Graffiti and Urban Space

by Ilse Scheepers

Honours Thesis 2004 - University of Sydney (Australia)


1. Glossary
2. Introduction
3. Urban Space
4. Gender and Identity
5. Internet
6. Conclusion
7. Bibliography



Tag: stylised signature, done quickly and in many areas and on many surfaces. Throw up: an outline of a name, or a few letters, usually outlined in one colour and roughly filled in with another.

Piece: a full colour masterpiece, done over a significant amount of time and with a great deal of planning.

Panel: a piece painted onto the side of a train.


Solids: compressed oil paint sticks.

Textas: ink markers, often with a broad tip and often with ink mixed by writers themselves from various staining elements.

Cans: spray cans.

Caps, fat or skinny: the nozzle on the can that creates a thick or thin line of paint.


[to] bite: to copy or rip off another's style.

[to] bomb: to cover in graffiti, most often to cover with tags.

[to] buff: to clean off graffiti, using chemicals or by painting over.

[to] cap: to cross out or deface another writer's work a.k.a. to 'line out' or to 'cross out'.

[to] rack: to steal, usually paint.

the line: the train line.

the yard: a place where trains are housed over night or when not in use.

layup: see, yard.


Toy: a young, inexperience writer, also a dismissive insult insinuating another writer is inferior.

King: an experienced, dedicated and prolific writer, also referred to as 'king of the line'.

Writer: graffiti writer, also called a graffiti artist, but for the sake of neutrality in this study they will be referred to as 'writers' rather than 'artists'.


It is fitting to use the definition of 'graffiti' as provided by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language when examining the word's etymology. For it was in America that the modern day graffiti we are concerned with in this study originated. The word is derived form the Italian, 'graffio', a scratching or a scribbling, and according to the AHD, is "probably from Vulgar Latin 'graphire', to write with a stylus," from the Greek 'grapheion,' to write. (1) As the word's origin suggests, the action of writing or scratching letters onto a surface has been around for a very long time.

Writers and researchers of graffiti have both noted that, in the words of Sherri Cavan, "the impulse to make a mark on the environment is very ancient." (2) Pamela Dennant believes graffiti's history "can be dated back to prehistoric cave man wall drawings... [and] can be seen as a human 'need' for communication." (3) This reference to cave markings is repeated in the works of Killian Tobin and Kevin Element in their contributions to the Art Crimes website, an Internet resource dedicated to the discussion and presentation of graffiti theory and research.

Tobin's first declaratory statement in his article 'A Modern Perspective on Graffiti' is as follows: "For as long as people have been able to write, they have been writing on walls." (4) Similarly, Kevin Element's article opens with the statement that "Since the dawn of early man, public walls have been used as the prime surface of the creation and communication of ideas." (5)

The ancient (and supposedly 'natural') practice of writing on walls is discussed in depth by Cavan in her Ph.D. thesis of 1995. "People do not go to the ancient city of Pompeii and say 'Look at all that graffiti. This place is a mess,'" she states: "instead they view the copious graffiti on the walls of that place as a normal feature of the landscape." (6)

Similarly, the presence of graffiti has often increased, rather than decreased the value or importance of certain objects or places. As Cavan discusses, the Berlin Wall, covered on the west side with "ever changing graffiti" has a certain value ascribed to it simply for these marks. In the gift shop of the Nixon Library, she says, "visitors can buy... chunks of the wall. The pieces with graffiti are priced higher than the unembellished chunks." (7)

In this study the use of the term 'graffiti' applies to what Nancy Macdonald calls "street, 'hip hop' or subcultural graffiti" (8), those scrawled names and brightly coloured murals which work their way into the urban setting overnight, without permission and without a clear agenda. In describing the development of this form of graffiti in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tim Cresswell states:

This was not the political graffiti of Europe or the football-fan style of England. Neither was it the "John loves Lucy" school-ground variety. It was rarely obscene. This graffiti was all style. (9)

The type of graffiti being discussed in this study is one that has its own subculture, complete with rules, lingo and a social hierarchy; in other words, it has a strong internal organization and involves many people. This form of graffiti has distinct properties: it emerged in the late 1960s to early 1970s in New York and Philadelphia, was a-political and had no social or demonstrative purpose for outside consumption. It does not need to be understood by others, unlike the declaratory 'John loves Lucy' graffiti, and it does not have an agenda, like 'Eat vegan, stop cow's pain.' This type of graffiti is reflexive and deliberately obtuse, for both legal reasons and psychological reasons. To have a secret identity is to be free in a way, and free to express your self without condemnation from those around you. Although the general public criticises graffiti for contributing to the 'ugliness' of an area, graffiti writers as a rule do not write for the public as an audience. They write for themselves, and other writers, engaging in a dialogue with others who they may have never met, who inhabit the same city or visit the same areas.

New York is often seen as the ultimate metropolis: vast, densely populated and demographically extremely diverse, it has always been a place where contact with very different people is a given. Be it on the busy subway systems or in the street, residents from various classes, races and backgrounds have been in contact with and in sight of each other for centuries. The Progressive Era saw the city become even more polyglot and cosmopolitan as European immigrants began to flood into the city looking for better opportunities, work, and a new start. (10) This influx of new ideas, new cultures and new attitudes was to become the defining characteristic of the city in later decade, as it came to be seen as a place where any person, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, religious belief or proclivity could find a group of like-minded people.

But as the city entered the 1970s, times were tough on all residents: they may have been able to locate their kindred people, but the city was rapidly falling into disrepair and disorder around them. As Cresswell elucidates, "increasingly severe 'austerity measures' were imposed on the city, leading to a rapid and highly visible decline of its physical fabric." (11) Public services faced breakdown, and the people who relied on them-the poor-were left with a subway system that was close to collapse, cuts to public health and a lack of basic maintenance of city property and services. (12) It was against this backdrop of a struggling city that graffiti first made its appearance.

While different sources cite different writers as the 'first' graffitist of New York City, it is clear that his impact was felt and noticed by many people. Pamela Dennant claims that the start of graffiti in New York City can be traced back to the late 1960s, when a young man named Julio began to write his tag on the subway system. JULIO 204, as he called himself, was 'up' everywhere. The numerals at the end of his tag, 204, were apparently in reference to the street he lived on: 204th. (13) Soon after, in 1971, a young man by the name of Demitrius began to write his nickname and street number on as many surfaces as possible. TAKI 183, as he called himself, sparked the curiosity of the New York Times, who tracked him down and did an article on him and his habit. In the words of Tim Cresswell, "They presented him as a modern day folk hero-a colourful outlaw with an interesting hobby." (14) The artist as rebel, as a free agent operating outside the system: it had an undoubtable allure to it, particularly for the hundreds of youths who took up this past time and made it their own.

When graffiti first emerged in New York it was written by the poor and working class youths of densely populated urban neighbourhoods. Sarah Giller claims that it was "African-American and Puerto Rican youth" (15) that began to write on urban walls and surfaces, but this racial profile is not necessarily borne out by other studies and research in this area. Henry Chalfant, who made the seminal film "Style Wars" about the emergence of New York graffiti, says, "graffiti at that time was... inter-racial and inter-cultural... [It was] a whole cross section of New York's immigrant cultures... It crossed classes." (16) His comment is reinforced by the producer of the film, Tony Silver, who states, "...[knowing] the New York graffiti artists, ...a lot of them were white, a lot of them were upper-middle class Jewish and Italian kids..." (17).

This tends to disrupt notions that hip hop, and especially graffiti is made up of poor, marginalised groups of urban youth. Certainly black and Latino youth had a large presence in the subculture at its inception, but to claim they were the sole driving force behind graffiti is to reduce the practice to one dominated by class and race, when this is not the whole picture. In Australia, and in particularly Sydney, it is possible to find a whole cross section of social strata and racial groups in the graffiti subculture. Working class, middle class and upper class youth write; as do White, Arabian, Asian, Mediterranean and African descended youth. In fact, the more one investigates this subculture, the more it becomes clear that the traditional distinctions and stereotypes used to engage with subcultures and youth movements are inadequate.

The concept of subculture had its genesis in the study of sociology, and in particular, in the work done in the University of Chicago's Department of Sociology, the first of its kind to devote its attention to "a specific kind of urban micro-sociology" (18) which it became famous for. The 'Chicago School' was particularly focused on the interactions of people living in cities (19), where various races, classes and genders came into contact with each other. Indeed, it is with the urban situation that this study is primarily concerned.

Subsequent to the Chicago School's formulations of metropolitan interaction came The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University (CCCS), which based its approach in a Marxist methodology that emphasised the influence and impact of class. The main concern in their study was the working class, and in particular, working class youth. This approach to subcultural studies was not without its problems and detractors though. To privilege class as the main determining factor in why people behave in certain ways and how they relate to the rest of the world is to deny the functions and influences of many other factors. Research into graffiti (and hip hop) culture that has used this approach by and large concentrates on the 'fact' that members of these two groups are the poor, ethnic youth who find themselves disenfranchised and ignored in the urban setting. This approach has merit, but its fundamental claims about the primacy of class leave a central hollowness to the research, and can lead to dangerous assumptions of the subculture that may even selectively ignore other factors or contradictory information.

Such a rigid model of investigation ultimately hinders the researcher, whose main task is to interact and come to terms with their topic of study. When that topic is the actions and motivations of other people, to delimit this into terms of the structures of capitalism and their effects on the population creates a barren, dry view of the human intricacies involved in such a topic. Human behaviour cannot be adequately understood in only formal quantifiable and abstract categories. Ultimately, every individual carries their own motivation with them. It is constructed internally by the forces, ideas and influences they have come into contact with: not constructed externally by researchers whose goal is to find or create a common threads between people.

So if graffiti writers can be from any social class, and are not more heavily represented in one race or another, what is the unifying factor that draws this subculture together? It is a factor which has been neglected in the majority of studies in graffiti, and indeed, is only finding currency within historical and sociological practices fairly recently. It is the forgotten factor of space, and it is to urban space that the main thrust of this work will be directed: how it informs and challenges writers, why it engages them, and how it is explored and thought of by those who alter it to their own templates.

The rise of graffiti was informed as much, if not more, by the city and the urban environment as it was by issues of class and race. It is the purpose of this study to investigate the element of space, and what can be learned by using it as lens with which to view graffiti through. Once we look at this practice of marking public surface in this way, we can begin to see just how spatially determined and determining graffiti is. It is the city that has always influenced, frustrated and inspired graffiti artists; the metropolis is their canvas and their irritant. Many of the writers I spoke to, and a significant number included in other studies have all commented on the fact that graffiti seems to 'fit' the urban landscape. Researchers such as Richard Sennett have also discussed the human desire to communicate and leave an imprint on their surrounding environment; the city certainly provides bountiful surfaces and places to put up and experiment with style, identity and the construction of the self as a subcultural member.

