Stencil Article: Vandalism or Art?

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Vandalism or Art? : Article produced by the Daily Lobo

Vandalism or Art?
*Stencilists say graffiti is self-expression; University calls it a costly nuisance
By Marcella Ortega
New Mexico Daily Lobo, July 6-12 2006

On sidewalks, bus stops and newspaper dispensers, a new form of graffiti is appearing all around campus.It is called stencil graffiti. Stencilists create their designs in the form of a stencil, which they use to filter spray-painted images onto their surface of choice. They make stencils out of cardboard, metal or anything else that will allow a cutout.Stenciling, which has blown up in Melbourn, Australia – now known as the stencil capital of the world – has been appearing around campus more frequently in the past few months.

Joel Straquadine, facilities manager for the Physical Plant, said the University spends around $50,000 every year cleaning graffiti.
He said about two-thirds is spend on labor and the other third is spent on material, which includes paint, glass, solvents and cleaner.
Sidewalk chalking is protected as a right for anyone who chooses to present their ideas in that form, according to the University Business Policies and Procedures Manual. “They wanted to give them somewhere to express their thoughts,” Straquadine said. “It’s something that’s easily removable.”

However, the policy forbids anything that is destructive or materially damaging to University property.
“If they paint, it is there forever,” Straquadine said. “That is graffiti, and we remove it.” What University policy considers material damage is seen as an art form to Noah, a local stencilist who refused to give his last name for fear of self-incrimination. He has practiced stencil graffiti for two years. “Anyone can do them and express their own individuality through them,” he said

Noah and his friend Justin, who also refused to give his last name, became interested in stencil graffiti when they lived next door to an experienced stencilist.“It’s how any artists is inspired,” Noah said. “You see what other people are doing and think, ‘I can do that different.”Justin said practicing stencil graffiti is simple. All it takes is a piece of cardboard and a can of spray paint. “Once you have the stencil, you can reproduce over and over again,” he said. “The most complex (stencils) I’ve made have three colors.” Some of Justin’s works include a hand making a peace sign and Richard Nixon in his famous trademark salute with his arms stretched out making peace signs.“The peace sign I made for obvious reasons,” he said. “That’s how I feel.” One of Justin’s most complex works is a picture of Elvis Costello. “I’m all about music,” he said. “You look at it, at it’s like, ‘rock ‘n’ roll.’ It’s better than putting a guy standing there with a gun.”

Noah said one of his favorite works is a gonzo fist – Hunter S. Thompson’s symbol when he was running for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado. “I admire him,” Noah said, “He would do whatever he wanted to regardless of what people thought about him.”
Although the two view stencil graffiti as a way of expressing themselves, they are aware of the negative aspects involved in working with it. Justin said some stencilists have to carry weapons when they are painting in rival neighborhoods. “I haven’t,” he said. “But I don’t go out there.” Justin said conflict arises when people change the stencils. “If someone covers it, a lot of people take offense,” he said. “All we are are artists. Violence shouldn’t be around art. They don’t mix.”

Justin said he is not concerned that he is committing vandalism. “It sucks,” Justin said. “but it’s not like it’s my sidewalk.”
Although Noah and Justin view their work as an art form, Joyce Szabo, associate chairwoman and professor of art and art history said she sees stencil graffiti as vandalism. “If it was their own home or a canvas, then that would be art, she said. “People get hired to paint murals. It is well known around the world.” Szabo said the force required to clean and repair surfaces ends up costing time and money, which ultimately translates into student tuition increases further down the line. “This is not their property to deface,” she said. “I don’t care how good it looks.”

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