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Watch this space for our weekly column about anything interesting on the S.A.art scene !!!

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by Andries Loots
Week 21

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graffiti ( graffito ) writing or drawing scribbled,   scratched,  or sprayed on a surface.

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Graffiti was a popular art form during the 70 an the 80's made famous by the teenage groups in the subways of New York. The South African roots of Graffiti can be traced back to our own Bushmen paintings in the various caves in South Africa.
Sometimes  these  " pieces "  ( from master pieces ), depict hidden messages  or political statements and comment on everyday issues. Most of the artists paint and work under nicknames as not to be  identified.
Trains, buildings, subways or any surface serve as canvas for the Graffiti artist where he can work undisturbed for a while. The artist's medium consists mainly of spray paints from spray cans as these can be used to cover a large area in a short period of time. The artists work under harsh and sometimes dangerous conditions to complete their pieces.  Graffiti is still seen as a crime especially because it is executed on public  or private property. The Artists work in pairs or groups and while the one is doing the work   the others are standing guard. Graffiti can also be described as aerosol art or wall art by anonymous street artists.

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One of the most famous  Graffiti artists was the late Jean Michael Basquiat
( 1960 - 88 ). He was   of Haitian and Puerto Rican parents and first started doing Graffiti on walls of buildings together with a friend.  He met the artist Andy Warhol,  who convinced him to continue his art on more conventional surfaces.    He also produced assemblages  out of junk from his surroundings. His collaboration with Warhol made him famous and his work became sought-after by influential critics and collectors. His African mask-like crayon drawings on unprimed canvas led to his huge success. Unfortunately he died from a heroine overdose at the age of 28.

The lowest form of Graffiti is where the writer makes use  of text in stead of pictures and here jokes and metaphors are sometimes used to convey the message. The finest examples are however of high quality. Some works are well planned in advance.

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The age old debate of whether this is art or a crime all depends on the viewer. Graffiti artists create pieces without knowing whether it will ever be seen by anybody or even how long it will survive before it is " destroyed " or cleaned up.  Cape Town recently staged the first   exhibition of Graffiti  in South Africa to honor these unknown artists.

All images used in this article were taken in and around Cape Town.  It is only lately in South Africa that trains became the target  for these adventurous artists. Works are done spontaneously without a commercial incentive and with no room  left to correct mistakes. The artists take a keen interest in their fellow graffiti artist's work and tries to create the ultimate masterpiece.

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The fact that lately some of the big airline companies have been using graffiti artists to decorate their planes maybe hint at that this artform is finally being recognized.

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all images vgallery : not to be reproduced without permission
international graffiti images
other graffiti links