Documenting Graffiti & Street Art I | ISME


McAuliffe and Iveson1 in their article “Art and Crime: (and other things besides…) Conceptualising Graffiti in the city” explore a series of issues that revolve around graffiti in our cities. From the question of whether is art or crime, or its aspects of “legality” or “vandalism”, or even its economic repercussions in society. However, there is lack of exploration on two topics intrinsic to graffiti expression that I personally experienced recently: motivation and abandonment.


There might be a million possible reasons why someone would decide to do graffiti. Either a desire to create a riot or a show of rebellion, as a way of self-expression, as a means of political and social critique, or simply to leave a mark in the city that makes him “popular”.


ISME arrived barely two minutes after me. It was around 4:00 pm. Mounted on his bike, he circled the area to confirm there weren’t any suspicious people, and after turning his head one time to check no one was looking at him, he took out his spray paints and left his “signature” painted on the wall. It was only after that moment, that I noticed he had been there before, as his name was present in several spots. After a brief conversation, he even offered me a sticker where the signature was again repeated, as someone who is very interested in increasing his brand presence all over the place.


In the article, the authors debate the aspects of legal infractions and the violation of the property when graffiti occurs; the idea of the “broken window” theory seems to filter and the sense that it sends the message that nobody cares. These concepts could be regarded more seriously when speaking about buildings in use. Maybe the rules do not necessarily apply when speaking about abandoned structures, where all of a sudden they could be interpreted -not only by graffiti artists but also by all the local community – as “legal walls”. Is there a crime in painting garbage? Is there a crime in spraying over objects that are left in the street? Is there a crime in graffitying a building that has been forgotten?


Apparently ISME finds some kind of protection or legitimacy in doing graffiti in this place. His confidence in doing it during daytime, just turning his head one time, makes you agree with Halsey and Pederick2 when they argue that legal walls become “sites of recognition, materializing the tension between public art and property crime”.


  1. McAuliffe, C. and Iveson, K. (2011), Art and Crime (and Other Things Besides … ): Conceptualising Graffiti in the City. Geography Compass, 5: 128–143. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8198.2011.00414.x


  1. Halsey, M. and Pederick, B. (2010). The game of fame: mural, graffiti, erasure.City14 (1–2), pp. 82–98.