Part five of a series on Detroit’s graffiti: masterpieces
Over the past few weeks I wrote a series of entries on Detroit’s significant amount of colorful, eye-catching graffiti. In part one I gave an overview of where graffiti could be found and the environment in which it had been created. In part two, I highlighted unique, colorful caricatures and images I’ve come across while bicycling in Detroit. Highly stylized graffiti names using various letter styles was the theme for part three in the series. Part four was dedicated to street and political messages and the methods used to spread them across the city. Those mediums include stickers, simple one-color spray painted tags or detailed multi-color writings, all of which I’ve spotted while riding throughout Detroit.
This entry, the fifth and final of the series, is dedicated to the masterpiece; a large, multi-colored piece of wall art that many of us may think of when the word graffiti is spoken.
In the graffiti world, the masterpiece is a complex writing (painting) comprised of three or more colors that features intricate design elements such as flowing interlocking letters, arrows and other distinct decorative elements. Because of their wild style, these elegant, three-dimensional looking, multi-colored pieces are often difficult to read by non-graffiti artists. In many cases, the writer’s initials or other messages are often buried deep within the razor-sharp edges and crisp outlines of the design. Because of their size, range of colors and complicated design, creating a masterpiece can be labor-intensive and consume a considerable amount of time to produce.
As I soon discovered while bicycling in Detroit, there are many graffiti galleries (areas of high concentration) found along railroad tracks, on the sides and interiors of abandoned factories and within the Dequindre Cut that showcase the spectacular masterpieces. Although they’re out there, I’ve rarely seen them in hard-to-reach places such as flat surfaces near the rooftops of tall buildings because of the writer’s risk of being caught and the time needed to write such a large, intricate piece of graffiti art. Plus, it can be dangerous for a writer if the structure is unsound and deteriorated.
The masterpiece is hard to do illegally because of the time and effort it takes. Therefore, a well-done piece on a side of a warehouse will garner a lot of admiration from fellow writers for its creator. As graffiti has gained respect as a valid art form, masterpieces are now being commissioned. A good example of commissioned masterpieces can be found within the Dequindre Cut on Detroit’s east side. The greenway path (formerly an abandoned Grand Trunk Railroad line) is part of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and they have commissioned graffiti artists to create some of the mystifying pieces found in that below-street level path.
While looking at these and other pieces, I’m always amazed at what a writer can do with cans of spray paint.
This five-part series showcased a mere sampling of the many, many pieces of graffiti art I’ve found and photographed on my two-wheel travels across this great city. The graffiti art form has existed since ancient times and it’s obvious to me that it still remains a strong way for people to express themselves. Law enforcement officials and others would argue that graffiti is nothing more than vandalism. Graffiti writers would argue that graffiti is an art form, and many of them would say it’s no different from the thousands of commercial messages, logos, etc. we are exposed to on a daily basis.
“The people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl their giant slogans across buildings and buses, trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff. They expect to be able to shout their message in our face from every available surface, but you’re never allowed to answer back. Well, they started this fight, and the wall is the weapon of choice to hit them back.” – Graffiti artist Banksy
So is graffiti art or vandalism? I’d love your comments on this.