Graffiti: “It’s pure freedom. Not the freedom we’re spoon-fed on TV.”

Graffiti from the OE crew found behind Rose Street
Graffiti from the OE crew found behind Rose Street

“I dont see graffiti writing going away” So says Elph, once known for his illegal graffiti, now better known for his legitimate artwork. With graffiti barely out of the news for decades, his words certainly ring true. But why?
According to Elph it’s because: “It evolves and changes and can’t be beaten… it’s pure freedom. Not the freedom we’re spoon-fed on TV.”
Nineteen year old Beks agrees. As well as being a graffiti artist he’s also a prolific tagger. Tags are the quickly scrawled signatures you can see on walls around the city, and while Beks has been charged with vandalism numerous times it hasn’t put him off. In fact the illegality is part of what turns him on.
“That’s the essence of graffiti,” he explains, “there never used to be legal spots, illegally it’s harder to do, there’s more effort put into it, it’s a challenge and it’s impressive that they’ve done it, and to such a high standard and with such style.”
It’s not just the challenge that keeps Beks painting however. “Everyone’s motive is basically the same. Probably just to be noticed, just to have fame, to have something to be good at.” He says.
Elph started when he was just twelve, and just like Beks he wanted to stand up and be counted. “Graffiti writing for me as a youngster was about existing,” he says, “like the kids from New York had done years before, in a world that doesn’t recognise you, writing your name on things helps you stand out.”
So, if graffiti comes out of kids being dissatisfied with society is them or society that should change?
For Councillor Marilyne McLaren, Convenor of education for children and families, it’s a little bit of both. She stresses the need for ‘preventative work’, working with youngsters to give them a purpose and prospects, but she also feels the kids themselves need to have more pride in their communities.
She says: “I think what these young people are saying is they don’t really care, so what.”
According to Officer Stevie Hughes, field intelligence officer for the British Transport Police, graffiti is a ‘perception offence’: “Because people associate graffiti with other things; group disorder, drug misuse, rightly or wrongly. The perception is guys with hoods, late at night, public safety, wee old women not wanting to go out at night.”
And he admits that it is sometimes not an incorrect assumption, that there can be a connection between graffiti and other forms of minor criminality: “We’re seeing them very much at the start of any criminality.” He says.
Elph didn’t get involved in any other crime while he was involved in illegal graffiti but from many others he knew did: “Two are dead and most of the others have spent time in prison.” He says.
Beks isn’t worried about that. He is currently waiting to be sentenced for shoplifting and has already broken his bail.