One could easily argue that graffiti art is as old as civilization itself. Early drawings and inscriptions on caves, tombs and temples tell us so much about our attempts to communicate, to preserve language and to express ourselves. They are virtual historical documents revealing every aspect of the lives of our ancestors, and the practice continues today.
But instead of charcoal, sticks and chisels, modern graffiti artists use spray paint.
Disparaged as vandalism in most communities, graffiti has a long history in both rural and urban places. Rail-riders and train-hoppers of the ‘20s used the Texino (or Bozo Texino) icon and a full array of images to communicate to other hobos along the rails. The most famous graffiti icon, Kilroy, popped up during World War II. And so it has gone, with each generation creating its own form of public art, capturing both the language and climate of the times.
These days it’s the youth who are doing the good work. Teens and tweens arming themselves with spray paint cans and a head full of wonderful designs, sprinting into the night to work fast on a brick wall or billboard. They risk jail and sometimes personal injury to create. That’s what kids do. Crazy-creative stuff that sometimes looks like junk scribbles (those “signature”-like names known as tags), but more often turns out to be impressive works of real public art.
Most graffiti artists wallow in obscurity, known only to other “taggers” for their feats of daring (tagging trains, subways and billboards), and running from police. Some find purchase in the modern art world, as art collectors and curators love to bring scrappy, renegade artists into their homes and galleries. But no other graffiti artist has risen to the level of super-stardom as Britain’s Bansky, whose name and art are celebrated with this T-shirt for tykes.
Who better than children to keep alive the spirit of the activist artist and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker? Though Bansky’s history is cloudy, the stuff of legend and conjecture to a degree, it is certain that he began tagging as a youth and cultivated his style in his 20s. He used his art to rally against social injustice, and to make a statement about graffiti in the public square: It’s not vandalism; it’s art.
Children thrive on this idea, that a sidewalk, a wall, a piece of furniture can and should be drawn on. It’s just sitting there, for crying out loud. Let’s make something beautiful on it! We all did it, right? Picked up a small stone or broken piece of concrete and sketched a love note, our names or a simple drawing on the asphalt. (These days, kids are using sidewalk chalk, like the super-awesome chalk in this 3-D art kit.)
We all whipped out our crayons and scribble-scrabbled whimsical designs on the living room walls. Some of us even stole away into the night with paint cans, zipping a quick “I can’t drive” on the nearest “55” mph sign. This kind of art is a celebration of the rebellious spirit of youth, and artists like Banksy made it OK (and profitable). Giving our kids the freedom to express themselves like graffiti artists is a wonderful message to send. (Just make sure they have a good pair of running shoes.)
You can purchase the Banksy T-shirt for Kids at the site Hatch For Kids.