Get tagged: Athens graffitti bolsters self-expressionism

[Group project for a news writing class. By Alec Bojalad, Emily Willis, and Hanna Hafner]
Bentley Annex’s locally dubbed “graffiti wall” has been emblazoned with everything from marriage proposals to annual Greek life rush messages. Bare surfaces are constantly used as easels for suppressed thoughts on Ohio University’s campus.

“People shouldn’t paint anything white,” said Ohio University student Adam Mark, a sophomore studying art. “Fresh coats of white paint give any tagger an immediate thrill on sight. It makes any artist want to write all over it.”

While young taggers may grace every square inch of Athens with paint or Sharpie marker, they might develop a bit more appreciation for the craft upon taking a step back to understand the roots of graffiti.

Underground urban graffiti began in Philadelphia, Penn. during the mid to late 1960s. Two “writers,” aliases Cornbread and Cool Earl, wrote their names all over the city, gaining attention from local press.

No one is sure if the ensuing movement in New York City was deliberate or spontaneous, but the 1970s saw an upsurge of rebellious vandalism among youths. Kids thought they could achieve fame and recognition by “tagging” their names wherever their markers could touch public property.

Since then, graffiti has evolved, and those like Mark consider some versions of it a form of art.

“There’s vandalism, and then there’s graffiti, which is completely the opposite,” Mark said. “Vandalism is if somebody came over here with a spray can and tagged the f-bomb in bright blue letters all across the wall.”

Graffiti as Mark defines it is an image that contains a message, not empty vandalism. “There is some thrill to it, which is pretty cool, but there’s reasoning behind all of it,” Mark said.

A hierarchy exists in the graffiti world. “Kings” are experienced and “toys” are just beginners, creating one dimensional tags. Throughout the 1970s, tags became more stylish and ornate, all while increasing in size.

In response, New York law enforcement increased its anti-graffiti budget, heightening security by implementing policemen, barbed wire, and guard dogs during the late 1980s and beyond, forcing artists out of the subway and onto the likes of city walls and freight trains.

Some younger community members feel this negative stigma persists.

“I think it’s disappointing when older Athens residents don’t see the positivity in student expression, especially really creative demonstrations like graffiti,” said Sam Pittman, a junior studying mechanical engineering and native Athens resident.

Today that negativity has no place on West Mulberry Street’s corner block wall. “People who do it for the art are really disgusted by people who vandalize,” said Mark.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, Chapter 2909 specifically states that no person shall knowingly cause physical harm to property that is owned or possessed by another.

However, graffiti has sunk so deeply into today’s youth culture that it can be seen anywhere from the undersides of desks to stop signs on street corners.

Alternative media such as bathroom graffiti, chalk creations and pure unadulterated vandalism have also emerged throughout Athens campus. Students use graffiti for the purpose of promoting their organizations, upcoming events, or for the simple joy of seeing a mist emerge from the can and adorn the walls with swaths of brilliant color.

“I understand there are some places that just shouldn’t be graffitied on, but then again there’s a whole lot of things out here that could have a whole lot more character,” Mark said.

The West Mulberry Street graffiti wall is all that remains of Super Hall, which was torn down in 1976. According to a freelance article by alumnus Melody Sands for Ohio Today, the wall “has been used as a billboard and creative canvas ever since.”

Unfortunately, not all student organizations treat wall’s unspoken rules with equal respect. This fall quarter, a feud between Backdrop magazine and Humans vs. Zombies developed because they found it hard to share the wall.

“The Humans vs. Zombies organization came up after us and used our work to promote their event,” Will Cooper, Backdrop magazine’s editor in chief, said. “They perverted it.”

Joli Heeg, an HVZ participant, said the argument was a result of stubbornness on behalf of both parties. “Some people seemed slightly enraged, but most just seemed to think it was comical,” Heeg said.

Despite the conflict, Cooper believes the lack of regulation serves students well.

“If a school administrator had come that night and said, ‘You can’t do this. They had the wall first. This is breaking the rules,’ I would have loved it. But I think we’re better off not having any regulation,” Cooper said.

Check out the other forms of graffiti appearing around campus:

Bathroom graffiti: Censor yourself elsewhere, because the confines of a bathroom stall allow the most private and accessible version of graffiti. Peering into a loo in Ellis, Morton or Siegfried halls gives vast insight to the philosophical, pensive and often vulgar thoughts of university attendees.
Seen around campus: Some particularly contemplative moments on the john include:
“Show me someone with their feet on the ground and I’ll show you someone who can’t put
their pants on.”
“Snuggle while you still can.”

Chalk graffiti: While decidedly less permanent than its oil based counterpart, chalk illustrations, no longer confined to sidewalks, remind passerby of younger days while still remaining an outlet for expression and tool for informing the public of upcoming events.

Seen around campus
: LGBT’s (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center) promotions for the Lost Flamingo Company’s production of the Laramie Project, a play focusing on a year in Laramie, Wyoming following the 1998 beating of Matthew Shepard. And not to mention all of those lovely “I HeArT mY bIg!!” messages in which Greek life inductees profess their undiluted excitement at being a new Delta Delta Whatever. Congratulations, you truly have reached the pinnacle of social acceptance.

Vandalism: It’s what gives law abiding taggers a bad reputation. “There are definite rules involving the graffiti wall,” said Cooper.

Seen around campus:
An errant someone vandalized a sign on the Richland Avenue bridge that clearly stated, “No painting in this area. Violators subject to criminal prosecution.”


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