Graffiti Comes Out of the Shadows at Design College

Graffiti is the ultimate art form for a throw-away culture.  So said Eric, a local graffiti artist who uses only his first name, when he and fellow artists spoke to about 50 University of Cincinnati industrial design and architecture students on July 30.

Often more “temporary” than other forms of aesthetic and written expression, graffiti appears and disappears almost overnight as a form of political statement and protest, as contemporary commentary or as a spontaneous splash of urban color.  Eric likened graffiti to the random compositions created by a table top after dinner, the shadows that move up and down a wall with the sun’s daily cycle, or tree roots slowly breaking up a sidewalk. 

He and the local group to which he belongs see themselves as professionals.  “We don’t violate private property.  We don’t do houses, hospitals, churches, schools.  We use businesses that give us permission and public spaces for our art,” explained another artist who uses the sobriquet, Rifto – from the word “rift” since he sees his efforts as creating distance between himself and the rest of society.  He added, “Getting businesses to permit you to work is the best way to work.  They’ll often pay for the materials because it makes the building they’re in distinctive, a landmark everyone uses for directions.”

From left, Lisa Kohanski, Dana Vajen and Darren Glavic

From left, Lisa Kohanski, Dana Vajen and Darren Glavic

Before displaying their talents and inviting the UC design students – those in classes led by Steve Wuesthoff, adjunct design professor, and Melanie Swick, adjunct instructor in architecture – to do the same, the graffiti creators dispelled a number of myths about their fellowship.  For instance, graffiti artists are often quite organized and accustomed to working together as aesthetic teams.   “You can’t just be out doing your own thing,” explained Eric.  “You want your form, color and composition to ‘work’ with the efforts of others around it…People think graffiti is about gangs.  It’s not.  Suburban kids do graffiti.  Kids on yachts do graffiti….”  In other words, it’s about discipline with a definite urban edge.

It’s that urban edge which could most benefit the UC students, according to the graffiti artists.  Urban edge – which comes to us in forms as diverse as rap music and hip hop dance – enters the mainstream, including mainstream design professionals, and prospers, changing music, fashion, entertainment and business.  The same can be expected from graffiti.

Josh Henson, Anne Kitzmiller, Kacie Vitucci

Josh Henson, Anne Kitzmiller, Kacie Vitucci

The graffiti artists certainly left their mark on the UC

College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning

students.  For instance, UC industrial design student Matt Russo of Columbus, Ohio, said he appreciates graffiti a lot more now and will look more closely at the compositions that graffiti artists create.    And all of the UC students were surprised how challenging it was to actually create a design using a spray can. 

“The hardest part is dealing with the paint fumes and keeping the paint from dripping, keeping the paint within the lines.  You have to have a steady hand and a lot of confidence,” explained industrial design student Alex Adamson of Bethel, Ohio.

professional artist working on campus

professional artist working on campus

For another industrial design student, Darren Glavic of Cleveland, it was his first attempt to create a large-scale design.  He said, “It’s amazing how they’re turning a bunch of boards into large-scale art.  As product designers, we’re used to working on the small scale.  I didn’t think it would be this hard.”

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