Nancy Macdonald found in her research that it was the construction of identity that was operating to a large extent behind the scene of the practice of graffiti writing. In particular, she claims, it becomes "a way of building masculinity," (20) for despite having representatives from almost every race and class within the community, female participation is noticeably small.

Of the 29 writers Macdonald interviewed, only three were female. (21) Of the more notorious and well known writers in New York in the 1970s, there were only ever a handful of women. PINK, who featured in the film "Wild Style" is probably the most well known of these female writers, although there were definitely more out there, who simply dropped through the cracks and did not garner as much attention or notoriety. The fact that female participants in New York were seen as a novelty by many does not make it any easier to investigate their participation. In Sydney, Australia, female writers are similarly hard to locate. Probably the most prominent is SPICE, a mother of two, aged in her thirties, who has been writing since the very early days of the Hip Hop and graffiti scene in Sydney, which emerged between 1979 and 1984. As an old school writer, she is given a lot of respect and status within the community, but no longer takes the risks [both illegal and physical] of her early days, or those taken by up and coming writers of the early 21st century.

To generalise, most graffiti writers are young, male and, according to one Australian study, prone to depression and low self esteem, and indulge in risk taking behaviour such as serious drug use or suicidal ideation. (22) This paints a pretty bleak portrait of the graffiti writer: a young man who is unhappy, lonely and has little concern for his own safety or the consequences of his behaviour. It reads like a classic list of ingredients for any threatening subculture, but I would argue that there is a lot more to writers than this dismal portrayal. What young person in Australia at the current time has not experienced some risk taking behaviour, suicidal thought and/or indulged in antisocial behaviour? To take these manifestations of youth angst as indicators of the psychological background of writers seems to me to miss the big picture. As I will show, serious writers who are dedicated and learned in their craft have an incredibly deep understanding and interaction to the space they find themselves in, and are more likely to see themselves as artists than vandals or threatening figures in society. Indeed, as Adam Graycar states, it is not just male youth who write graffiti: "there is evidence that 'good' graffiti writers will continue with their activity into their 30s and 40s." (23) CAIB, a prominent writer based in Sydney who has traveled to Europe and America in his graffiti career is in his early thirties, and still tags and does pieces regularly. Similarly, DOER, who is 30 years old, is a prolific graffiti writer and artist involved in the production of video, computer generated, and painted art with a focus on urban space and disused places in cities. He has a young family and a university degree, and does not appear to fulfil expectations of an introverted youth with a lax attitude to public property.

There are inherent difficulties in studying this particular subculture. The illegality of graffiti means most writers are wary of how much they talk, and who to. There is a distinct scarcity of academic works on graffiti, which means the researcher has to display some ingenuity and flexibility when seeking out and using sources. What books and materials are available to researchers are often difficult to locate: it is a sad fact that books about graffiti are frequently stolen from libraries and bookshops by writers and fans.

There are many strata and divisions within the graffiti subculture, which need to be explained in order to reveal the complexity and distinction within the community that influences the way it operates. At the very bottom of the heap are 'toys', who can probably most accurately be described as the dilettantes and vandals of the subculture. They are most often unaware of the structure and rules developed by writers since the 1970s, and are most often the perpetrators of senseless acts of graffiti defacement: for example, writing on war memorials or churches, areas usually considered off limits by those who operate within the subculture's rules. To be called a toy when you see yourself as a reasonably proficient writer is a great insult, and it is the scrutiny of other writers that often motivates and stimulates the less experienced.

In the middle are those sometimes called 'season writers': people who only write for a year or two, and do not go much further beyond a handful of pieces. They probably comprise the majority of writers active at any one time, and are probably still in the stage of their 'career' where identity is still under construction, and skills and style are being developed. To designate a large swathe of writers as being the middle class in the subculture is no doubt contentious, but the fact remains that even if they have been writing for five years or more, if they do not take further steps outside the boundaries of the 'accepted' limits of graffiti, the chances are they are not seen as kings or innovators. "The majority of writers," says Graycar, "do it for a limited time of perhaps two or three years" (24).

Those at the very top are the 'style kings' of the city, who have not only been active for a long time, but also display the most innovative and integrated approaches to graffiti. They may, like CAIB, travel the globe doing graffiti, and are often accomplished in other artistic media as well as spray cans and textas. They are at the avant garde of the graffiti subculture, at a point where they may be moving further away from the word and letter based form of traditional graffiti, and towards the more abstract and disintegrated styles that might be compared with the work of the De Stijl artists, or the Suprematists from the early 20th Century. Writers like DOER have experimented with graffiti inspired works that do not use words or letters as their basis, pushing the boundaries of what would be considered from within the subculture to be graffiti at all. CAIB has said that he finds the work of artists such as Mondrian and his associates inspiring, and Sydney based writer SYTAK has utilised elements of Russian Constructivism in some of his pieces. To sum up, the most prolific and accomplished writers usually have an in depth knowledge of art and art history, and are fascinated by the possibilities offered by the spraycan and the public placement of their works. They are not mindless vandals, nor are they hot house flowers unable to connect with the greater art movement.

Sherri Cavan and other academics emphasise that the construction of graffiti as socially destructive form of deviance has been controlled by the motivations of the propertied classes, who define graffiti as "ugly, meaningless, dirty [and] destructive, and the wholesale eradication of graffiti... as a socially responsible act." (25) This is not to say that graffiti is just misunderstood, nor that it is always a valuable, viable form of social input. Graffiti does cost a great deal of taxpayers money to control and clean up. Dr. Adam Graycar, director of the Australian Institute of Criminology states that "It has been estimated that costs associated with graffiti removal in Australia are at least $300 million a year," $100 million of this being spent in New South Wales alone. (26) "In the eighteen months from mid 2001 to the end of 2002," he adds, "nine people either died or were seriously injured while writing graffiti on trains and other rail property in New South Wales alone." (27) This is a sobering statistic when we consider that these lives were lost or impaired due to the desire to create an image or an identity through what writers view as an artistic practice.

Finally, it is important to note that graffiti is often referred to as one of the 'four elements' of hip hop. In the words of Mick Jones, a Youth Worker with Wollongong Council, hip hop "is a street culture with elements that promote self expression and participation," these elements being as follows:

In the words of Mick Jones, "[this] culture is unique in that it is one of the few times in the western experience of culture that young men come together to make music, create poetry, dance and paint." (28) It is important to understand, however, that graffiti is an element that can stand alone: to be a writer, one does not necessarily have to be into hip hop music or culture. It is not a diminutive aspect of a larger culture but a separate form that was co-opted and packaged into the parcel of the four elements in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. This study is not concerned with the discussion or debates of hip hop culture and the so called 'hip hop nation'. To know in this instance that graffiti is most often associated with these other elements is enough: it is a performative practice in its own right, and does not need the other elements to support or mediate its emplacement in the world.

In writing this study I have used a wide range of sources. Interviews with writers conducted both by myself and other researchers have proved invaluable, as they give a direct, intimate insight into the beliefs, ideas and protocols of writers when they practice and conceptualise graffiti. Graffiti magazines and websites have also provided a great deal of background information: written and compiled by fans and writers, they are also another useful way to access the voices and concerns of writers themselves. Simply looking at graffiti on the streets is a source in itself-one that is often hard to decipher and contains information that many find difficult to access or comprehend. In this case, it helps to be conscious of the limits of what can be understood by just looking at graffiti and talking to writers. Sometimes, understandably, neither the writing or the writers themselves wish to reveal more than the minimum. In an illegal subculture that values secrecy and anonymity above all, it is difficult to access the many narratives and details that exist below the surface. By combining the words of writers themselves with the analysis of researchers and academics in the fields of sociology, cultural studies, history and ethnography, I believe a well balanced synthesis has been achieved.

In conceptualising and discussing graffiti, I intend to show that it is urban space that influences and instigates graffiti. It is the metropolis that writers comment upon, and from my investigation into this subculture, it is clear that almost any metropolis will sustain graffiti. As we enter an age heavily reliant and dependable on the digital communication networks that connect the globe, notions of space and place are questioned and reexamined for possible new meanings and uses. The internet provides a new space for graffiti to be written, and new ways of imagining that space. It is by unpacking and examining the influence of space on the bodies of writers that we can come to a new, crucial understanding of their practice and the significance of it. Graffiti has arisen in every major city in the world, and the very fact it has done so marks it as a valid and compelling subject of discussion.


The metropolis provokes and inspires. As Richard Sennett notes, it is "the exposure to difference, otherness, [and] frustration" (29) that stimulates the artist. It is not the purpose of this study to argue whether or not graffiti writers are artists or vandals. At the very least it can be said that they are often willingly both. It is the city and the influence of the urban on the body of the writer that is of most concern here.

The way graffiti writers travel through and interact with space is decidedly different from the ways in which non-writers do. They frequently seek out abandoned or derelict areas, search for dangerous and physically challenging spots in the city to leave their mark, and create living maps of their city through their travels. It is possible for another writer or a fan to determine the local writers of a particular area by looking at the walls, and to chart or map their individual trajectories on a series of single nights. Someone with the knowledge required to read and understand the signs and symbols of graffiti may be able to tell you that a certain writer has traced a clear route for blocks, ducking into doorways, waiting for breaks in traffic and looking for non-grimy surfaces to leave their mark.

By noting overnight changes to the surrounding environment, it is possible to follow a writer's path, and construct a rough idea of their movements through space. Here, they stood on a handy roadside milk crate to throw up a tag in bright red solid. Further down the road in this doorway they crouched down and left their signature in the corner of this metal door. And at the top of the hill, you can see where they left the main road and walked down an alley. Late at night, and by themselves, they took this route back to their suburb, dropping occasional tags as the surfaces presented themselves, but always ceasing their writing before coming into their own immediate neighbourhood. For it is not just writers and fans who can determine these paths and traces left by writers, but authorities and police as well.

The city plays a crucial role in the creation and proliferation of graffiti, for it is usually only in urban areas that one can find graffiti. It originated in the ultimate city, New York, and was transmitted through popular media to other cities around the globe. And yet, despite the far-flung reach of its methods and practice, graffiti is not a parochial phenomenon. It is based in cities, and practiced by those who live in them. While there are a few instances of graffiti making its presence felt in non-urban areas, the overwhelming majority of graffiti is found in cities and their immediate suburbs.

