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What’s Up With The Graffiti Removal Day Fail

Whether you’ve following street artists or the local news, you will have undoubtedly seen much debate and commentary going on regarding Graffiti Removal Day.

In a nutshell, the graffiti community is pissed. And the reasons are many. If you follow mainstream media, you’re probably getting a confusing message on what those reasons are.

Let’s run through the events.

On the 8th of February, the Graffiti Removal Day crew held a media launch in front of a mural of Shane Fitzsimmons, who is the Head of Resilience NSW, and the previous Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. He is also an ambassador for Graffiti Removal Day.

In this media launch, the artist, Sid Tapia, made a few remarks that he undoubtedly wished he could breathe back in at the exact moments he was speaking them. He raised a traumatic story about how he almost lost his life doing graffiti when he was 13, to try and indicate that he is aligned to the graffiti scene. Then he went on to talk about how he is so fortunate to be able to now use his gifts to be able to “bless communities, rather than annoy and frustrate communities.”

Fair enough, right? He wouldn’t be the only one with those opinions, but the backlash really for Sid is that he benefits from the graffiti community. His long-dead connection to it gives him his credibility as a street artist.

Problem is, he essentially shat on the community that allowed him to have his #blessed life and perpetuated the tension already existing between graffiti and street art communities — implying that one is somehow better than the other, despite the oppressed one giving rise to the praised other.

The fact that this campaign is using “street art” to erase graffiti is in itself problematic. It’s coopting one and using the coopted version to eliminate the other. Which really ties into a topic we often discuss here, how safe art is killing street art.

To try and get a more informed perspective on the situation, we spoke to established Sydney graffiti artist, RJ Williams, over on the Street Art Unearthed podcast. You can listen to the full episode below, or read on for excerpts about Graffiti Removal Day and why exactly it’s got people so pissed.

It goes without saying that any comments by RJ and I are our own. We can’t and are not attempting to speak for an entire community.

I don’t speak for everyone, but from my best perspective, we were told by Sid Tapia, who painted Shane Fitzsimmons that he was painting it in honour of victims and volunteers of the bush fires. But Shane was not a victim. He was not a volunteer. He earns $500,000 a year.

Go to the graffiti removal day page and Shane Fitzsimmons is actually an advocate for that. There’s a little video of him. So what Sid was actually doing was sucking up to the guy who is the head of the graffiti removal movement. He wasn’t painting Shane because he was anything to do with the RFS. He was painting Shane because he was part of anti-graffiti day.

He insulted all of our intelligence by telling us the piece was honouring bushfire victims.

If that’s what it was really about, wouldn’t you have some child crying, or have that guy from Nelligen who told Scott Morrison to fuck off? Not only does he dance on the deaths of rural Australian’s but painting something in the city… If you’re going to paint something to pay tribute to rural Australia, wouldn’t you paint it in rural Australia for a start? Wouldn’t you take the money you got paid for that and donate it to rural Australia?

There are so many levels of what’s wrong with that.

The Artist

All he needs to do is have some humility and say “I fucked up. I’m so sorry I upset all of you because I care about you people because I consider myself part of your community beyond my branding and just saying I’m part of the community. I actually want to be a community member, and I want to apologise to the community I’ve upset..” It’s as simple as that. And he hasn’t done that.

Scott Morrisson’s government is a government of no responsibility. I know they hired Sid to be their fall guy. They’ve got round the clock security on that painting because they care about that painting — because it’s their painting. They don’t have round the clock security on any of Sid’s other paintings. They don’t care about Sid. He got used by them.

The Wall

Globally it doesn’t matter where you paint. If you turn up and the building owner has given you the spot, and you get there, and there is someone else’s stuff there, it is part of the culture, and always has been, you contact that person and say “Hey bro, there are tags on your piece. They’ve offered me five grand to paint the wall. Is that OK with you?” If they turn around and say “No, that’s not OK.” Then you turn around to the client and say “I’m not painting it. Sorry, bro. This dude’s a legend. It’s his spot. I’ve just let him know his piece has been damaged. He’s coming back to fix it. I’m out.” That’s global.

In graffiti, 100% it’s that way at all times. There’s a lot of commercial artists that seem to think they get to sidestep the courtesy because they’re getting paid money…

There are some real snakes in the grass coming through in Australia at the moment. This probably comes from our current political climate. We have a very dishonest, fake conservative right-wing government that pretend to be Christians when they’re really just dirty capitalists doing deals with their mates.

What Art Belongs on the Street

Not only is graffiti the oldest art form in the world, but it is also currently the greatest art movement since pop-art. Then you’ve got establishment people, like the Archibald vibes and portraiture dudes, saying “Oh, well if you can conform to our thing, then we can let you be the biggest” and it’s like “Well, no. Fuck you. We’re already the biggest, and it’s not about portraits. It’s letterform. It’s colours. It’s the art of not getting busted. The art of rebellion.”

Whether the establishment likes it or not, that is the biggest art movement of all time: the oldest and the biggest of our generation.

In the same way that record labels try to make hip hop into pop music, is how councils and grant givers try to make graffiti into muralism and try to make it portraiture. And that’s wrong.

Graffiti is meant to be whatever you want it to be. It has its own set of rules. You adhere to that. You adhere to the rules of your tribe, the culture. You don’t adhere to the expectations of a client or a government body.

Portraiture belongs to the Archibald Prize. It belongs in the gallery. It doesn’t really belong on the street. Advertising belongs on a billboard, or on the television. It doesn’t really belong in graffiti.

Impactful Portraiture vs Portraiture for Popularity

People who have done their dues on the streets, they get a pass, but you don’t get that from day one.

Faith and Bohie just did a great bush fire piece in Canberra. Portraits as a whole are not the problem. The problem is people who paint portraits for popularity. They’re painting that because they know that average Joe Nobody who has no gratitude for the whole thing will like it.

If you’re not pushing the envelope and speaking for the community at large, then just fuck off.



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