Graffiti has long dominated the mean streets of Los Angeles, but more recently, Hollywood has become a globally recognized hotbed for street art. There are only a certain amount of spots in any city, even one as big as LA, and the arrival of street art led to major fighting over spots and growing pains that needed to be worked out between the two genres.
For people outside the culture, graffiti and street art might appear to be one and the same. But even though they share the same space, people inside the community generally recognize clear distinctions between the two. By and large, graffiti is aerosol based and rooted in letters. Street art is everything other than that, with a strong concentration on wheat pasted posters as the most common street art medium.
When street art first arrived in LA, graffiti writers and street artists would battle back and forth capping each other regularly. The beef seemed deep and it wasn’t just about spots. The hatred between graffiti and street artists was personal. Graffiti writers felt that street artists were soft, and not true artists for just putting up posters. Meanwhile, a lot of street artists seemed to think that capping a piece of graffiti gives street placement some kind of legitimacy. Street artists were showing direct contempt for graffiti writers and poor understanding of the rules of the street, placing posters right over fill ins and burners.
But a big change seemed to happen in Spring 2011, around the same time as the arrival of MOCA’s ‘Art In The Streets’. The exhibition was the first large scale showing for graffiti and street art by a major museum. It was prestigious for the street movements as a whole, and the influence from the show seems to have reached all the way to the streets. At MOCA, graffiti writers and street artists shared walls next to one another. Obey was next to Retna who was next to Neck Face who was next to Swoon. Similarly, writers and street artists began sharing walls outdoors. There was a new shared sense of camaraderie, and it showed on the streets.
Ever since MOCA, for the most part, street artists and graffiti writers show a new respect for each other. Street artists seem to have a better understanding and respect for graffiti, and some, like Alec Monopoly, Teacher and Free Humanity, have incorporated elements of graffiti into their work. These artists will often place a poster, and then tag or splatter it right on the street so that the drips interact with the poster, and the environment. Meanwhile, graffiti writers appear to recognize the merits of street art and big name LA graffiti crews like RTH and Rotting Fresh are utilizing every method of getting up, including wheat paste and posters.
Sure, there are still instances of uneducated street artists placing posters over tags. And once in a while a graffiti writer will slice a poster for no apparent reason. But for the most part, there is a new sense of community between street artists and graffiti writers in Los Angeles. It doesn’t feel like street art vs. graffiti anymore. Now, there seems to be a feeling that both genres are on the same team, pushing for the same cause. Hopefully, street art and graffiti will continue actively engaging in and contributing to the biggest art movement that the world has ever seen. And the artists on the streets will continue taking things to the next level.
Gregory Linton is head editor at Melrose and Fairfax, whose motto is ‘A Celebration of Street Art in Los Angeles.’ Despite its local focus, Melrose and Fairfax has grown to be the top street art blog in the USA, and second in the world. Gregory has curated many successful art shows, and the LA Times has bestowed upon him the title of “Curator of LA’s Streets.” Gregory is also the lead singer of Bankrupt Slut, and writer of “Graffiti (Saved My Life).”