To begin an investigation of the significance and meaning of the city, let us start with Anne Graham's comment that "cities are the repositories of histories, memories and reveries." (30) In her formulation of the city and its significance in the daily lives of its inhabitants, Graham suggests that "as occupants we become part of the metaphorical body of the place," (31) a cell which makes up the whole, as it were. The metaphor of the city as body is an effective one: Donatella Mazzoleni explores the concept further in her article "The City and the Imaginary." She states, "architecture is nothing if not... an extension of the body... [and] a metaphor of the body... A replica-- and a double." (32)

If the city is a simulation or simulacra of the body, then, we can begin to look at its functioning and the language that surrounds it in a new light. In Mazzoleni's formulation, the city becomes "anthropomorphic" (33), the city becomes not just a body, but The Body, and like all bodies, it can be diseased, attacked and invaded by hostile pathogens. The reaction and language of many anti-graffiti commentators and policy makers posit graffiti in terms of a disease, a blight or a filth which coats the walls and eats into social values, property values and the well-being of a place.

"The space around us becomes gigantic," Mazzoleni says, "the body shrinks. To lose one's identity in the... crowd. These are metropolitan experiences." (34) To become a faceless drone in the urban environment is anathema to some, and it is in subcultures that we find the most aggressive displays of this. Some people, particularly young people, cannot stand the idea of blending in with the majority. They try to make themselves stand out in the crowd, while still being 'in place' in a particular group, or in the case of graffiti writers, a particular subculture.

Mike Crang's explication of the city as "an assemblage of different beats" (35) evokes a space that is awash with multiple rhythms, paths and voices, that is, the city as a "polyrhythmic ensemble." (36) As inhabitants (and visitors) interact with both each other and the city, the City as Body is animated: it is imbued with a particular character and attitude that is more than the sum of its parts. The bodies that move through the city and through time-space, in Crang's thesis, define the urban environment. (37) Just as the rhythms of 9-5 office workers define squares, plazas, food courts and shopping centres during lunch times, so the movement of graffiti writers can define spaces at other times. But it is vital to remember that unlike most bodies in the city, the body of the writer does not just pass through space: it imprints itself upon it, leaving a trace of identity marked upon the wall.

It is this residual trace of identity and presence that frightens so many: for if there was time and space to make such a mark, to perform such an act, perhaps the spaces 'normal' bodies in habit are not as secure after all. Perhaps they are less safe for normal bodies, and less able to be claimed and inhabited by the bodies of others. The name on the wall dominates the visual space, labeling it, possessing it, tagging it as owned, possessed, claimed by a phantom individual.

The inscribing of identity on the urban landscape by writers leads to confusion and fear among the non-writing population. At the most basic level, most tags and graffiti are unreadable, and therefore unable to be understood by the wider community. In societies where words and their meaning denote power and assist survival, being effectively illiterate when it comes to the markings on the walls of one's own city comes as a shock and an insult to many. There develops, as Tim Cresswell so eloquently puts it, "a deep fear of disorder in the landscape," (38) a threat to the established order and perhaps a symptom of a deepening decay.

As Cresswell goes on to state, the language which is used to describe graffiti is couched in terms of "garbage, pollution, obscenity, and epidemic, a disease, a blight, a form of violence, dangerous, and a product of the mad, the ghetto and the barbarian." (39) These terms are intrinsically linked with the ideas of place and space. "Dirt and obscenity... represent things out of order-in particular, out of place," (40) Cresswell states, and it is this fracturing of previously understood and supposedly universally accepted boundaries and norms that causes so much anger and fear in the general population. Doesn't everyone know that writing on the wall is something children and the crude do? Don't they understand it is illegal, dirty, and anti-social? The fact that these transgressive bodies who write on the walls exist, and that they seemingly have no concept of the inherent immorality of their actions leads to the conclusion, for many, that the city is sick, and the younger generation is destroying the world the older have tried and sacrificed so much to create.

"To use the term disease," Cresswell elucidates, "is to imply spatial transgressions and the possibility of spatial solutions" when it comes to graffiti. (41) The image of graffiti as a disease or pathogen also conjures up ideas of it being a foreign, rogue element in the city, one that is decidedly 'out of place'. To take Mazzoleni's metaphor of the city as a body, we might say that the graffiti which proliferates on our walls is like a cancer [and indeed has been described as such by many anti-graffiti activists], and it is this cancer that eats away at the well being and order of the city. The writers who negotiate their way through unused or unsafe areas of the city are the cancer cells which operate within the organism, causing damage and disorder as they attack the greater mass of the being they inhabit.

Perhaps this is why some graffiti opponents get so angered and livid at the actions of writers: it is not just that property is destroyed and housing prices are brought down, it is because there is a profound sense of civic irresponsibility evinced by the writer. They seem to have a lack of social investment. They destroy and create disorder for the pleasure it brings. Who would do such a thing, if not a madman? Mayor Lindsey, the Mayor of New York when the 'plague' of graffiti first developed, was quoted as saying that "the rash of graffiti madness was related to mental problems." (42)

We can see, then, through Cresswell's analysis of the language and images of anti graffiti spokespersons that graffiti is frequently linked with decay, devaluation and deviance. "The criminality of graffiti," he states, "unlike most crimes, lies in it being seen..." (43). It is for this very reason that New York, and Sydney, developed what might be deemed a zero tolerance policy for graffiti. Unlike Melbourne, for example, where graffiti flourishes on train lines and streets, Sydney has as strict 'buff' program where, once a piece of graffiti is reported, the State Rail Authority or local council undertake to remove it within 24 hours where possible. Train lines are regularly buffed with flat, brown paint, covering not only tags, but intricate pieces as well. In this regard Sydney is unusual as far as Australian cities go. Its extreme stance on graffiti was only bolstered by the 2000 Olympic Games and the massive city wide campaigns to remove all traces of disorder, be they graffiti, the homeless, or litter. If graffiti can be seen, it can be copied, and the egos and desires of writers can be activated and encouraged. If the graffiti done in public spaces can be removed immediately, there is no activation of the demands and desires of the graffiti subculture: where can they get their fame, respect, recognition and sense of power if their marks are swiftly eradicated?

When considering such a discourse of filth and destruction, it is important to review and examine the theories and rhetoric on the subject of the decline and destruction of the built environment. The most influential and appropriate theory in this area is known as the 'broken windows' theory. It was developed in the early 1980s by Wilson and Kelling who developed a hypothesis which outlined the causal relationship between disorder, fear and crime. (44) The theory states that once a window is broken in a building, and left unrepaired, it not only leads to the breaking of other windows, but it sends a signal to the community that no one cares enough about the area.

This perception of a rise in disorder leads to the alteration of people's behavior: they may start to avoid certain places, or even public spaces in general, due to their fear and their perception that the area is becoming dangerous. (45) The visual information of an area such as neglected buildings, litter, graffiti, and the presence of homeless people leads to an alteration in public perception to the safety and desirability of an area. Indeed, the presence of one or more of these factors is taken by many to indicate that the neighborhood is descending into chaos, a fear that has been present in urban societies almost as long as urban areas have existed.

In his work on hooligans, Geoffrey Pearson argues that supposedly contemporary ideas of a rise in crime and anti-social behavior are "a constant theme throughout modern... history" (46) and that these recurring themes are in fact a cloak for an age-old problem. In fact, as Pearson points out, there is no rise in crime or alteration in distressing acts. There is merely a nostalgia for an unrealistic 'golden age' where crime was almost nonexistent, love thy neighbour was practiced daily, and egalitarian communalism reigned. Many studies of graffiti, and graffiti writers themselves mention the fact that graffiti has always been present in society.

"Graffiti... [is] identified by the Government as contributing to anti-social behaviour by reducing environmental amenity and as a barrier to regeneration," (47) Scott Collins and Rebecca Cattermole state in their legal text on anti-social behaviour. In English law, the Environmental Protection Act is invoked when dealing with graffiti. The vandalism and marking of a surface on public view is seen as an affront to the built environment, one compared to littering. (48) This seems somewhat strange on closer examination: one act is based on carelessness and perhaps even apathy, the other is loaded with meaning and style. Litter could never be argued to be a form of self-expression or lay claim to having a subculture devoted to its perpetration.

Attitudes towards graffiti are linked to beliefs (be they accurate or not) that an area which is graffitied is an unsafe and dangerous area for the public to be in. In their work on anti-social behaviour in Britain, Collins and Cattermole state that "levels of concern about crime were highest in areas where 'physical disorder'... was common", and expand on this by mentioning a British crime survey of 1998, where there was said to be "a co-relation between the physical disorder (graffiti, vandalism and litter) in an area and the level of victimisation of burglary, vehicle theft and violence..." (49).

"There is a strong impression that society is on the verge of collapse and that anti-social behaviour is a new problem," (50) state Collins and Cattermole, and this assertion is borne out in the Australian context by a paper presented to the Graffiti and Disorder Conference held in Brisbane in August 2003. In their work with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to investigate spatio-temporal links between the presence of graffiti and the fear of crime, Bruce Doran and Brian Lees found that "visible signs of physical disorder" (51) created a reaction of fear and avoidance in the public. Graffiti, they concluded, was "one of the more visible signs of public disorder... [and] a relatively early stage of the broken windows cycle." (52) It may also be pertinent to note that there are certain subliminal fears at work here too: Doran and Lees found that "fear of crime is generally found to be higher after dark," and it is in the dark that most graffiti is done. Night and dark cloak identity and create many shadows to hide in, and to observe from. The unspoken fear here is that the body which performed these acts operates outside the limits and comfort zones of 'normal' people: their habitat is the dark and their creations are dangerous.

The graffiti writer's use of space can also encompass their comment about, or opinion of that surface. While some surfaces are easily accessible and take the marks of almost every writer who walks past them, there are other places, far more valued and sought after, which contain within them values attractive to writers and vital to the practice and performance of their art.

Most studies and discussion of graffiti that mention place do so in reference to private property, and the vandalism that is perpetrated upon it by writers. Similarly, a great deal of emphasis is placed on tags. Their ubiquity in the modern metropolis is hard to ignore, these scrawled names of unknowns that can instill fear or unease in those who cannot read, or do not understand it.

In this section, however, the focus will be more on pieces and throw ups, and the ways in which writers use space and location in their work.

