I have a mixed view of graffiti, in some respects I like the early culture, as popularised in the film 'Wild Style'. On the other hand I think the tagging form of graffiti makes cities look ugly. Painting trains is little more than huge ego issues, and a desire to attack the average joe and hard working people. Trains have to be cleaned, which comes from increased commuter fares. Having said that, I do like the brand of graffiti known as street art. Particularly clever street art that incorporates what's already there into the piece.
It's not a consistent view I grant you.Trying to like one without the other. I also particularly like the area of graffiti that attacks advertising, popularised by Adbusters and the like. We are constantly forced to be exposed to advertising, and have no way to really fight back against these messages. Sadly too few people are out there fighting back, which is what lead me to pick up a spray can. Advertising has politicised me.
Similar to the graffiti writers and artists, explorers creep around during anti-social hours, seek ways to get onto or into buildings/structures etc. Where some explorers might feel the need to resort to popping a padlock, forcing a board off a window, or cutting through a grill/fence. Taggers are mainly interested in vandalism, pure and simple. A number of these target trains, and enjoy using excessive force to get to their targets. As can be seen on numerous you tube videos. There have been a number of spats between explorers and graffiti taggers that operate on the metro systems. Taggers telling explorers to not publish images from the metro, and to keep things to themselves, not broadcast it. However taggers then happily spray and daub their tags all over the metro, drawing far more attention one would have thought. We may be equally to blame for making the authorities aware of our activities, but at least we usually find a place as we found it.
Back before I really got into exploring as a regular hobby, I had climbed a church in Hammersmith as a first attempt at being a so called urban explorer. It's documented under GE001. At the time, the church had resorted to raising money by erecting advertising hoarding on all sides, to pay for the repairs. Being a church, it signed up to the Alpha Course programme, a way of indoctrinating those of troubled or weak mind. I find most advertising offensive, as outlined above, and this time I felt spurred into action. I was going to do something. I went out and bought a can of black spray paint. I had never sprayed one before, so practised on a wall somewhere quiet. My original plan was to climb onto the railings from behind the billboard in a quiet moment, and then spray. However when I attempted to step onto the railings, I realised the angle was too steep, and I would fall off. I climbed back inside, and left the church property. I re-thought the situation, and then used my mountain bike to prop up against the railings. When I found a break in the traffic, I would just stand up on the saddle of the bike and spray.
When a break came, I climbed up the bike, and quickly got the pre-shaken can open, and began to spray. I was so scared, that I didn't worry too much about placement or anything. I just wanted to get the word on there. Bill Hicks (American comedian) had said that the best way to end an argument with a Christian was to say 'Dinosaurs.' So in some way, I saw it as a tribute to the late comedian. I managed to put 'dinosaur' but needed to move the bike to spray the 's'. So I dropped down, moved the bike, and waited for the next gap in the traffic. A police van came screaming past with lights blazing. Choosing a gap isn't easy, just like with exploring and gaining entry to somewhere you want to explore. Eventually I got the gap, and hopped up, sprayed the 's' and decided to add a question and exclamation marks for good measure; As with exploring, you can get a bit cocky and carried away with the adrenaline pumping through you.
Job done, I hopped down, and cycled off as quick as I could towards the river. As I rode around to the bridge, I saw some flashing blue lights. Panicking, I raced off in the opposite direction, and waited in an alley with two escape routes. I told myself,and it probably was, a coincidence. I didn't want to be wrong though. After a quarter of an hour, I saw no sign of cops, so went back towards the bridge. All was quiet, and I quickly crossed the bridge, and road down the footpath by the river. I figured it would bide my time, and allow me to get to my place while avoiding the mall where the billboard was. Needless to say I made it home fine. A week later the billboard was changed. Two years later the billboard was removed altogether, when the church was finally restored. I've thought of carrying out other attacks on advertising, but have so far avoided it. It's very high risk, as most of the places you'd want to spray are in clear public view, for obvious reasons.
The story doesn't end there. As the billboard was picked up by various atheist groups blogs. The most interesting result was at a warm up gig for Mark Thomas's Tour that year. During his working out of routines, he mentioned that someone had attacked an Alpha course billboard, and that it was brilliant. My mate who was with me, along with an unsuspecting girlfriend, knew that I had done it. He proceeded to stand up in the small audience, and point at me, 'He did it.' Mark asked if that was true, to which I embarrassingly confessed it was. Mark then announced to the audience that they should all buy me a drink after. After the show had finished, I went down to the bar. I wasn't expecting anyone to buy me a drink, and that held to be the case. Mark came down to the bar while I was talking to my girlfriend who was querying what sort of lunatic she was dating, and rather liking it. He asked if anyone had bought me a drink, to which I answered negatively. He then bought me a pint of real ale, result! Who says crime doesn't pay!