Art or vandalism? A look at graffiti in Chicago
CHICAGO — Art or vandalism? When it comes to graffiti, the law is clear about damaging property without consent, but that’s a risk some writers choose to take.
Some graffiti artists who spoke with WGN News recently have gone from teenagers writing illegally on the streets to professional artists now presenting their work to the mainstream.
But some continue to defy the law, using anything from highways to trains and new construction as a canvas for expression.
Chicago street art can transform the mundane into bold and bright masterpieces. Murals brighten up neighborhoods all over the city.
And then there are graffiti which is considered illegal when painted without consent.
The artist known as Flash ABC works with Project Logan, a space where artists can legally show their work.
“There are artists who won’t come and do walls on leave, but you’ll see them do trains, you’ll see them on rooftops,” he said.
Some tags may be difficult to read. But clear or not, most catch the attention of drivers during motorway journeys.
Graffiti artists who spoke to WGN News said creating graffiti on highways, especially downtown, feels like an art gallery for artists, as heavy traffic runs through the heart of the city.
Jose Rios is the Region 1 Engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation. He said how quickly graffiti is removed depends on the situation. But he said there were extra efforts to get rid of offensive graffiti or blocking a traffic sign. On a larger scale, Rios said the state works with the city for two nights before every major holiday to clean up graffiti from highways.
“Unfortunately what we’ve seen is sometimes really the very night we’re removing the graffiti from the location…when our staff come back there’s already someone tagging it,” he said. he declares.
Some graffiti artists say their work is considered a form of artistic expression on many levels.
It evolved from the hip-hop culture of the 1970s and 80s. One writer, who WGN News identifies as “J,” said he liked to push it.
“You could be sued,” he said. “Some get caught”
For some, creating graffiti gets the writer’s adrenaline pumping.
“Sometimes you go on a spree and go out all night for three or four nights in a row or you go out during the day and do things,” J.
As far as writers go, getting to these seemingly impossible, dangerous, and hard-to-reach places can take “teamwork.”
“Teamwork makes the dream work,” J said. “And some people are just machines on their own.”
An artist born and raised in the Westside, Slang, whose work is rooted in graffiti, has worked for major media companies like Warner Brothers and Viacom. It can create a part in just 15 seconds.
“Graffiti is sort of the juxtaposition of all art forms,” he said. “Almost every artist has a different reason for doing it straight.”
He said creating graffiti is like a double-edged sword for those who vandalize property.
“I know a lot of graffiti artists who actually own property now,” he said. “(They) own businesses, businesses. (They have) trucks on the street that roll around and always love graffiti and get upset if some of their trucks get hit.
Chicago Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Cole Stallard encourages writers to find authorized ways to express their talent and says about 25 teams are dispatched daily to remove graffiti.
“It’s stable,” he said. “I’ve been involved in graffiti for a while and it’s pretty stable. You’re going to get between 90,000 and 110,000 jobs pretty consistently throughout the year.
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The city of Chicago’s graffiti removal budget this year is $4.4 million. And in 2021, IDOT Region 1 spent over $550,000 to remove graffiti. For some perspective, an IDOT official said it was money that could have been used to purchase three trucks for snow removal.
To report graffiti, city residents are encouraged to call 311 or fill out a form on the City’s Streets and Sanitation website. The city’s goal is to remove the graffiti in two to three days.
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