Tags are relatively easy to do. They do not require much skill, and as they are the first step in a possible writing career, they are the most prolific forms of graffiti we see in everyday life. There are many, many young people who start tagging but never move beyond it. They may give up as their interest declines or they find another hobby, or they may lack the obsession of some, and find it does not fulfil them as it does others. Whatever the reasons, it is obvious from simply reading the names on the walls that there are a great number of people who tag. However, this does not necessarily make them writers. Quite a few of these people are merely moving through the subculture as a hobby, and do not take it seriously enough to do things like scale scaffolding at night, or enter train or stormwater tunnels to paint.

Those that do are markedly different from the prolific, but unskilled kids who just tag. It is important to understand that there is a distinction here, that there is a hierarchy in place. To say that any 13-year-old with a marker in his pocket who writes his name on a wall is a graffiti writer is not entirely true. They may be a writer in the making, a toy at the beginning of the long process of paying dues, developing style and interacting with other writers, but simply writing on the wall is not enough to be classed as a graffiti writer. It may have been enough in New York in the 1970s, as The Faith of Graffiti shows, but since then, the development and evolution of this subculture has been breathtaking.

One major change since the birth of graffiti has been the way space is used and viewed by writers. As a document of the early life and character of graffiti, The Faith of Graffiti is invaluable. It provides contemporary photographs of the way graffiti 'worked' in that time: how it looked, and importantly, where it was. For it was not only limited to trains and walls. Footpaths were daubed with paint, windows covered with names, and even vehicles were hit. It is not very often, if at all, that we see such a blanket covering of graffiti as it is depicted in Mailer, Kurlasnky and Naar's work. Writers will still do tags or throw ups on delivery trucks and the occasional bus, but writing on private citizens' cars is very unusual.

The reason for this change in space usage is simple: the authorities began to clean it off faster that it could be put up. The dreaded buff won that battle, and writers over the years have had to find more inventive or harder to access places to paint pieces they wish to endure more than a few days or months. Trains in Sydney are still hit, and the occasional panel still runs, but the speed and effectiveness with which graffiti can be removed precludes them as the prime ways to spread the word, and get the name known. Tags have always functioned as constant reinforcements that writers are still active, but with the development of the Internet and the growth of graffiti magazines, it is enough now to do a panel, take a photo, and walk away. The fact that the panel runs, that it even leaves the yards, is incidental, and in a way, a bonus. It is the photographic evidence that becomes most important in this case, and not the actual spotting of the work by another writer in another part of the city on the train it was done on.

STET, a Sydney writer who has been active since the late eighties, says, "When I started doing a lot of large pieces in the early nineties, the location wasn't so important... when we finished we'd take photos... and maybe send them off to a few graffiti magazines. We didn't care if nobody actually saw the pieces." (53) He contrasts this to "the first and second generation of Sydney writers," who he learned from. "They placed a lot of emphasis on the location," he says: "They believed a piece needed to be in a spot where other writers would see it... ideally in a hard and daring location." (54) As magazines and the Internet began to become more readily available, however, this impulse has tended to decline. This is not to say that writers don't still seek out the thrill and shock of dangerous and difficult to get to spots, but as STET says, "over time, the popular and traditional spots around the inner city became less sought after." (55)

So if there has been a shift in emphasis and approaches to space, where has graffiti moved to? The active writers interviewed by Janice Rahn on Canada, and those I have come into contact myself, have all shown a keen interest in the wasteland, the 'lurky place'-in the disused and decaying spaces and places that hide from sight in the city. The interest and affection towards these sort of places is not an innovation in itself, but the migration of graffiti further away from the public eye into areas like this does pose interesting questions about the ubiquity and appropriation of graffiti. It is now possible, for example, to buy Calvin Klein perfume with a special box designed by Futura 2000, a veteran writer from New York. Graffiti inspired clothing designs and even fonts and type faces have been developed, and are often used to create or reinforce some sense of 'street cred' or to invoke a gritty, urban feel. Graffiti has almost become a cliché if viewed through these manifestations. It is the requisite element to establish a sense of the urban, and the slightly chaotic in movies and television, and its association with hip hop has ensured that it will always be linked to rapping, breakdancing, and DJing, even though as practices and performances, they are very different. The packaging of the four elements of hip hop has meant that a product has been created, one that offers various creative aspects to try and to experiment with. You can have a skill and use it in this community, whether it is that you are a good dancer, that you can draw well, that you have a fine ear for music, or that you can construct clever wordplay: there are avenues to explore if you have one or more of these talents.

When interviewing several of the writes I met, they often mentioned that their actions 'just seemed like the thing to do', or 'just seemed to fit.' DOER, a Sydney writer of more than a decade states, "it just seemed like the obvious thing to do" (56) in the city, and this is backed up by another veteran of the graffiti scene in Sydney, CAIB: "...with the city, you know, it just fits..." he muses. (57)

So what is it about the city that makes graffiti seem so natural, and makes it 'just fit'? Richard Sennett opens his chapter, 'Making Exposed Things' with these words: "In a city that belongs to no one, people are constantly seeking to leave a trace of themselves..." (58). His explanation for the appeal of graffiti seems to be fairly straightforward: there are ostracized and disenfranchised groups within urban society, "slum kids" (59), as he deems them. Indeed, many of the first writers came form the ghettoes of New York, a city which, in the 1970s, was under extreme pressure and experiencing widespread difficulties and decay within, and of, 'the system'. Cresswell cites the Wall Street Journal's commentary on the situation: "basic city services... have been slashed to the point of breakdown... the streets are blanketed with garbage... the subway system is near collapse, plagued with aging equipment [and] vandalism..." (60) the city, it seems, was already in the midst of a decay process, the result of poor spending, fiscal mismanagement and bad policy. Graffiti, in this case, seems to be a symptom of this general urban malaise, not the cause, as it is so often painted to be.

But if Sennett is to be believed, and the city belongs to no one, then why the outrage and violence of reaction from residents and policy makers when no one's place is defaced? There is clearly some sort of identity and emotion attached to the city by inhabitants which makes them feel insulted and defaced when the walls are.

"They've messed up my property three times," says a property owned in The Faith of Graffiti, "if I catch them I'll break their arms with a lead pipe." (61) Robert Rosenblatt, a fierce critic of graffiti in its early years, says, "the artist is a sneak thief... his work attacks you... these names... are yelling at you in public places, where you wish to preserve your own name." (62) It is interesting that Rosenblatt sees the assertion and insertion of a writer's name into the urban landscape as somehow robbing him of his own name: for aren't we confronted just as often by advertising and branding as we are graffiti? As Jeremiah Luna asks, "... what's really the stain in our everyday lives?" (63) -- why do we 'accept' the tactics used by advertising companies, which have in recent years co-opted graffiti and graffiti strategies to help spread their word, when we have as little choice in the placement and prolifically of the ads as we do with tags? The answer Luna and many others come up with is simply that the capitalist state we live in determines whose name important: as long as Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Coca Cola pay, their advertising can reach into more places than graffiti ever will. It can enter into the very heart of a household via the television or radio, and capture people's attention in their most intimate setting: the home.

Devon D. Brewer's formulation of what lies behind the urge to graffiti is as follows: "fame, artistic expression, power and rebellion." (64) While this give an accurate portrayal of some of the influences and desires behind the practice of writing, it is not the whole story. Subsequent studies have moved away from Brewer's stance of the writer as a scientific subject, available to be studied and definable by set parameters, and have delved further into the psychology and intimate personality of writers and their common aspirations. It is not just fame they seek, it is "a strong self-concept," as Macdonald so elegantly puts it. In other words, it is their identity they are trying to find and create on the wall, and that is no minor aspect of life. To know one's self and to discover one's self are twin themes of much of human art, literature and behaviour. An identity-less person is a nobody, one with no history or future, who floats without connection to the space about them.

In conversation with DJ MYME, who is also a breakdancer and graffiti writer, he points out to me the dominance of urban visual space by letters. He directs my attention to a sign outside my window, and deconstructs it, telling me to look at the font used, the height and width of the letters, their colour, and their positioning. "Words are powerful," he explains, "and they're everywhere." The dominance of urban visual space by words, most often as advertisement, and the manipulation of these words through colour, font and so on is the other side of the coin as far as MYME is concerned. "What they're doing, is the same as what we do, only we do it for free..."

This conversation and the subsequent ideas raised by it allude to many of the issues at work behind graffiti. "So what's really the stain in our everyday lives?" (65) asks Jeremiah Luna. Graffiti, or advertising? By inscribing personal power and identity onto a space usually sold off piecemeal to others, a writer not only subverts concepts of private property, they unsettle ideas of the individual's place in an urban environment.

POET's claim that "locations or objects open to the public... come replete with a set of rules aimed to ensure public order" (66) gives an insight into the way writers approach public space. According to CAIB, writers "have no conscience" when it comes to reflecting on concepts of private property. If it can be seen, and is not highly personal to an individual, it can be hit is the basic maxim. SWOON reiterates this when he says "all space becomes public, open for the... flow of information and communication. (67)

There is not a great deal that writers would consider off limits in the urban environment. CAIB made sure I understood that there was a 'lore' operating within the graffiti community, but then admitted that this structure of do's and don'ts within the subculture was also a reason "why people are always trying to push... and break the rules." There are some writers who have personal sets of ethics when it comes to painting, and then there are those who are either disrespectful or unaware of the rules and commonly accepted laws that function within the community. For example, a writer posting on mentioned how incensed he was at the publicized actions of a few writers who tagged a war memorial. His complaint was that it gave all writers a bad name, when most specifically avoid places of worship and sacred places that hold significance for people on a deeper spiritual level. It might sound apologist to suggest that it is property and private ownership that writers are attacking, not the individual, but it was explained to me in the course of several interviews that there was a dominant capitalist society that was geared towards making money off the effort of others.

Graffiti is acceptable and was taken up by CAIB because, in his words, "it's free!" He has no compunction to adding his moniker to the walls and surfaces in the city: "...with advertising, you don't get asked permission by Coca-Cola to put their sign up in front of you." Luna posits a similar argument: "Couldn't we say that advertisements 'assault our eyes' that they are every bit as much, if not more, a part of this blight...?" In this reading, advertisements are seen as capitalist celebrationism, spreading across urban surfaces-"they engage us without consent and create need that can only be met through consumption," states Luna. (68)

From these intensely personal, 'in your face' words emplaced in the city, we now turn to an aspect of graffiti many are unaware of, be they researchers or members of the public. There appears to be a common element among graffiti writers world wide: they seek out specific places that are destroyed, derelict or secret. Seeking out places that are highly visible and dangerous to access is only one side of the coin. On its reverse are 'graffiti yards,' private, secret areas where writers go to paint uninterrupted and unobserved.

