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Australian Street Artists That Will Make You Reconsider Your Feelings About Graffiti

Graffiti gets a bad wrap. It’s the same no matter where you are in the world. While some places may be more tolerant than others, the attitudes are often the same; graffiti is vandalism and street art is art.

But art is subjective. And with so many artists coming from graffiti backgrounds, is it really fair to separate them, raise one and shun the other?

On a recent podcast with Ling ID, we discussed how these early days writing on walls were a critical step toward the present. Today, Ling is commissioned to paint walls around the country. His style is recognisable for its creativity and painterly visual effect. Everyone loves his work. But would he be painting walls today if he had not started writing on walls all those years before?

This trend is repeated again and again. There are iconic tales (told by Scott Marsh on the Bench Talk podcast) in Australian graffiti and street art history of a house in Brisbane where Scott Marsh, Sofles, Guido Van Helton, Fintan Magee, Drapl, Treazy and others were once just a bunch of friends tagging trains and throwing up graffiti pieces. Today, all of these guys are street art icons, loved by kids, grandparents and everyone in between.

Why Graffiti Matters

Listen to stories of artists from graffiti backgrounds, and you will hear many similar stories. Getting out and writing with friends inspired them to develop their skills. The oneupmanship that goes on in graffiti circles fosters a development of the craft. When some writers are getting notoriety, it inspires others to do more.

Tom Gerrard developed his iconic heads because he felt like his throw-ups weren’t as good as the graffiti writers he was hanging out with. They became an instant craze. Drapl quit his trade because he got FOMO when his friends in that Brisbane house were going out to paint. And Ling was inspired to study design because of his love for writing graffiti.

Without graffiti, we would not have some of our most cherished street artists today. We like to think of graffiti as the free time for artists to explore, test, play, create, and blossom into their full potential.

On the flipside, graffiti is the introduction for many artists who may not have realised that art was something they could pursue. While a tonne of street artists, and graffiti writers, go to art school, a hell of a lot don’t, and graffiti provides the path for these individuals to realise their talent and be around others who inspire them to do something with it.

Whether you like the aesthetic or not, it has to be acknowledged that graffiti is an essential part of the street art scene. We would not have street art without it, and to judge it as other or less than is to completely misunderstand its crucial role in the street art movement that’s swept the world.

For a good book that explores the critical role of graffiti in the street art movement, check out Street Art by Simon Armstrong.

Otherwise, check out the following street artists and consider what a loss it would be if they did not find graffiti, and as a result, street art.

Ling

Drapl

Tom Gerrard

Dvate

Jordache

JESWRI

Askew

Mayonaize

Steve Cross

Scott Marsh

Fintan Magee

Guido Van Helten

Sofles

Smug

Chuck Mayfield

Byrd

Phibs

Elliott Routledge

As you can see, there is an absolute shit-tonne of talent coming out of the graffiti scene, and I’m certain that there are hundreds more that I’ve missed, just in Australia.

If anyone has been left out that you think needs a shout-out, give me a holler in the comments and I will work to rectify ✌️

Header photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash. Images of artists work are from either the artist’s website, my own, Meredith Tolliday, msk_melb, shazzcelestepix and streetartninja.

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