Graffiti Writers’ Work Is Being Threatened, But Some Artists Are Fighting Back

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In today’s (August 11) Village Voice, New York City’s flagship publication for all things local and cultural, journalist Jon Campbell devoted a significant amount of space to an examination of the current state of graffiti and, by extension, street art. The main subject of the extensive article is Andre Charles, a 30-year veteran of the graffiti scene in the Birthplace of Hip-Hop (he is beloved for his entire portfolio, but perhaps best recognized for his “Live By the Gun, Die By the Gun” tribute mural to Tupac Shakur). As an early pioneer of techniques like balloon letters and brightly hued caricatures, Charles was able to capitalize on the growing interest in graffiti during the ’80s, when street culture began eking its way into art, dance, fashion, film, and music by painting storefronts for business owners concerned about the inevitable tagging from the city’s growing graffiti-tagging population. However, as is divulged in Campbell’s writing, Charles and other artists like him are facing extinction in a world where “bootleggers and brands” are becoming “the biggest foe for graffiti artists.”

live by the gun

More specifically, Charles is noticing “a form of theft that would have been impossible until recently. It was three or four years ago that he began to notice cellphone cases, T-shirts, purses, and bookbags, all featuring images of his work.” As the ubiquity of graffiti becomes commonplace, the men and women who were once able to earn income from the artwork they created are finding that, far too easily, their work is being duplicated and sold for profit, only the artists themselves receive no cut or even any credit, in most cases. Campbell’s article explores the legalities involved in what is sometimes a murky realm of the law (“An original work of art of any kind already has automatic copyright protection, although there’s a bit of a catch: In order to be able to file suit for damages, an artist has to seek formal registration with the authorities at the U.S. Copyright Office”) and also provides readers with some pretty dope history about some of New York City’s earliest tagging crews. The experiences of a handful of artists across the country are shared, and while the theft of creative work is still a constant threat for many, Charles’ story is a piece of optimistic advice that is worth sharing.

Read: “How Bootleggers and Brands Became the Biggest Foe for Graffiti Artists” by Jon Campbell at the Village Voice

Related: This 1976 Mini-Documentary Explores The Complexity of Graffiti Culture Before ‘Style Wars’ (Video)