These graffiti yards are what Saul Bolivar refers to as "surplus spaces," areas where there is a "reduced presence of owners and caretakers." (69) They are, as Bolivar correctly states, "located behind or around structures," occupying neglected or ignored spaces such as abandoned factories, canals or disused tunnels. (70) PRIME, a well known writer based in Los Angeles, describes graffiti yards as "quiet places where kids can get away from society and be themselves and talk with their friends." (71) As Bolivar concludes, these sites are vital to writers, allowing them to "separate themselves temporarily from the... values placed upon them by wider society." (72) These yards, or 'halls of fame' as they are sometimes known, remain hidden unless they are sought out (73) by writers or the occasional indigent.

Such areas have been described by Stephen Willats, a British artist, as 'lurky places:' the "wastelands which remain in the interstices of the urban environment," (74) forgotten and unused by any commercial or private interest. They are effectively no man's lands: they have no function, and no inhabitants. They are merely the residue of the past, placeless places that are effectively ignored by most. Rahn makes reference to Reisner's comment about the resemblance of such places: "The atmosphere is secret, confining, subterranean and conspiratorial... in circumstances like these, a man is likely to assert himself graphically, a silent means of inscription." (75)

Such a place is the Redpath Complex, an abandoned sugar refinery in Montreal explored by Janice Rahn in her spatially driven investigation of graffiti. It was this specific place that inspired Rahn to change her awareness and interpretation of graffiti. "Within the decaying buildings, cartoon images flaked off damp walls to layer the sense of time and history..." she says, "this was an active, living site, although we never saw anyone around." (76) SWEP, a female writer familiar with this specific place tells Rahn, "there is really something magical about Redpath, and, well, all destroyed places like that." (77) Another female writer based in Montreal, SINGE, recalls one of the first graffiti works she saw:

I was visiting my grandmother... and I took the Amtrak train to New York. I remember passing all these burnt factories... they have broken windows and they're just decrepit and fading away but they're still there. The train went over one of these overpasses and I saw one of the support pillars. In big graf letters was scrawled 'urban decay'. I think that's how I always saw graffiti... I associated it with decay. The underground scene of inner city life intrigued me.

In my interaction with a Sydney writer, DOER, I found possibly the most spatially conscious (or spatially verbose) writer I have come across. He describes the attraction he feels to 'in-between spaces': "Places that were transgressive or... transitive... were of interest-such as abandoned warehouses..." (78). His personal story is fascinating in itself, and the amount of insight he has gained into his past and his actions completely destroys the 'graffiti writer as mindless vandal' myth. It is important to identify the qualities not only of the writer, but of their choice of space. In this regard, analysis and questions can be posed and thought of in the same way similar inquiries to 'real' artists would be framed. Choice of materials, method, inspiration and the tactile attraction to certain media: these are issues that can be applied equally to award winning artists and graffiti writers.

Ilse: what is it about the run down and abandoned areas that draw you to them?

DOER: I suppose [I like] transgressive sites in general for no other reason than they are lost and on the edge of being labeled useless. I think it also says a lot about my own experiences as a person... abandoned people, abandoned warehouses, it's funny I think that when my dad was abandoned by society for being schizophrenic that hurt him a lot... he always encouraged me to do graffiti.

Ilse: what kinds of surfaces and areas have you painted on or in? Any that have been particularly different or that strand out on your mind?

DOER: in 1993 I liked painting on surfaces that were multilayered. What I am trying to say is that a wall in an abandoned warehouse would have tiles torn at and partially uncovered concrete. Maybe someone had lit a fire so a mark would be left on the wall... [one spot] I liked... was where a wall had been knocked out, cut wires hung from the wall and I had my work going over what was once two areas now made as one. A more recent [favourite] was on a wall that had been jackhammered, the wall staccatos. Whoever was jackhammering it did a top job.

The fact these areas are abandoned and unused tends to reform and reshape time. Without caretakers or owners to paint over graffiti, essentially other writers determine when a piece or section of wall is 'ready' to be painted over. "When it gets old or when your peers or other artists get tired of looking at it, then something will be done over it.... The art object is not as sacred as the actual action and the actual movement over time," says GENE, a Canadian writer. The life span of a piece of graffiti is largely determined by its emplacement: if it is trackside, the chances are (in Sydney at least) that it will be buffed almost immediately. If it is in a graffiti yard, or an abandoned structure, the chances of it lasting for months are good. There is only one better kind of spot than the yard or the hall of fame for lasting graffiti: the type of place where no one has any reason to go, writers included. CAIB reminisced to me about a spot under a bridge in the middle of nowhere between Sydney and Canberra, an underpass which he had been to five years previous. His old piece was still there, untouched, and it was he himself who rolled the next layer of paint over it in preparation for the next.

Similarly, DJ MYME says, "I love going into tunnels and condemned buildings and under bridges, it's like a time capsule... there's sewers all underneath Sydney from the 1800s like the Tank Stream and stuff, where you've got all the old convict markings. Seeking out places like that is good fun, and its an adventure..." (79) when I ask about the concept of fame and the ability to be seen, MYME explains that with these spots, that is not the most important factor. There is always photographic evidence, he tells me, and this concept of the time capsule is appealing. STET tells me that on occasion he has gone underground with others to paint, "because we want the pieces to last a long time... those pieces are designed to be found in twenty or fifty years, hopefully a hundred." (80)


The graffiti subculture is overwhelmingly populated by males. There are females who paint, but they are a minority within the writing community. Nancy Macdonald makes the point that "the masculine heavy membership of most subcultures is not an easy feature to miss," (81) and it is to this gender disparity that we will now turn. Angela McRobbie was one of the few CCCS theorists to discuss the gender angle of subcultures in her work, and through her analysis of subcultures and their functions, she argued that, in Macdonald's words, "girls negotiate a different space from boys." (82) The use of this word space, by Macdonald is telling: since the graffiti subculture is so markedly defined and defining of space, we might consider that space as one that is unsuitable or even hostile to females.

While many studies have noted the gender disparity in the graffiti subculture, it is really only Macdonald who has tackled the issue head on. Citing the British Transport Police Records from January 1992-January 1994, she illustrates just how marginal female participation is: "The sex of graffiti offenders appears to be almost entirely male, only 0.67% of people arrested are female." (83) Naturally, there are some caveats when considering such a figure. Firstly, this statistic deals only with writers arrested, not writers who are active. Secondly, these figures are at least ten years old, and since their publication, it is feasible to expect that there has been a rise in female participation, just as there has been a rise in female presence on the hip hop culture in general. Of the 29 writers Nancy Macdonald interviewed, only three were female. Similarly, Janice Rahn included interviews with about twenty-five writers in Canada, and only managed to speak to four females. There is a female presence in this subculture, but it is small. I would argue that it is the kind of space graffiti operates and exists in that creates such a gender unbalance.

When asked why girls do not graffiti, the answers from male writers are consistent almost to the point of cliché: it is a dangerous past time that involves physical risks . As veteran female writer PINK states, "it's a dirty job, a dirty hard job." (84) Writers of both sexes participate in this construction of graffiti as both a dirty and physically demanding occupation. The inference here is that girls are not suited or comfortable with dirt and grime; nor are they physically strong enough or conscious enough of their own body to do the things males do. But is this necessarily so? As Macdonald points out, "graffiti places comparatively little emphasis upon physical skill, force or stamina... Writers... use courage and cunning as their primary credentials... [They] earn recognition and respect for their bravery and dexterity; mental representations of masculinity as opposed to physical ones. (85)

Here we see how male writers explain the absence of females in the graffiti subculture.

LEE: it's dangerous to go into yards and that. (86)

KILO: I dunno, it's a bit macho... would a girl sort of really want to be out in the freezing cold or whatever, like painting at night? (87)

SAE 6: it's a rough job, it's going into tunnels, it's fighting, it's carrying the axe, it's dangerous.

JEL: there's a lot of dangers and risks.

DRAX: I think it's attractive to boys because of the so called machoism with regard to risk and adventure.

So if a writer requires cunning and style to exist, there seems to be no reason for female non-participation. However, Macdonald make the point that in subcultures it is often the case that females are "excluded and relegated," (88) and the reason behind this, according to Macdonald, is the threat the female body poses to the construction of the male identity. "A girl who can do the same thing as a boy has the power to silence his masculine commentary", she says: a successful female in a male dominated practice effectively emasculates the men around her. (89) Just how she does this is not clear, but it is an attractive argument.

The spaces that graffiti occupies and seeks out can be considered to be dangerous for female bodies, who are not as strong or as fast as male bodies. Female bodies are not safe in places such as tunnels, canals, train lines or nighttime streets, we are told by writers, and by society in general. Is it because females have less physical strength and ability, because they are brought up to adorn rather than test the body? These gendered stereotypes hinder women's inclusion in the graffiti subculture: no matter how fast they are or how capable, they are still 'just a girl.' Another angle which we might look at the gender issues inherent in space is from the perspective that it is far less risky for a young male to be walking through a lane late at night by themselves than a female. She is far more likely to be at risk of sexual assault and rape than a male, simply because she is than much weaker and less able to defend herself from male intrusion. With female bodies, it seems, sex always enters the equation. Even if a female writer is proficient and capable of looking after herself, it is not at all unknown for male writers to discuss her sexual exploits or rumoured sexual behaviour as a way of controlling and dominating her. Macdonald is right when she says, "male writers tend to pay more attention to what the female writer does with her body than her spray can, that is, her sexual activities, rather than her subcultural ones." (90) This is not to say that all male writers dismiss females as nothing more than sexualised entities, but this characterisation is common.

Obviously, not every young male seeks out graffiti as their tool for male identity construction. But many do. And it is interesting to ponder what happens to the girls who engage in this practice. In asking writers, researchers such as Macdonald and Rahn have sifted out some of the internal gender discourse present in the subculture. When I ask CAIB, "Tell me where all the girls are?", he replies, "they just can't do it... they just don't have the knack." Really, I ask, do you think they are less capable of being writers? "There's not enough women for you to generalise," he concedes, "but I think a guy can survive better, they take more risks. Girls are more hesitant, cos it's dangerous." (91)

This may be another side to the construction of a male identity: it is a serious, and sometimes lethal game to play, and it is precisely this danger and risk that draws men to the task, and seemingly excludes women. Lady Pink, veteran New York writer explains to Macdonald, "most girls are raised to be little feminine things... they just don't have nearly as much guts to do such daring things..." (92). Sydney writer, breakdancer and DJ Myme has this to say on the topic of female participation: "it is an inherently male practice. Most girls I have met that do it... would have grown up as tomboys. They've got boisterous personalities." (93) This may shed some more light on the subject, for it is clear that in examining and dealing with gender concepts such as masculinity and femininity, there are vary degrees and interpretations of those words.

