I take pictures of murals wherever I travel. I’ve decided that the amount and quality of art on walls is directly proportional to the amount of freedom within a space, and as a consequence, this particular form of art is often destroyed at the hands of the government. This holds true in Zapatista villages and squats in the Netherlands and random walls here in Austin. More than any other medium, spray can art is the quickest to be destroyed. As a photographer, I have to take a picture of a nice graffiti piece as soon as I happen upon it, because it might not be there the next day. It’s so frustrating to hear about amazing aeresol murals, only to find them painted over with grey as soon as I go to the location with my camera. This has been happening a lot recently. For whatever reason, in December the Austin Police Department Graffiti Task Force just went hog wild all over town with their grey paint, covering up art even in the most out-of-the way spots.
As a member of the community, I really appreciate some of the talented graffiti writers here in town. To spend cash out of pocket for supplies and to paint a mural without pay, all the while risking a fine and/or arrest, just in order to put up some art that is invariably doomed to erasure-you have to at least respect the labor of love, whether or not you like the art. I actually view the local graffiti murals as a point of civic pride, because when I travel to other cities and take pictures of the bombs [graffiti murals] there, I always show folks examples of the spray art in my neighborhood, and people are always like, “Damn – there are some serious artists in your town. Well, let me show you the best stuff in my neighborhood.”
Unfortunately, all of my favorite Austin murals have been covered up within the past two months. Something that really saddens me is recent harsh legislation that has been passed in places like New York City and California which makes painting certain types of graffiti (like full-scale murals) a felony punishable by hard time in prison. I think it’s very telling of the level of repression within a society when artists are put behind bars.
Shannon Young is an Austin photographer.