Graffiti: Here today and gone tomorrow

Published 12:38 am Sunday, March 1, 2009

Van Gammon is either an artist or a vandal. Depending on who’s making the obsesrvation.

Ask Gammon and he won’t hesitate.

“Graffiti is art,” the Troy University senior art student said. “Maybe not in the strictest sense of the word but it is art.”

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Graffiti is the images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property and that’s where graffiti gets a bad rub.

“What happens is that the graffiti artist paints on walls or other property often without asking permission so it’s considered vandalism – a crime” Gammon said. “But, with or without permission, graffiti is an art form.”

Greg Skaggs, Troy University assistant professor of art and design, said some people don’t recognize graffiti as art and one has to look at history to put it into context.

“Graffiti artists are traditionally self-taught and are considered outside artists,” he said. “They use quick skills and quick painting materials and are usually politically or socially motivated, as are most artists.”

Skaggs said artists typically comment on where society is and many look at it as a throw-away society.

“Graffiti artists know their art will be painted over or destroyed,” he said. “We don’t build buildings to last 200 years anymore. They are built to last about 50 years and then to be torn down. Graffiti is like that. It can be beautiful art but it won’t last long.”

Gammon laughingly said almost everybody, at some time or the other, is a graffiti artist.

“If you put your name or draw an image on property of any kind, then you are a graffiti artist,” he said. “My first graffiti art was done on desks and tables when I was in junior high school. I guess, I’ve always been fascinated by it.”

Gammon said the strong appeal of graffiti is that it’s a fleeting art form.

A graffiti artist knows that his work will be painted over, destroyed or rumble away on the 9:05 train to Memphis.

“That’s what’s so fascinating about it,” he said. “Graffiti is done with spray paint or markers and it’s done as a ‘throw up.’ It’s done quickly and knowing that it will soon be gone.

“I studied about the romanticism movement in music and realized that it was a lot like graffiti. During that period, many of the songs were about love and always ended in death. That’s how it is with graffiti, it’s here for such a short time and then it’s gone forever. Dead.”

Graffiti artists that “post” their political and social comments never know how viewers react to their work and that doesn’t really matter Gammon said. “It only matters that they created art.”

And with that thought in mind, Gammon planned his senior art thesis.

“Some of those people who don’t think graffiti is art are art instructors,” Gammon said, with a smile. “But I hope that, with my senior thesis, I can change some minds.”

But first, Gammon had to get permission to paint property around Troy. And, that wasn’t easy.

“Graffiti is often thought of as gang-related so a lot of people won’t allow it,” he said. “But I did get permission to paint on the side of a building on North Three Notch Street that is being renovated. I could leave it up for four days and then it had to be painted over. That was the agreement.”

Gammon painted three different images on the black wall. He chose to honor the work of Vincent van Gogh and titled the work, “Just Gogh.”

“I really admire van Gogh’s work and his ‘Starry Night,’ with the colors and waves, reminds me of graffiti,” he said. “So, what I did was create bubble-type letters that read GOGH and made a stencil of the image of van Gogh and also a stencil that reads ‘Just Gogh’ to use in the design. The center image is a take on ‘Starry Night’ and I used yellows, grays and blues and the wavy lines to create a graffiti image. I didn’t really have anything planned for the other image but some people said it looks like Alf.”

Gammon stepped back from the wall decorated with his artwork – with graffiti.

“I like it,” he said. “But I don’t know how others will react to it.”

But that really doesn’t matter. He had created art.

And he had created art that would not endure. Tomorrow it would be gone forever. “That’s the way it is with graffiti.”

His hopes are to create several other “here today and gone tomorrow” works of art. One will be inspired by Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” and the other by Grant Woods’ “American Gothic.”

And, one of these days, Gammon might want to join a crew and go tagging on railroad boxcars and have his graffiti on a gallery that will rail-rumble across the country. But then maybe not. He might be content to open an art gallery in Texas and make art that will endure with time.