Macdonald is quite right when she identifies the 'two accounts' of graffiti explanations: "in one, we are told that... girls lack the ability to cope with the demands of this activity... in the other... we see that the male writer is more motivated than the female." (94) This is almost a direct correlation to CAIB's comment that it is women's multitasking skills that enable them to concentrate on more than one thing that also limits their ability to commit to graf. "In order to be good at graffiti, you have to do it all the time and devote all your time to it... most women who have a profile are young, and will only write for four or five years..."(95).

Female participation in this subculture seems, then, to be the exception to the rule. Their disruption of male space and identity has been discussed, and it now remains to clarify and investigate exactly what that masculine identity is. The graffiti subculture is primarily made up of young people, and young males in particular. The graffiti subculture provides rites of passage, tests to assess and assure the capability and achievements of the (young, male) writer.

Macdonald makes the point that, in the examination of subcultures, "little attention has been paid to [their]... youthful make up..." (96). She asks what interests and desires are met by the subculture for young people, and in asking this, proposes a cogent answer. It is the power of subcultural membership to infer or create a sense of identity for the individual, to mark them as belonging to a tribe or a group in the mass homogeneity of the adult, urban world. In the graffiti subculture, the identity is on the wall for all to see. Unlike many other groups, graffiti writers do not make their bodies the spectacle, as Goths, punks and ravers often do. It is the movement of their body through space, and the imprint it leaves behind that is the key here, and it is this imprint of identity that carries the most meaning and weight within the subculture and without. "The name is the faith of graffiti," (97) Cay 161 tells Norman Mailer in 1974, and it is the name, the word, the letter, which dominate the life of the graffiti writer. To have the power and ability to choose your own name, represent yourself as you wish, the ability to create fear or respect or even anger in others, just from your name, your word, is an addictive power indeed. "To become 'real'," Macdonald states, "the identities or reputations we develop need to be exposed to an audience." (98) This exposure is determined by a writers use and adoption of space. It is in their promotion of their tag that they start on the path of identity construction.

At the heart of graffiti writing is "comparison, competition and challenge" (99) between writers. It becomes and obsession, it is "compulsive" (100), it dominates the lives of writers. GANE, one of Sydney's oldest writers, comments that it has become "subconscious" to "put my head out the [train] window to see if there are any new pieces on the lines... [And] when I go to a movie I'll be scanning the background...for tags and throwups" (101).

AKIT, a female writer based in London confessed to Nancy Macdonald, "I love it, I dream about it... I'm totally obsessed with it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I swear it's on my mind all the time, all the time!" (102)

Macdonald describes the gains of writers as "symbolic capital" (103) -- they do not take risks for the sheer ego of it, although that is a large element to writing. To 'watch you name go by' is a kick, but to know others see it, recognize it, even respect it, is the real desire. Fame, respect and interest are often cited as the key motivators behind writing graffiti. Many writers state that they do not write for the public, but rather, for other writers. To get their name circulated like currency in this subculture, they have to get up as often as possible when they first start, and they have to develop style and ingenuity as they grow older. Macdonald likens this 'career' process to an initiation or rite of passage for young writers (almost always male) to grow into and beyond their chosen identity.

The graffiti subculture defines and is defined by space. The performative aspect of this naming ritual is vital. It is the public expression and transmission of the writer's identity that gives them their power and their thirst to continue to write. This communication is not usually intended to attract or be understood by the general public, however. It is communication between writers across the city, most of who may never have met.

When a new writer starts to build up a profile, they are noticed. Their name, their style and their connections are appraised by other writers, some of whom may decide the new kid on the block is a toy or an enemy by their affiliation with another crew, and begin to cross them out, or cap their pieces. For a graffiti writer, this can be a very deep insult. To cross another writer's name is to negate them and their claim to space, their identity, and their style. To cross another writer out is to incite a war on the wall, one that can be taken to a physical level if the disagreement progresses enough.

AKIT, a writer in London describes her reaction to being crossed out to Nancy Macdonald: "I was just like, 'Oh my god, fuck, oh no!'... [They're saying] 'You're shit, you're nothing.'" (104) When a writer's name has been crossed, it is not just another mark on the wall. It is a sign of not only extreme disrespect, but also an invitation to further conflict. "Retaliation is the normal response to getting one's name crossed out," Macdonald asserts, and often an escalating conflict ensues. Other writers may get involved and whole swathes of tags through out the streets, and pieces on the lines may be slashed through with a violent, destructive line. The response of writers in New York when this practice first began was captured in Chalfant and Silver's documentary 'Style Wars'. The culprit, a relatively unknown and isolated young writer called CAP began to cross out and write over other writer's pieces and work. His actions caused untold anger and fury within the graffiti community, which had until then [at least in the accounts offered to the historical memory], had been a relatively friendly community. There was competition, certainly, but assault? A writer in the 1970s in New York began what might be the greatest crime and worst blight associated with graffiti, at least for writers and empathetic observers. In Sydney at least, CAP's legacy has lived on: the verb, 'to cap' is used interchangeably with 'to cross out'. It is clear from the reactions of writers both then and now that this is a cardinal insult, and an aggressive shove towards further conflict.

Sennett links the construction of identity and the assertion of power by graffiti writers in his work The Conscience of the Eye. "Graffiti on a... street reflects [a] power relationship," he states, "The walls of the 'I' dominate... The graffitist repeats over and over his 'I'... he confirms his sign." (105) The power asserted in this scenario is similar to that of the power exerted over a relatively passive audience by advertising. There is no permission asked for or granted, and there is no choice but to "submit" to the names written on the walls, to use Sennett's word choice. It is his thesis that the repetition and inscription of the name by a writer on the wall "establishes an aggressive rather than an exploratory relation to the environment," (106) and it is to this interplay between imposing and exploring identity and space that we must examine in more detail.

The loss of identity in the city Mazzoleni describes could be described as even more severe for young people. With no real places to occupy of their own, they take to occupying public spaces, 'hanging around' in public, on the steps of movie theatres, town halls or benches. Their unmistakable presence is an irritant or a perceived threat to some: indeed, when reading Geoffrey Pearson's Hooligan, we are reminded that the 'menace' of teenagers and youths on the streets is not a new fear. The limbo many young people find themselves in as they begin to change and become more aware of themselves in the adult world is a frightening one. Their identities, it could be said, are not yet fully constructed, and they set about trying to create themselves with ardor.

"How many people can walk through a city and prove they were there? It's a sign I was here. My hand made this mark. I'm fucking alive!" (107) New York writer OMAR sums it up. I live, here is my mark, and here are the hands that made it. I am not subsumed in the mass. I have something to say and I am saying it. This is not the typical way a person chooses to construct or communicate their identity, and it is not often subtle. As Jeff Ferrell correctly identifies, "writers construct alternative systems of status and identity," (108) and in doing so, control their subculture by the rules and hierarchies they adopt. "This subculture is tightly regulated," says Macdonald. "It operates it own governing system and its own set of rules and guidelines." (109) Just like the writers' identity, these guidelines and rules are self-determined. "You can control your own destiny here, it's totally self propelled," says CLAW from New York. (110) To be in control of your movements and appearance in public space might be one of the secret human desires, and through graffiti, some manage to achieve this. "This allows me to choose my identity," says SEAZ, a Canadian writer interviewed by Janice Rahn. "I fully decide who I am with my own attitude." (111)

The nexus between power, identity and naming is clearly a strong one. The ability to assert power in a place where power is usually asserted by those with the money to buy space; the freedom to articulate a self chosen identity and the power of the letter to convey meaning in a way that does not seek the approval or sanction of those traditional power brokers and space owners. These are fundamental aspects to the desire to write, and are a key to understanding why so many do so. By naming themselves, writers can be anything they choose. Being such a male dominated subculture, the words chosen are often aggressive or meant to convey a message of masculinity. Some active Sydney writers' names attest to this: PUNCH, BOSS and SMACK are a few examples. The language used to describe the action of graffiti is also inherently aggressive. "Many tags are action verbs," Rahn states, "and much of the language is aggressive: getting up, tagging, bombing..." (112). Add to that the concepts of 'thrashing' a train interior or 'destroying' a wall and it is clear that the act and language of graffiti is predominantly about claiming and branding a space-forcing ownership on it and binding it to you.


Up to now we have been examining and conceptualising graffiti as a two dimensional phenomenon, in the form of stain on wall. We have seen the various ways graffiti interprets and influences urban space and the perceptions of public places in particular. But in recent years graffiti has left its mark in another kind of dimension, one which challenges the very notions of emplacement and context: cyberspace. The Internet is unlike any space we have grappled with as humans and as researchers. It is vast, chaotic and uncontrolled: it is a maze of information and entertainment of almost every sort, and in the western world at least, is readily available. In terms of graffiti, the advent of the Internet has meant that the works and methods of others in distant places can be accessed and assessed by others with ease. With this in mind, we must ask; does the Internet destroy a tangible sense of place, that factor which has been shown to be vital to the construction of graffiti and a graffiti subculture?

When discussing the Internet and its effect on graffiti, it is wise to keep in mind Edward Casey's formulation of the difficulties of the Internet and its relationship to place. On the one hand, it is responsible for "rendering the planet a 'global village' not in a positive sense but as a placeless place indeed." (113) On the other hand, "virtual coimplacement," where physically separate people interact in the 'same space' as others, can be a positive aspect of cyberspace, and according to Casey, "when life becomes sufficiently accelerated, we find ourselves more, not less, appreciative of the places we are so rapidly passing through." (114) It seems that there has been a renegotiation, or reconceptualisation of space (and, indeed, of place) with the Internet. It is at once no-where and every-where.

