unless it’s done in a few colours and you can tell what it says or is suppose to be. Of course it would have to be in your direct path as well. Most tags cannot be read by the average person because of the custom font each tagger develops. The locations are selected for people to either see, or not to see. They seem to get as much satisfaction from writing their name on a back alley rooftop that nobody can see, so why do they do it? Isn’t the point of putting your name on something so that it can be seen? The issue with graffiti is that it’s not always meant for the public to see, but rather the other graffiti taggers within the area.
Other taggers will go to the same hidden places where there aren’t any street lights or cameras, so they see each others work and are fully aware of who else is tagging in the area. There almost seems to be a territory limit too, where there are a handful of taggers at any given time of the year, but rarely do we see hundreds of taggers, then no taggers at all. The door doesn’t seem to fully blow open, or slam shut either. This is a hard concept to understand because there isn’t a membership fee, anyone can do it, but over the past decade it’s held true that graffiti, in one form or another, will aways be a part of society.
Painting over the graffiti seemed like an obvious solution that would be easy to do. This is a common idea by many people, but removing graffiti can actually be easier and it’s much better for the building too. It’s a shame to see a beautiful brick or stone wall be painted because of graffiti. Once something has been painted, it would require a lot of work with a large price tag attached to it because latex paint is thicker than spray paint and it isn’t invincible to graffiti. The consistent colour it has now become is actually a larger target for future graffiti.
The real problem with painting is that people seldom paint the area correctly. I’m sure you’ve seen a close (but still not the same) colour matched painted square on a building before and knew that it was a graffiti coverup job. Well, so do the taggers. These squares are notorious for being frames that get hit with graffiti. Even if the exact same colour is painted over the graffiti, it can look like a different colour. Paint thickness could be an issue, but more often the original colour has faded from the suns UV light, so the same paint a year or 2 later can look darker. If this happens, then the whole wall could need a new paint job with the fresh paint, or you buy a newly matched colour of paint to match the lighter colour. Now removing the graffiti becomes less expensive and gives a better result.
Taggers, or graffiti writers as they like to be called, haven’t shown us that they care if they get caught. It has been rare that a frequent tagger has stopped once they’ve been arrested and charged. We’ve seen taggers waiting for court appearances and their names still popping up on buildings. The rules for catching them are rather difficult, so there is a high probability that they’ll get away with it, even if they’re seen doing it on camera. Remember, graffiti takes little time and happens at night by people who know that if they can’t be identified on camera they’re probably get away with it. The second issue is that the penalty for being caught isn’t 12+ months in jail. It’s often community service, so the risk/reward seems to be favouring the side of reward.
The graffiti removals we’ve done in the last 10 years haven’t been what I was expecting. When you think of graffiti, what do you picture? A piece of art behind a musician? A colourful mural? A political statement in bubble letters? I can think of 3 pieces of graffiti that made me think “this person has an artistic ability”, or “these are some thought provoking words that send a good message”. The other 99.99% of the graffiti we remove is a scribble that you could make look more artistic in 10 minutes with a pencil and paper. It’s often someone with a felt or spray can doing a repetitive fake name (tag). Look at our social media accounts and you’ll see that art does not have an automatic connection with graffiti.
Gang activities have a common (and for good reason) connection with graffiti, but the 80’s & 90’s are over and it’s a new scene today. As a company in a smaller city in Canada, we don’t see any gang connection with graffiti. Larger cities still have some, but not like it was. The hip hop scene has taken graffiti under their wings and made it one of the four pillars of their culture.
Municipalities encounter the majority of graffiti because they happen to be responsible for everything that isn’t privately owned. This would make most people think that they have the most to lose if they don’t solve their graffiti issues. But, as explained earlier, they’re always looking for someone new. It’s not the same person tagging 8 years later that they could end their problems with by catching. Someone new seems to fill the void once someone leaves town or grows out of the lifestyle. What we see as the most common, and best solution, is to battle it at their level. Like our Graffiti Shield Program (graffiti prevention program), many cities tackle graffiti the way that the taggers understand. On the streets. Graffiti removal is the best solution because recognition is what they’re looking for. Take that away and they have to look for something outside of graffiti. Chasing them down and taking them to court gives them more recognition or fame. It also doesn’t stop them from doing it. Cities try to catch up on graffiti removal, but it’s a task that has no end. You’ll never find all of the graffiti, even if you’re actively trying to find it all. From time to time we still find tags by taggers we know haven’t done anything new in 10 years. Fortunately our own line of graffiti removal products (Graffiti Syrup, Beaver Bite, and Vamoose) are all capable of removing old graffiti.
The last misconception we had about graffiti was that everyone who has graffiti will be calling us to remove their graffiti. As mentioned at the top, people don’t see most of the graffiti out there. Even if it’s within their view, it’s not seen as something abnormal because graffiti has been around since they were born. I wouldn’t think airplanes were abnormal, unless I was born in the 1800’s or earlier. What we grow up with is our normal, so we update people that their building has graffiti on it and often completely surprise them. Store fronts with graffiti are sometimes unconsciously ignored by building owners because graffiti is just “part of a city”. I don’t know how many people have taken my phone call and denied that they have graffiti until they walk out the front doors, while on the phone, and look at it themselves in disbelief. Removing graffiti prevents more graffiti and other forms of vandalism from showing up, so informing people of graffiti that is part of a territory battle for taggers (not gang related) can save people from multiple tags once it has been taken off and kept off.
There is always more to find out about graffiti, so we’ve started posting more information on the industry and how it might effect you, your city, or your business. Follow us on our social media and keep staying informed.