Forget street art, it's the old fashioned graffiti that's really interesting

Girl About Town: We've been scrawling on walls for literally millennia, so why are outdoor arts so associated with urban cool?

Share
Related Topics

The man from Cologne has a word to describe Berliners: "Selbstbesoffen," he sniffs, which roughly translates as "drunk on yourself". We are currently tipsy on the more traditional intoxicants provided by Radialsystem V in Berlin's Mitte district, but his point still stands. "They think it's like New York in the 80s."

You can tell a city is having a moment, albeit a decade-long moment , when it's lauded as a capital of street art. Critic-curator Emilie Trice calls Berlin "the graffiti Mecca of the urban art world," and sure enough, it's everywhere; on the remnants of the Berlin Wall, of course, but also expensively recreated in the lift of my hotel. You can also tell this moment is soon to pass when the graffiti moves off the city's streets and into the major galleries. The famous Kunsthaus Tacheles squat in Mitte closed for good last month.

Did we ever really debate whether graffiti was art or vandalism? Since Shepard Fairey's image of the US President was on the cover of Time, it all seems but a fevered dream. Like skateboarding, DJ-ing house and collecting imported trainers, street art belongs to that class of activities that mysteriously retains its youth culture association, despite being mainly practised by 40-something dads.

More interesting than Banksy's bank balance, therefore, is the street "art" that never had any artistic pretensions at all. The Tate's current William Klein exhibition includes a photo of a wall in 50s New York, defaced with such humble tags as "Barbara" and "Derek". Berlin also has graffiti of this unsung kind. The couples who attach initialled padlocks to the rails of the Oberbaumbrucke aren't hoping for a bid from Saatchi, they just want the world to know they once existed.

As my other favourite German (he prefers "Bavarian") Werner Herzog pointed out in his film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, humans have had this impulse for millennia. The wall paintings in the Chauvet caves in southern France are more than 30,000 years old ("Tuk Tuk woz ere 4341BC," etc.)

So, sorry Berliners, street art isn't hip and now, it's perennial and very human. Still, if anyone fancies writing in to complain about the defacement of the local community centre - y'know, for old time's sake - please do. I will have your letter framed and sent to the Museum of International Street Art in LA for preservation.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
.  

When league tables claim that 0% of students at top schools are getting a good education, it's glaringly obvious that they need to be scrapped

Chris Sloggett
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links