Research into the influence and significance of the Internet on the graffiti subculture is understandably limited. As a means of transmitting information and communication, the Internet has not been around long enough to accurately judge its impact or its influence. What is possible to gauge is the extent of graffiti's presence on the web, either in the form of images, discussion forums, or even academic writings and web sites. Pamela Dennant is quite correct in her assertion that "graffiti's move from the ghetto to just about everywhere has caused 'splinters.'" (115) Many writers are dissatisfied with the fact that graffiti has moved from its free, underground origins to a commodity used to create a sense of cool about a product or a service. REAS says to Dennant, "graf is marketed now. I don't know if it's right or wrong. I just know it's different." (116) GANE, a prominent Sydney based writer says, "with the Internet, I think graf has lost some of the liveliness and rawness that it had." (117)

It is clear that the Internet has created a change in the use and perception of graffiti. It is no longer on trains and streets. It has moved into a virtual space as well, where the mouse and manipulation of pixels can become a substitute for the spray can and marker. (118) There are websites such as that allow the viewer to 'paint' trucks, trains, and factory walls, among other surfaces. Users can choose their surface, colours, nozzles and once they have completed their work, they can add it to the gallery for others to see and rate it. While this may sound the same as the actions performed by writers in the 'real' world, we must consider what is missing from this experience. The sensual aspect of writing is absent: there is no rush of adrenaline, as the body of the writer is not engaging in illegal or physical writing. Most likely they are sitting at home or work, in a surrounding space that is safe and controlled by the writer themselves. There is no risk here, of injury or arrest; this is a simulacrum rather than a reality. The surfaces one can paint on and the colours one can choose are all based in reality, as are the sounds emitted as the mouse is dragged over the 'wall'. The familiar hiss of the spraycan nozzle has been added for effect. But this is not real, it is no-place. It has retained and referenced space in order to construct a believable setting, but that is as far as it can go. There is no sense of the movement of the body through space: there is only the hand and wrist action of the manipulation of the mouse. Can we say, then, that this virtual graffiti has effectively neutralised space as anything more than a framing device? That the illusion, and allusion to 'real' places is only there to frame the activity, not to define it?

As with graffiti, the Internet effectively allows a person to renegotiate and reconfigure their identity: the flow of pixels and keystrokes across a network is controlled just as a spraycan is, with the intent of the user. If the writer or Internet user does not wish to be identified or seen as belonging to a particular group, sex or belief, they have the choice of complete self-representation. Just as the writing on the wall is a finished product that hides the identity of the writer, so the post on the Internet message board cloaks the reality of the body behind it. In these two scenarios, we can only be sure of the writer's identity and physical make up if we are present ourselves while they create the piece or post. We have to be physically in close proximity, observing them, to be able to know who and what they are. In this case, we can see how writers and internet users leave behind residue and traces of themselves and their identity: their physical reality is not the determining factor in this case, it is the result of their movement through space (be it three dimensional or cyberspace) that is the key.

Nancy Macdonald correctly identifies the possibilities of further research into graffiti as it is represented [and has infiltrated] the Internet. Both the graffiti subculture and the Internet allow the adoption of new, modified, or enhanced identities. Add to this the fact that both graffitists and active internet users [such as the posting in forums and chatrooms] feel the need to cloak their 'real' hard copy identities, it becomes a situation where reality is actively disrupted and confused by people who desire anonymity and recognition on their own terms. As Macdonald states, new technological developments have "enhanced writers' abilities to network and interact with other writers in other 'scenes' and countries..." (119)

The ease and availability of internet access does raise some interesting questions about the argument that graffiti is primarily local-where as the early writers on subway trains in New York identified themselves by or with their location within the city, and attempted to transcend their own physical boundaries by striving to become 'all city', can we now argue that a writer can become all city, all country and all world due to the globally accessible nature of their work? This is not a clear area: while graffiti writers have often taken tours to other states and countries, and left their mark on these foreign cities, there as yet is no real virtual equivalent of public transport or public space that graffiti writers can leave their mark on. To find graffiti on the Internet, one must look, whereas in reality, no matter where we look in most cities, there is a graffiti presence without our invitation. Possibly the closest the Internet has come to such an 'all world' presence on public access sites is through the actions of hackers, a distinct [but not always exclusive] subculture in itself. The motives of hackers may share something in common with graffiti writers though: the drive to alter the environment through unauthorised interaction with areas deemed autonomous.


Graffiti writers define and create their own identities through the inscription and the repetition of their chosen word. They move through space, continually reinforcing their claim and comment upon it. These spaces are urban, dominated by walls owned by others. The names and brands of companies are slathered across the urban environment in order to produce a positive reaction in the viewer: to buy the product or support the cause being advertised. Graffiti, on the other hand, does not ask for a reaction from the general public. It is by and for a subcultural minority within the city, and its meanings and purpose are deliberately obfuscated, both because writers face serious legal ramifications for their activity, and because the manipulation and re-presentation of the identity is so important to writers.

The graffiti subculture defines and is defined by urban space. It is the structure and format of the city that provides the inspiration and surfaces for the display that writers engage in on an almost daily basis. When examining the city as a receptacle and inspiration for art and expression, we must understand that it is equally the physical presence of the tall buildings, the forgotten alleys and the blank walls and the psychological impact these sights have which drives the desire to leave a personal imprint or mark. The feeling of being overwhelmed or nameless in the city, of being lost in the mass, and having another's name or brand thrust upon you: these are some of the contributing factors to the writing of graffiti. It is this influence of the city on the creation of graffiti that has been overlooked or downplayed in studies up to this point. In an examination of the primacy and influence of space, it can be said that all other influences flow from this factor.

The creation of an identity through graffiti is one that is negotiated in space, one that must be placed in space to have meaning and to communicate to others. By using public space to convey a private or clandestine meaning, graffiti writers disrupt notions of the openness and visibility of public areas by inscribing what are essentially secrets and hidden messages onto surfaces that are seen by more than just the intended recipients of those messages. To display an intensely private side of the self in the city-to have one's business in the street is usually a stigmatised, unpleasant occurrence. Humans are gregarious creatures, but when interacting with masses of others it is not unusual for them to cloak their thoughts and selves behind a publicly acceptable façade. Graffiti writers do not hide their opinions or their passions: they inscribe them on the walls, in a display of power and bravery. The simultaneous concealing and revealing of the self-enacted by writers is fascinating: on the one hand, they tell all who care to look, I WAS HERE, and at the same time they place a solid barrier between the 'I' and the spectator. The message the writer hopes to convey is one of prowess, and spatial claim. They do not display their true self; rather, they create and manage an identity they wish to be known by. A writer will not inscribe their insecurities or weakness on the space they move through: they mark their security and strength through the claiming and possession of that space.

These notions of power, possession and prowess can all be seen to be inherently male displays. When we talk about the construction of identity through the practice of graffiti we are talking about the creation of a decidedly masculine identity. It is the act of writing, the illegality and the risk involved, that confirms a writer's fortitude both to themselves and other writers. They write on walls, and prove to themselves and to other writers that by doing so, they are men, brave, strong and cunning, in control and out of reach of authority.

When females enter this subculture they face extreme difficulty. They unsettle notions of graffiti writer as brave man, because by their sex, they are not men, and yet, are still as brave and able as men when it comes to writing. Subcultures are predominantly male, and are most often concerned with the construction and maintenance of a male identity: one that can be communicated through the body and in the space of the city without difficulty. Whether this communication is through writing on walls or wearing studded leather jackets, visual clues and markers are provided to inform onlookers of the power of the image.

When approaching a subject such as graffiti we must be diligent as researchers and academics not to glorify, nor to judge. To merely praise this subculture for its creativity and its ability to give those who participate a sense of identity and meaning within the nameless metropolis is to ignore the enormous cost of this activity. It is not just in terms of taxpayer dollars that it is burdensome: it can also be a physically dangerous activity. In the same issue of Australia's Stealth magazine that featured an anniversary of the documentary 'Style Wars', was an obituary for a 16 year old Sydney writer called BINGO. He was, in the words of LIKAH, a fellow writer, "a king before he even reached the top:" (120) high praise indeed. While only a fraction of writers are ever killed or injured in the process of painting, the reminders of the danger are always there. When walking the streets and reading the graffiti texts on the wall, you might notice a name and the letters "R.I.P". This is one way the community mourns the death of its members: publicly, like so much of their other processes, and sadly enough it is sometimes the first way a member or sympathiser in the community will heard of the demise of another.

This ability of graffiti to extend a communicatory network throughout the city is breathtaking. By using words on walls and word of mouth, the community is kept informed (sometimes too informed) of the activities and situations of other writers. As STET neatly puts it, "gossiping and lack of privacy" are inherent in small communities like this. (121) There are countless instances where, as CAIB explained, people have become angry or ready to fight after being on the receiving end of hearsay. "Any problem I've ever had, was because someone said I said something," (122) he tells me. This is not always a calm and open community. There have been great cross out wars and physical fights between writers over the decades that Sydney has been a graffiti city. Perhaps it is easiest to understand this when we look at a comment of DJ MYME's: "it's a male sort of culture, it's a territorial marking. Female dogs don't go round pissing to mark their space, but male dogs do." (123) This is about communicating one's territory as well as one's identity.

The graffiti subculture is primarily made up of young men. Like most subcultures it has female participants but they are in the distinct minority. Macdonald identifies this gender imbalance when she says "an overwhelming number of subcultures appear to be dominated by men." (124) The graffiti community and outsiders construct a version of the subculture where the reason for this unbalance is the physical danger inherent in the act of writing graffiti: moving trains, condemned buildings and dark streets are not safe for the so-called 'weaker sex.' The argument becomes that females, who are generally physically weaker and slower than men, become not just a liability but an abnormality in the production of graffiti.

But physical incapability is not necessarily the only reason why more females do not get involved. The concept of a rite of passage is rarely if ever invoked in discussions about how girls grow up and mature. Perhaps this is why the graffiti subculture does not interest them as much: they do not construct their identity through a process of attempts and failure to 'be' a woman. It could be said that a girl becomes a woman as soon as she starts menstruating, something which is entirely beyond her control. Men, however, do not experience this sudden drastic change in their gender status: there is no moment for boys when culturally, socially or biologically, they 'become' a man.

Writers choose their own identities and build them through repetition of their name. It is not unusual for a writer to choose a word that evokes a sense of power or strength, and as such, the identity being communicated rests in the word itself, not the sex of the body that writes it. Female writers can, if they choose, use a feminine word to describe themselves, for example PINK; however, some choose to use a word that does not have gender associated with it, for example, AKIT or SINGE.

The ability to choose an identity is a common factor in both the graffiti and Internet communities. The ability to cloak identity on the Internet is assisted and even encouraged by the lack of space. A writer doing a virtual panel on a virtual train at does not need to hide in the dark from authorities, their freedom is enhanced by this lack of space, because it does not restrain them the way it does in the physical world. The intimacy and sensual interaction between the writer's body and space is absent from cyberspace, and it is this lack of interaction that problematises the Internet and its categorisation as a definable space, rather than Casey's formulation of it as "a placeless place" (125).

