Friday, January 4, 2013

Graffiti in Ann Arbor

Arborweb, the online edition of the Ann Arbor Observer, has an interesting article about graffiti in Ann Arbor for those of you looking for a good long read on a sunny Friday morning. The article includes an interview with at 15-year-old Pioneer student named "Mike" who is part of a local tagging crew:

So who's tagging Ann Arbor? According to a fifteen-year-old white, middle-class Pioneer High School student we'll call Mike, it's mostly people his own age. "It's an underground thing. It's really between the skaters and the stoners," he says. The more you tag, the more popular you become, says Mike--not at school, he's quick to point out, but around town. Everyone's aware of its illegality, he says.

Tagging can be a rite of passage. Mike says that to join one exclusive "group" (it's not a gang, he says), you have to tag at least thirty locations. In addition to spray paint, they gut marking pens and replace the tips with sponges for more ink coverage. Skaters sometimes use pre-tagged mailing labels. "They'll skate by and slap them places," says Mike.

Everyone has their own style, he says, showing me how a more experienced tagger instructed him to merge the letters in his tag for a more cryptic, personalized look. Some of the most popular tags among Mike's peers are "soap," "girl" (done on what Mike says is a paint-guzzling white background), and "mooh." Members of the skater tagging "tribe" also mark their skateboards with their own unique tags.

To me, it's always interesting to hear about the parallel rules and values that taggers develop in their subculture. I've been thinking a lot about graffiti lately, specifically about what makes some graffiti OK to some people but other graffiti just vandalism, for lack of a better word. It seems like there is a big difference between the "foot" tag on the electrical box in the picture above and the "Gexir" tag etched in the glass of this historical information sign below.


  1. Thanks for turning anonymous commenting back on.

    I agree that while some graffiti is costly, harmful, and damages the community, there do exist situations where the harm graffiti causes can be negligible, and far outweighed by its positive effects.

    My unsolicited two cents: don't give the artless taggers any free ups. It's going to lead to an endless cycle of tag-check DA-masturbate-repeat.

  2. It's weird that Gexir is the same kid who did the Morgan and York mural. It's not that he is untalented, it's just that it seems he has no discretion -- as if a crap tag is better than no tag.

  3. That was a really well done article from that site. But this city is being so dumb about the "art alley". I get that its private property, but why doesnt the city understand that i would say 10,000s of kids probably flock to ann arbor every year solely alone for that alley, then spend their money getting food and shopping and then take pictures in the alley because the only other place to see anything like this is detroit... but they wont go there for obvious reasons. Why doesnt the city declare any legal spaces or concrete areas for anything to be put up, this is suppose to be a very liberal "artsy" town.

    Whatever, my 2 cents.