Catch them if you can: A rare glimpse of London's graffiti elite
Try not to make us sound like criminals, OK?" says a graffiti writer, who doesn't want to be named, speaking to me about London Burners, a new book about train graffiti, published today. Put together by Jete Swami, also a former graffiti writer, what makes this book stand out from all the others is that it has quotes and stories from 15 or so graffiti artists who regularly risk prison to break into train yards at night for their art.
There are tales of crazy missions gone wrong, the close calls when they have nearly been caught, and the lengths that the police have to go to, to try and stop them. They are dismissive of "tourists" (graffiti writers that don't live here but come to England briefly to paint) and legal writers who do straightforward artwork, perhaps on a wall on a street, and who don't break through fences to "beat the system".
Whatever your views on graffiti, the book, which even has photographs of some of the graffiti artists in action, is honest. Trains are mostly cleaned up straight after a graffiti hit so it's Swami's aim to bring this underground art form to the attention of a wider audience.
"They'd rather delay a train service than run a train with graffiti on it," says Swami. "People are allowed to advertise on trains for free but we're not allowed to put our message up. In the book, we want to show something that the average person who gets on the Tube doesn't see. They don't realise what happened the night before to the train they travel on everyday."
So why do they do it, when, as the anonymous graffiti writer tells me, the police sniffer dogs have even been trained to react to the smell of spray paint? Is it really worth the risk? "It's pretty addictive; you get more of a rush than you would from doing drugs. You wake up in the morning and feel like you've achieved something and you just want to do it again, bigger and better."
'London Burners' by Jete Swami is out now (Prestel) £14.99
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