I would suggest that without space, graffiti becomes meaningless. This is why sites that do provide a virtual graffiti service still have to frame the creation of that graffiti within terms and objects from the real world, such as representations of trains, walls and trucks. These are the surfaces that are written on in the real world, and it seems that as yet it is impossible to understand and create graffiti without this urban setting, however simulated it is. The city still dominates and informs the practice of graffiti, even when we are moving through cyberspace rather than physical space.

The overwhelming majority of writers I have spoken to, and those voices that come to us through other texts on this subject describe the rush of adrenaline synonymous with getting up. The charge one gets off deliberately breaking rules, the physical stamina and bravery needed to go out to places such as train lines in the middle of the night simply to paint is enormous. Writing is a fundamentally sensual experience. It is the act of putting one's name up on the wall, illegally, which gives a writer the rush they love. This passion is evoked by the smell of the paint or the markers, the sounds of the traffic or trains, the coolness of the night air as a writer puts up.

Graffiti is a complex and difficult subject to investigate. It is perpetrated by people who must hide their identity for legal reasons. It is an illegal subculture, and despite the growth in acceptance by some councils and youth organisations, the graffiti world remains hidden from all but the most intrepid and trustworthy investigators. As Hebdige states, and Macdonald reiterates, it 'hides in the light': the efforts and works of writers are visible to the public, but the artists themselves are not.

Space is, without question, the inspiration and obsession behind the graffiti subculture. Issues of identity, the construction of the male self, and the flow of communication between writers are all spatially based and determined. It is the city's magnitude that creates the desire to stand out in the crowd; to claim part of the environment we exist in. identity is constructed on the walls of the city by writers in ways most members of the public are inured to. Taking physical risks and displaying cunning, even cheek, when writing displays the prowess and bravery of the usually male writer. A masculine sense of identity is formed through the physical actions of the writer: the way they interact with space and how stylishly they do so gains respect, attention and a reputation. The opinions and comments of other writers are transmitted across the walls: capping or lining out a piece or a tag is a clear symbol of disrespect and dislike from a fellow writer. The hierarchy of the subculture and both the on and off wall commentary of others lets a writer know where they stand, and where they can be if they work hard. The words on the street are powerful and full of meaning for those who write them, and yet this stream of information means almost nothing to outsiders. Where a writer may see the names of friends, enemies or legends, a member of the public sees scrawl and disorder. Where a writer sees the micro-movements between affiliations, news of another's demise or simply a new way of manipulating a particular letter, a passer by sees nothing more than destruction and disrespect. And yet, graffiti remains, even flourishes. It constructs the city as much as bricks and mortar; it sneaks into the periphery and challenges the hegemonical order. It is hard to imagine a city without graffiti.


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'Style Wars' (1985), Henry Chalfant & Tony Silver.

'Wild Style' (1983), Charlie Ahearn.


Stealth Magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 5, No. 8

Stealth Magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 6, No. 9


Art Crimes;

Graffiti and Disorder Conference convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology;


Vandal Squad;



1 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin, Fourth Edition, 2000

2 Sherri Cavan, 'The Great Graffiti Wars of the Late 20th Century',, Department of Sociology, San Francisco State University, 1995, p 5

3 Pamela Dennant, 'Urban Expression...Urban Assault...Urban Wildstyle...New York City Graffiti',, Thames University, London, 1997, p 1

4 Killian Tobin, 'A Modern Perspective on Graffiti,' 1995, at, p 1

5 Kevin Element, 'A Hard Hitting Modern Perspective on Hip Hop Graffiti,' 1996, at, p 1

6 Cavan, op. cit., p 4

7 ibid., p 4

8 Nancy Macdonald, The Graffiti Subculture: Youth, Masculinity and Identity in London and New York, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2001, p 2

9 Tim Cresswell, , In Place/Out of Place: Geography, Ideology and Transgression, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996, p 32

10 Peter Thompson, Cassell's Dictionary of Modern American History, Cassell, London, 2002, p 420.

11 Cresswell, op. cit., p 31

12 Ibid.

13 Dennant, op. Cit.,p 3

14 Cresswell, op cit., 32

15 Sarah Giller, 'Graffiti: Inscribing Transgression on the Urban Landscape,', 1997, p 1

16 Henry Chalfant, quoted in Stealth Magazine, Vol 2, Issue 6 (No. 9), 2003, p 45

17 Tony Silver, ibid.

18 Ken Gelder & Sarah Thornton, eds., The Subcultures Reader, Routledge, London, 1997.

19 See, for example, Robert E Park's 'The City: Suggestions for the investigation of human behaviour' [1915], reprinted in Ken Gelder & Sarah Thornton, eds., The Subcultures Reader, Routledge, London, 1997.

20 Macdonald, op cit., p 6

21 ibid., p 51

22 Graham Martin, Angela Richardson, et al., 'Family and Individual Characteristics of a Community Sample of Adolescents who Graffiti,' Paper presented at the Graffiti and Disorder Conference convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology and in conjunction with the Australian Local Government Association, held in Brisbane, 18-19 August, 2003,

23 Adam Graycar, 'Graffiti: Implications for law enforcement, local government and the community, Paper presented at the Graffiti and Disorder Conference convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology and in conjunction with the Australian Local Government Association, held in Brisbane, 18-19 August, 2003,, p7

24 ibid.

25 Cavan, op cit., p 5

26 Graycar, op cit., p 1

27 ibid.

28 Mick Jones, , 'Graffiti Culture and Hip Hop: Working from Within,' Paper presented at the Graffiti and Disorder Conference convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology and in conjunction with the Australian Local Government Association, held in Brisbane, 18-19 August, 2003,, p 3

29Richard Sennett, The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities, Faber and Faber, London, 1990, p 213.

30 Anne Graham, 'Soft Architecture and Invisible Mending,' from Mossop, Elizabeth & Walton, Paul, eds., City Spaces: Art & Design, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2002, p 78

31 Ibid.

32 Donatella Mazzoleni, 'The City and the Imaginary,' translated by John Moumantarakis, in Carter, Erica, Donald, James and Squires, Judith, eds., Space and Place: Theories of Identity and Location, Lawrence and Wisharr, London, 1993, p289.

33 Ibid. p 293

34 Ibid., p 298

35 Mike Crang, , 'Rhythms of the City: Temporalised space and motion,' in May, John, & Thrift, Nigel, Timespace: Geographies of Temporality, Routledge, London, 2001, p 189

36 Ibid., p 190

37 Ibid., p 194

38 Cresswell op cit., p 37

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid., p 40

41 Ibid., p 41

42 Ibid., p 42

43 Cresswell, op cit., p 58

44 Referenced in: Bruce J. Doran & Brian G. Lees, 'Using GIS to Investigate the Spatio-Temporal Links Between Disorder, Crime, and the Fear of Crime,' Paper presented at the Graffiti and Disorder Conference convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology and in conjunction with the Australian Local Government Association, held in Brisbane, 18-19 August, 2003,, p 1

45 Op. Cit., Collins & Cattermole, p 16.

46Scott Collins & Rebecca Cattermole, Anti-Social Behaviour: Powers and Remedies, Sweet & Maxwell, London, 2004, p 15

47 Ibid., p 256.

48 Ibid., p 259.

49 Ibid., p 5.

50 Ibid., p 14.

51 Doran & Lees, op cit., p3. 52 Ibid.

53 Communication with the author, 10/6/04

54 ibid.

55 ibid.

56 Communication with the author, 10 May 2004

57 ibid.

58 Sennet, op cit. p 205

59 ibid.

60 Creswell, op cit., p 31

61 Quoted in Mervyn Kurlansky, Jon Naar & Norman Mailer, The Faith of Graffiti, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1974, p 6

62 Robert Rosenblatt, quoted in Cresswell, op cit., p 48

63 Jeremiah Luna, 'Eradicating the Stain: Graffiti and Advertising in Our Public Spaces,' Bad Subjects, Issue 20, April 1995,, p 4

64 Devon D. Brewer, "Hip Hop Graffiti Writers' Evaluation of Strategies to Control Illegal Graffiti,' Human Organisation, Vol 51, No. 2, 1992, p 188

65 Luna, op cit., p 4

66 Markus Mai & Arthur Remke, Writing: Urban Calligraphy and Beyond, De Gestalten Verlag, Berlin, 2003, p 78

67 ibid., p 181.

68 Luna, op cit, p 5

69 Saul Bolivar, '"Bombing" L.A.: Graffiti Culture and the Contest for Visual Space',, 1997 p 1

70 ibid., p 2

71 ibid., p 1

72 ibid

73 ibid

74 Graham, op cit., p 80

75 Janice Rahn, Painting Without Permission: Hip-Hop Graffiti Subculture, Bergin & Garvey, Westport, Connecticut, 2002 p 167

76 ibid., viii-ix

77 ibid., p 179

78 Communication with the author, 26/6/04

79 Communication with the author, 15/5/04

80 Communication with the author, 10/6/04

81 Macdonald p 45

82 Macdonald, op cit., p 45

83 ibid., p 95

84 ibid., p 99

85 ibid., p 106

86 ibid., p 100

87 ibid., p 100

88 ibid., p 128

89 ibid., p 128

90 ibid., p 147

91 Communication with the author, 10/5/04

92 Macdonald, op cit., p 100.

93 Communication with the author, 15/5/04

94 Macdonald op cit., p 101.

95 Communication with the author, 15/5/04

96 Macdonald,op cit.,p 5

97 Norman Mailer, 'The Faith of Graffiti' in The Faith of Graffiti, Mervyn Kurlansky & Jon Naar, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1974, p 5

98 Macdonald, op cit., p 87

99 ibid., p 105

100 ibid., p 105

101 Stealth Magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 5, No. 8, p 40

102 Macdonald, op cit., p 68

103 ibid., p 104

104 ibid., p 210

105 Sennett, op cit., p 209

106 ibid.

107 Dennant, op cit., p 28.

108 Jeff Ferrell, 'Urban Graffiti: Crime Control and Resistance', Youth and Society, Volume 27, No. 1, September 1995, p 83

109 Macdonald, op cit., p 184

110 ibid., p 182

111 Rahn, op cit.,p 65-66

112 ibid., p 143.

113 Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997, p xiii

114 ibid., p 343

115 Dennant, op cit., p 20

116 ibid.

117 Stealth magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 5, No. 8, p 40

118 Dennant, op cit., p 20.

119 Macdonald op cit., p 231

120 Stealth Magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 6, No. 9, 2003, p 74

121 Personal communication with the author, 10/6/04

122 Personal communication with the author 10/5/04

123 Personal communication with the author 15/5/04

124 Macdonald, op cit., p 6.

125 Casey op cit.,p xiii

by Ilse Scheepers

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