Alexandra Rodriguez, "Chicago Graffiti"


            People in power have always looked down upon Graffiti. Chicago's mayor Richard Daley states that, "graffiti is vandalism; it scars the community, hurts property values and diminishes our quality of life." Because of this, Mayor Daley has created Graffiti Blasters, which provide free services of graffiti removal to all private properties. The cornerstone of this program is the development of baking soda machines that can erase graffiti from brick, stone, cement and metal. Mayor Daley's attempt at covering up graffiti cost the city more than 7.8 million dollars a year. Furthermore, under new state laws sponsored by Mayor Daley, persons convicted of committing graffiti will be forced to remove graffiti as part of their mandatory 30 hours or more of community service. Parents are now also liable for monetary damages caused by a minor child in the same household who commits graffiti. Why so much time and money over a painting? Is it really that bad? What does the artist think? I made it my job to find out the answers to these questions.

            I interviewed Chemicals. This kid has been active in the graffiti life style since the age of eleven. He is the youngest member to be asked to join UAC a tagging crew that has been around for twenty years. Growing up he watched his older brother draw tags every time his hand was to a paper. At the age of eleven he picked up his first spray can and started off in alleys tagging his initials JJ. His writing was simple and did not have much style. Until he met a tagger named Fact, he belonged to the FTR crew; he introduced him to a whole other world. Fact introduced him to a hip-hop arts program. In this program he was made to master the four elements of hip-hop: break dance, DJ, graffiti, and MC. Through this program canvases where thrown at him to help him develop a style. He began bombing every night. He lost sleep and many friends due to graffiti, but to him it is all worth it. "Graffiti is my life, it's so people know I exist. To fell the thrill that none can silence me." Crews began to recognize his name across the red line (an elevated train line that runs from Chicago's far north side to the city's far south side). The first crew that asked him to go on a mission was FTR. He passed the test of tagging the crew name and was in. Later the leader of UAC asked Chemicals to join without a test. He had seen Chemicals' work and was now a respected tagger in his eyes. He still had to prove himself to other taggers who made fun of him for his age. He is now the new generation of taggers and has proven that he has what it takes.

            Like many other graffiti artists he does not agree with Mayor Daley's plan to stop graffiti. He has yet to be caught bombing, but has been arrested for trespassing, possession of spray cans, and retail theft. "If I am not able to buy my paint, then I'll just take it from them." But he agrees that some tagging should be eliminated; such as the gang tagging which has given graffiti artists a bad rep. "The main difference between us and them is that we respect. We know where to write and never tag on top of someone else's work. They tag to mark territory and disrespect everyone's art work. We do it for the thrill." Many people dismiss tagging as gang banging and don't take the time to look at the art behind it. Chem uses graffiti as his coping method. "I could be out there like everyone else getting shot of colors and streets that don't belong to me, but I prefer to leave my mark. I want people to know I'm out there."

            Graffiti is a style of art that is getting a lot more attention and deserves to be noticed. Graffiti is now being showcased in galleries. Graffiti is clearly an art form. The color, structure and other base properties qualify it as art. Artists take time to develop their skills and perfect their work. After all, their art is promoting them and the crew they belong to. Not everyone can pick up a can of spray paint and create many of the masterpieces done by these taggers. The skills take time and lots of practice to develop. Slowly but surely graffiti is becoming accepted in society. Soon taggers will be able to live off of their art instead of loosing sleep over it.